How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

U.S. News & World Report just released new rankings of graduate schools in library science. Isn’t ranking library schools sort of like ranking the socks in your drawer? It does not matter.

I hope that prospective MLS students don’t read the rankings and think, “Gee, I need to go to THAT library school!”

These rankings have repeatedly been called into question. The prime reason is the methodology:

The rankings are based solely on the results of a fall 2012 survey sent to the dean of each program, the program director, and a senior faculty member in each program.

And this:

The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed.

Not a good research methodology, is it?–something that I suspect any MLS student could tell you. The issue of college rankings (both undergraduate and graduate programs) and the data that is gathered has been scrutinized by higher ed periodicals and websites. Just take a look at:

So what should a prospective MLS student do? I’ve written about this before, but when it comes to library school, just pick the cheapest (in state vs. out of state) or most convenient (online vs. on-campus) option that’s available to you. The coursework provides the base and the theory, but it’s experience that will get you a job. If you’re just taking the classes, you’re doing it wrong.

I remember students in my program complaining that the MLS coursework wasn’t “academic” enough, but I think it’s important to remember that you are in a professional program. You are training for a career, not writing a dissertation. It’s up to you to turn the coursework into something worthwhile. Work as a paraprofessional or library assistant during library school. Do an internship, practicum, or volunteer. These experiences will help you land a job better than any course you take.

I’ve never looked at anyone’s résumé and thought, “Wow, they graduated from a top ranked library school! Let’s hire him/her.” So ignore the rankings. Focus on gaining some relevant experience instead.

16 thoughts on “How Ranking Library Schools is Like Ranking the Socks in Your Drawer

  1. Terrific article, Joe. Common sense must be used here when choosing a school. The degree gets you in the door to employment. What you do with it after that is up to you.

  2. I think there are two other things to consider in choosing schools beyond convenience and cost. One is internship opportunities in the place the school is. Pratt SILS, where I went, is superb in that regard.

    And the other, perhaps, is the course focus. If you’re looking for work outside traditional libraries, a school with more of a tech/usability focus might be good, as could an “I-school.”

    But these rankings? Yeah, don’t seem important at all.

  3. Great post and oh so true. It’s the quality of the person I’m interviewing. Dorks can come out of top schools and amazing gems can come out of low-ranked schools. It truly is the individual and their ability to solve, synthesize, create and see the big picture that matters!

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  5. You make a great point here. As a recent MLIS grad, I wish that I had realized sooner just how important practical experience would be. As a TA with two jobs and a full-time student, I couldn’t commit to an internship and I’m kicking myself for it now. I think that LIS schools (and local libraries) need to work with students to provide opportunities and support. Since many students are gaining their degree while working full-time, there needs to be flexibility for though changing careers to gain experience. Perhaps an internship or fieldwork experience should be required at some point in the program. Likewise, professors and advisers should be up-front with students that courses are simply not enough. Sound advice Mr. Library Dude!

    • Thanks, sepahl–I agree: programs need flexibility and take into account that a lot of students are working full time. Definitely think every student should complete some form of professional development experience.

      • do you recommend getting an internship and working a few hours a week for the duration of the program or working full-time at an internship but only in the summers? When people say get an internship, I never know if they mean it should be while you are a full-time student or if they mean in the summers?

      • I think it just depends on your schedule. Either way, any form of work experience like an internship, practicum, or library assistant work will look good on your resume. Just find something that suits your interests!

  6. I just saw an article about a rankings revolt in Germany after reading this: While I think there is value to these rankings as long as we accept they’re about the academics internal to the program and not the job prospects because of the program, the small sample and the methodology in general and the fact that people equate US News and World rankings with job prospects is a dangerous situation for people who might take on too much debt to go to an Illinois or UNC instead of their in-state option because of these.

    Maybe we can convince our alma maters to get that response rate down from 59% to even lower in the future, unless US News really improves the methodology somehow.

    While I do also think it’s unfair to assume that because choice of school never mattered to you when hiring that it doesn’t matter to anyone, keep preaching the virtue of experience over the choice of school.

  7. I’ll stand by your side as you criticize the methodology of the rankings and emphasize getting some professional experience, but I think your recommendations on choosing a program of study are too simple. Cost and location should be a part of the decision, as you mention, but they shouldn’t be the only two categories used to judge where a potential student should apply for admission.

    Not all coursework is created equal, and not every professor will approach or emphasize theory in the same way. Your fellow students are indicative of the need to do more research about LIS programs that goes beyond cost and location. If they wanted an “academic” program (however defined), they may have benefited by doing more research, such as:

    -Asking for and reviewing syllabi from core courses and courses of interest;
    -Interviewing and having conversations with professors;
    -Looking at the publication streams of professors;
    -Seeking out students from competing programs and engaging them in conversations about their experiences (easier to do these days with Twitter and LinkedIn)

    I’m sure there are a number of other veins to be mined as a way to assess a program: these are just at the top of my mind. I think the point I’d like to home in on is that not all programs are created equal and that there are a number of qualities of programs that should be matched with a student’s expectations and desires. It’s too bad the rankings, as weakened by the methodology, don’t represent the diversity of strengths of various programs and instead we resort to painting them all in the same light so quickly.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kevin. What I was really trying to drive home is that experience is what matters (internships, a practicum, paraprofessional work)–that is what will lead to a job. Of course, it depends if you’re interested in a specialty like archives, preservation, information architecture, etc…–some MLS programs will do a better job at that than others. For me, as a generalist librarian, the choice of library school wasn’t that important, but the work experience I got was.

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