INTERVIEW: Sandra Hirsh, Ph.D, Professor and Director, San Jose State University

Sandra Hirsh, Ph.D., professor and director of the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, joins us today to discuss the information school’s fully online Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program.

#1 Can you tell us about the online MLIS program offered at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science?

The fully online Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree program at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science (SJSU SLIS) prepares students for MLS careers as information professionals in a wide range of information environments and professional positions.

With more than 60 electives offered each semester, MLIS students can customize their educational experiences at our school to fit their interests and career objectives. For example, students can choose courses from a dozen career pathways, including Emerging Technologies, Digital Services, Web Programming, Archival Studies, and Special Librarianship. The skillsets learned in our MLIS program are transferable to many different types of information environments. SJSU SLIS alumni tell us they are working at medical facilities, law firms, public libraries, academic libraries, museums, high-tech companies, and schools.

Unlike other graduate programs in library and information science, the MLIS program at SJSU SLIS is exclusively online. Our school doesn’t offer a campus or hybrid MLIS program. There are no on-campus orientations or other required in-person events. Everything we do is online and designed for online learning. In fact, our interactive online learning environment is one of our MLIS program’s top 3 strengths as identified by SJSU SLIS graduates in the exit surveys.

The flexibility of our MLIS online program is a benefit for both students and faculty. They can participate in our MLIS program from anywhere. Our students reside in nearly 50 U.S. states and 20 countries. Our faculty members also hail from around the world!

In addition, many of our students hold full-time jobs. They are able complete their studies when most convenient for their busy schedules and from the comfort of their homes.

“I live outside of California, held a full-time job and volunteer positions while I was in school, and I was always able to fit my classes in my schedule.” – Fall 2012 Graduate

Moreover, our faculty members are award-winning scholars and leaders in their professional communities. Many are former practitioners, and some are currently working in the field, bringing a practical perspective to their courses.

“The vast majority of instructors are not only experienced educators; they are experienced in the field. That practical applicability of theories and concepts is of paramount importance.” Fall 2012 Graduate

Our MLIS program has been continuously accredited by the American Library Association since 1969. In addition, San Jose State University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

#2 How long does a typical online MLIS program take at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science? What is the maximum and minimum time of completion?

Graduate students in our MLIS program can complete the program at their own pace. They can attend as full-time or part-time students, choosing the number of courses they want to take each semester. Many of our students are working students, so the flexibility in course load is an advantage, as they schedule their courses around their other responsibilities.

“The online environment provides great flexibility for those who have a job, family, or other types of responsibilities, which may inhibit taking courses on-campus.” Fall 2012 graduate

The typical graduate student in our MLIS program takes between 2.5 and 3.5 years to complete the program, although students have up to 7 years to earn their MLIS degrees.  Full-time students can earn their graduate degrees in as quickly as 12 to 18 months.

#3 What do you think makes San Jose State University’s MLIS stand out from other online MLIS programs?

San Jose State University’s MLIS program is offered exclusively online. As a result, all our courses are designed for the online learning environment. Our instructors are experts in online teaching. All our school’s resources are focused on supporting online students, including our academic advisors, career counselor, and technology support team. A required one-unit course introduces new students to our online learning environment and prepares them for success.

In addition, our school provides numerous opportunities for networking and resume building. Students can choose to complete virtual internships or on-site internships.  Our robust internship program offers more than 200 internship opportunities each semester, allowing students to choose the one that best fits their professional interests.  Nearly 75% of our students complete internships. Students can also serve as research assistants to our faculty, gaining work experience.

“The virtual environment made it easy to integrate real-world experience and knowledge into the curriculum, and it made sharing and communal learning so much more interactive!” – Fall 2012 Graduate

Our school gives all new MLIS students a complimentary one-year membership in their preferred professional association, including the American Library Association, Special Libraries Association, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). Students can further expand their professional networks by getting involved in our school’s award-winning virtual student chapters of professional associations.

Students can also join the editorial team of San Jose State University’s first student-governed research journal, the SLIS Student Research Journal, and/or they can submit original works for publication.

“The many student organizations make the learning experience much more enjoyable and immersive.” Fall 2012 Graduate

Moreover, we continuously evaluate and update our curriculum to align with today’s job market and emerging trends in the information profession. We offer a broad range of electives, enabling our students to pursue numerous career pathways in the information profession. Some of our newer electives focus on cybersecurity, information visualization, mobile devices, and web content management systems. In all our courses, students explore how to use emerging technology.

#4 How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online MLIS program?

Accreditation is very important when choosing any MLIS program. Many employers will only hire individuals who hold a graduate degree from program accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Thus, depending upon an individual’s career goals, it may be impossible to be hired for specific positions without holding an ALA-accredited graduate degree. Enrolling in an accredited program also provides students with peace of mind that the program has been independently evaluated and meets established standards for the profession.

The MLIS program at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science is fully accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). In addition to program accreditation, many employers check to see if the institution granting the degree is regionally accredited. San Jose State University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

#5 There is some debate as to whether or not online MLIS degrees are as worthwhile as traditional MLIS degrees. What steps does the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they’d receive in a classroom?

The MLIS program at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science is only offered online. We focus exclusively on providing a rigorous, interactive online learning environment for all our graduate students. Although most of our course content is delivered asynchronously – giving students the freedom to access the course at any time they choose, from any location – courses involve frequent interaction with instructors and peers. Our students are part of a learning community, where they interact using a range of technology, including online discussion forums, blogs, instant messaging, email, social media, and web conferencing tools.

“The online instruction was great, the instructors were excellent, and the coursework prepared me well for my career.” Fall 2012 Graduate

We also focus on helping our faculty be the best possible online educators. We provide support and guidance as they develop and teach their online courses, and we provide them with a range of opportunities to improve their knowledge of online pedagogy.

“I always felt my instructors were available to help me with my course questions, and they were always very supportive of my efforts in each course. I was given all the resources I needed to complete my coursework and all those I will need for my career.” Fall 2012 Graduate

San Jose State University has a rich history in educating information professionals. The first library science course was taught at SJSU in 1928.Three decades later, in 1954, the SJSU information school first started offering a graduate degree in library science. We went fully online in 2009.

In an effort to ensure we provide a high quality program, our school is a member of the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C), which is a consortium of institutions and individuals committed to quality online learning. Our MLIS program received a score in the exemplary range according to the Sloan-C Quality Scorecard for Administration of Online Education Programs. In addition, we are a member of Quality Matters, a leader in quality assurance for online education.

We survey our graduating students, and 97% of the fall 2012 graduating class, who responded to the survey, rated their education experience at SJSU SLIS as excellent (65%) and satisfactory (32%).

#6 What are the advantages to earning a MLIS degree in general?

Career opportunities for information professionals continue to expand. Not only do SJSU SLIS alumni find they are prepared to take on traditional roles in libraries and archives, but they are also finding that they can leverage their MLIS degrees to compete successfully for an expanding array of job opportunities in libraries, archives, corporate settings, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. They are ready to take on leadership opportunities, and they are prepared to use emerging technology to improve services for their clients.

“The MLIS program at SJSU SLIS is up-to-date and focused on technology. I believe that has to be a priority for emerging information professionals.” Fall 2012 Graduate

Each year, the information school at San Jose State University conducts research regarding emerging job trends in the library and information science field, and we examine the new environments where information professionals work, as well as the job titles they hold. We publish our findings in our Library and Information Careers: Emerging Trends and Titles Report.

We encourage our students to think broadly about all the ways they can use their MLIS degrees, and we share stories on our website regarding SJSU SLIS alumni, who are following a wide range of career pathways as information professionals, including alumni who work as taxonomy managers, website developers, digital asset managers, information architects, and metadata specialists.

In addition, we recently launched a new section of our website called Alumni Career Spotlights, where current students can read about what our alumni are doing now. Some SJSU SLIS alumni are also available for informational interviews.

#7 Does the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science offer job placement for students who graduate in library science?

The School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University offers a robust array of career development resources that help students pinpoint their career directions and conduct successful job searches. They can view resume and cover letter directions and samples, as well as job listings. They can learn about job search strategies, including how to use social media in their job searches. They can also learn how to create a career e-portfolio for sharing with future employers.

We host career webinars on topics such as resume writing, interviewing, and job search strategies, as well as webinars that feature industry professionals who share tips, resources, and employment advice. The SJSU SLIS career counselor is available to critique resumes and cover letters; manages the information school’s career blog; and distributes a monthly e-newsletter to students that includes job search tips, hot jobs, and career resources.

In a recent survey of alumni, 86% of the spring 2012 graduating class, who responded to the survey, said they are working either full time or part time. Of those who reported they had a job, 96% got their job in less than 6 months.

#8 What type of financial aid packages are available for students in library science? Are there any fellowships, grants and scholarships available?

There are several types of financial assistance available to MLIS students at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science. Many of our students receive financial aid in the form of student loans, grants, and other programs. Each semester, approximately 30 SJSU SLIS students receive financial support by serving as research assistants. In addition, our school offers several scholarships, as does San Jose State University.

We also invest in developing special scholarship opportunities aimed at enriching the diversity of our nation’s future librarians and preparing our graduates to serve diverse communities. Since 2007, we have actively led or partnered with other organizations on four diversity recruitment projects funded through multi-year grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  They include our school’s Circle of Learning program, offered in partnership with the American Indian Library Association (AILA), with a focus on recruiting and supporting American Indians and Alaska Natives, who are interested in earning an MLIS degree.

#9 Do you have any advice for students enrolling in an online MLIS program for the first time?

I would encourage new students to be sure that their online MLIS program includes a comprehensive orientation to the online learning environment, as well as ongoing support throughout the program. For example, students need to make sure they understand how they’ll connect with their academic advisor, career counselor, and technology support team. Before new SJSU SLIS students dive into their first courses, they are introduced to our school’s technology in a guided learning experience.

I hold an online director’s forum each semester, and I always tell our graduate students that they should take advantage of the opportunity to complete an internship while enrolled in our MLIS program. Our school offers place-based and virtual internships, which expands and enhances the internship opportunities available to students. For example, with a virtual internship, a student in Montana could intern at a high-tech company located in Silicon Valley.

In addition, students should expand their professional networks by getting involved in professional associations and doing course-based projects that engage them in solving problems for real organizations. They should interact frequently with instructors and peers. Learning online doesn’t mean you’re alone with your computer. With today’s sophisticated technology, you’re always connected. Students should seek out an online MLIS program that allows them to leverage the best that today’s sophisticated online learning environments have to offer. In a program like ours, where SJSU SLIS students and faculty live across the continent and around the world, students find that online learning can provide them with diverse perspectives as they interact with instructors, peers, and professionals from across the globe.

#10 What do you enjoy most about your position at San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science?

As director of the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to lead an information school that’s focused on helping our graduates be prepared for success in a profession that is rapidly changing. My own background is diverse, coming from industry, and I am excited to show our students how they can apply the MLIS knowledge and skillsets they learned at our school to many different types of professional jobs and industries.

SEE ALSO: 5+ Best Online Masters in Library Science Programs

I’m also grateful that my job involves ongoing collaboration with industry leaders, scholars, and practitioners. We have several governance committees whose work ensures our MLIS program is top-notch and aligns with today’s job market. It’s an exciting time to be an information professional, and I am committed to making sure our graduates are ready for the future.

For more information on the online MLIS program offered at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science, visit them online.

Thank you Dr. Sandra Hirsh, for sharing and participating in this interview.


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Sarah J

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