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>Library School of the Air

>On US Air earlier this month, I ran across a brief article in the in-flight magazine that referenced this study, which finds a positive correlation between physical proximity of research co-authors and citations to their work. (I’m SURE there is a more graceful and scientific way to put this.) The news-you-can-use the magazine was inferring from this was that in-person cooperation resulted in a better product than something created via long-distance collaboration.

I have no idea how true this might be but I did keep thinking of it on my travels, where I kept running into MLS students in distance education programs, where the only meetings between faculty and students, or students and each other, were via the web. I have no experience with such programs and I’m wondering what you all think. Are they as good, better, or just less expensive and more convenient than bricks-and-mortar schools? Feel free to opine about the general usefulness of library education generally, but be warned that any whining about how “it’s just a union card” might get you mocked.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. Anonymous says:

    >I earned my MLS via a distance learning program. I did have to go to campus for a couple of weeks at the beginning of the program to meet the professors and such. However, I would agree that my training would have been less…effective? if it hadn't been for the collaboration I was doing with other professionals at my job. So, yes, perhaps my 'online' degree would have been less useful if I wasn't already working in my chosed field.

  2. >I went to the iSchool at the University of Austin which is strongly and proudly in-person only, and I tend to think that's a better method.

    I finished my last three undergraduate classes through distance education and strongly disliked it – the whole experience was nothing like the rest of my undergrad experience or my grad program.

    I love having professors and students who know me personally.

  3. >I took a combination of online and face-to-face classes and found that the latter were much more memorable and I feel like I connected better to the content. I've also maintained relationships with colleagues from the F2F classes whereas my online classmates felt much more ephemeral.

    That being said, the online classes with required regular synchronous discussions (led by the instructor) were much more "real" than those with only asynchronous discussion board interaction. Not everyone can take F2F classes, but the synchronous online set-up seemed like a good compromise between the forms.

  4. Susan Ujka Larson says:

    >Distance education (online library school) through the University of South Carolina was fantastic. It brought me into the digital age of libraries. So much I learned that is still very useful was accomplished just by having to use the variety of technologies — Skype, listservs, instant messaging, BlackBoard, virtual reference, etc. We worked as groups and in class settings online, and met once a semester for a weekend face-to-face. The Virginia cohort traveled to Lynchburg, and the South Carolina professors met us there. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates four years after graduation. I highly recommend online education for a library degree.

  5. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I love teaching online, and have been doing it for over a decade.

    My students, mostly, love learning online. Many of them are in programs where they take both live and online classes; more recently, many are in fully online programs.

    I find teaching online to be extremely interactive. I know my online students better than I ever knew my in-person students. I don't know what their voices sound like, or what they look like, but I know how their written voices sound, how they respond to what we are reading and examining together, what their enthusiasms are.

    Online teaching has enabled me to have, in the same classroom, students living in South Africa, Germany, Japan, and Canada. The richness of that interaction cannot be overestimated.

    FYI: Rutgers, where I teach YA and children's literature in both the MLIS and the Professional Development programs, is an asynchronous program.

  6. Roger Sutton says:

    >GraceAnne–you wrote an article for us back on 02 about online teaching–how do you find it has changed in the last decade?

  7. Jennifer Schultz says:

    >I'm in Virginia, where we don't have any LIS schools. It's either distance education or an out of state school. If you're in northern VA, the closest LIS schools are Catholic University (DC) or University of Maryland-College Park. If you're in the more rural parts of our state, distance ed is really your only option.

    We have several staff members earning their MLIS through Texas Women's University's distance education, in partnership with James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA). We are 50 miles from DC, so Catholic is not really a viable option for some because of various reasons, not just the awful commute time. They do have to travel to JMU at the beginning of the semester and perhaps some other times as well. So far, they seem pleased with the program.

  8. Miss Christine says:

    >I'm graduating in July from the University of Missouri's MLS program and am very happy with it. It did require some face-to-face contact but my completely online classes were as interactive as those. Online learning is only less interactive, less fulfilling if you make it that way. It can be a very rich learning environment and your professors and classmates can definitely know you. It's a different library now, and we need different library programs. I loved that this modeled the type of learning that my students are doing.

  9. GraceAnne LadyHawk says:

    >I still assign that article to every class I teach, and nearly all of it is still true.
    What has changed is that there is more audio, video, and bells and whistles I could add. I have done some audio, but not some of the other stuff, partly because even now most of my students are on older equipment, and partly because I have designed my literature courses for a writing environment.
    What has not changed is that students new to online learning are still both hesitant and curious.
    I need to think about this some more. I wonder if there is another article in there somewhere.

  10. Anonymous says:

    >I am just finishing an online program and found it to be quite rigorous. I am not sure if that was because I pushed myself or because it was genuinely rigorous. I will say that I do know people who have taken both online and in-person classes and found the online ones to be more challenging.

    Because of my toddlers and my husband's working schedule, I wouldn't have been able to get the degree in-person, so I appreciated the environment.

    Overall, I learned a great deal and appreciated each class (Graceanne's too). Each was different and taught me a different approach.

  11. >I am a former student of GraceAnne's (go Scarlet Knights!) and absolutely loved the online experience. In fact I would say that her point that the class is filled with people from all over the country as well as the globe made for fascinating conversations. We were a highly interactive bunch! I use social media to a better purpose and I am a more careful online conversationalist because of my online classes. I do not think my jobs blog would be as popular if I did not gain the comfort, confidence and chutzpah in the online classroom first. Of course I also worked for years in a library before my MLIS and that was very helpful and something neither in person or online classroom can quite substitute for.

  12. >Oops- I should add that I am Naomi and my website is I Need a Library Job (I am logged into that gmail account)

  13. Sarah Julsonnet says:

    >I received my MLIS from the iSchool at the University of Washington. I was a residential student but due to scheduling and class requirements, all residential students find themselves taking at least one online course during their time in the program. I always preferred the in-person classes. I felt better connected with not only the professor, but the material as well. Interestingly, because of budgeting issues, the residential program will no longer be state funded and so it will actually end up being cheaper to be an online student rather than residential- which has never been the case before.

  14. Roger Sutton says:

    >I realize that library school as I knew it is probably almost non-existent–I and most of my classmates were full-time students, living in grad student housing on campus. But what I think I would miss most in an all-online program is the opportunity to know other students in the program who might have wildly different professional aspirations. I focused on children's/YA work but had friends preparing for careers in academic librarianship, rare books, medical libraries, etc. That made me feel connected across the "science."

  15. >I'm just finishing my MLIS program, which was completely online except for an optional 1 day orientation at the beginning. I thought it was a good program, yes discussing online isn't the same as in person and group work doesn't work the same way, but that didn't really bug me. I already worked in a library full time so being able to do my homework, reading and keep up with discussion boards when it worked best for me was WAY better than working for 8 hours and then having to go to class for another. 2-3 hours. You still learn a lot about what students interests and views are, the different types of library situations they come from etc etc. In fact that's the extra cool part there are people in class from all over the country and sometimes world so you get many different view points.

  16. >I am really enjoying this conversation! I started the Simmons program a few years ago (and loved every minute of it) but had to stop for various personal reasons. I have been wanting to complete my degree but commuting to Boston is not a possibility right now or for the foreseeable future. I am currently working as a children's librarian in a small public library and have been contemplating a distance program as my only option given my time and family constraints. But every time I research it I feel like I will be missing all my favorite parts of school: the in class discussions, the conversations with other students, and the relationships with faculty. Thank you GraceAnne and others for reassuring me that this may not be true. I would still miss walking through the actual library and pulling the bound journals of the shelves, though.

  17. Anonymous says:

    >I completed my first Master's degree in 2001, and didn't keep up with a single one of my classmates. I completed my MLIS completely online in December 2009, and I'm still in frequent contact with several of my classmates and professors from the MLIS program thanks to the social networking tools that were an integral part of my education. It has been helpful to keep up with my classmates as they begin new jobs and start new projects, as well as get married, buy houses and have kids. It's also a good way to keep track of my former professors professional whereabouts, classes they're teaching, and books they've published.

    In terms of the overall experience of an online program, I'm still glad I made that choice. I was able to continue working in a library without reducing my hours or constantly changing my schedule, and I got to experience a lot of technology tools I wouldn't have otherwise. I've helped several of my co-workers who attend a (relatively) nearby in-person program with their assignments, and in comparison I'm very satisfied with the quality of education I received.

    I do attend my univerity's "social" events and visit/staff the school's booth when ALA comes to town, and have met a couple of professors and students this way.

  18. Anonymous says:

    >I did the online thing, but the environment was especially strange because I was a graduate assistant and lived in the town in which my program was hosted. During the day, I worked at school, then at the public library, and at night I took online chat and forum based courses. My school is celebrated in the South for being a Very Good School, but looking at other in-person or blended alternatives, I feel sore about what I missed. The basics were there and I can hold my own in a library conversation, but collaboration, inspiration, mentors, experience and conversation…nope. It took me three years to get a pre-professional job and now I'm getting a better library education than I ever did at school.

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