Here’s some thoughts on the MLIS courses I took in the winter and spring/summer semesters at the University of Alberta. I ended up taking probably the four most difficult courses in the program in winter 2011.
LIS 505 – Introduction to Research
Oh the cold shivers running up my back at the memories. Suffice to say LIS 505 was a very difficult course and I’m not exaggerating! This is a required course in an MLIS program. Basically you come up with a research question (e.g. quantitative, qualitative or textual) and live with it for 3 months, do a plethora of related assignments and then churn out a 35 page single-spaced research proposal including interview questions, ethics review, hypotheses, recruitment poster, budget, timeline and on and on for final term project. What was both great and not so great were the students from other disciplines enrolled in the course. Most classes in LIS only have LIS students but not LIS 505, as the course is meant to instruct students on how to put together a research proposal and how to conduct research. So external students brought refreshing opinions but those same students hogged the class time in a class filled to over capacity. Luckily, my marathon effort on my final proposal reaped rewards and I got a grade I am happy with.
LIS 532 – Cataloging and Classification
This was the most frustrating course but the most practical and rewarding. We learnt standards in bibliographic description, AACR2 rules, MARC 21 format, LCC, DCC, LCSH. We had five items of varying format such as monograph, serial, DVD, electronic resource, which we learnt the above aspects of cataloging and classification. The detail required and the high level of understanding of rules and standards was exacting and the source of my frustration being a perfectionist. Luckily, we had a wonderfully giving instructor, KDG, who felt our pain but had high expectations of our efforts. Our term project was a 20 page group paper examining LCSH and DDC on a high-level topic (cooking and ethnicity). I would recommend all MLIS students take this fundamental course. I even got to apply what I learnt in my spring practicum work placement!
LIS 533 – Database Design for Information Management
This course at its core was not about building a database in a software program but learning the conceptual, logical and practical design steps when creating and implementing databases. For this course you needed to be able to think abstractly when ER modeling and analytically when developing relational models, creating SQL queries, QBE and using normalization. The term project required you to go through each step of database design, then create the database in Access, as well as forms, SQL queries and QBE. I did well with the analytical aspects to the course but in my mind failed with the more conceptual aspects, the ER modelling. The content of the course was difficult, even for those who have the aptitude for it, so I would not necessarily recommend this course to the majority of MLIS students but would to those that have a special interest in database design.
LIS 538 – Digital Libraries
Digital libraries was my favourite course in the winter term, though a demanding one. It really opened my eyes to all the different layers involved in considering building a digital library, such as funding, preservation, metadata standards, etc. The course really ran the gamut on topics and was very informative. The final project was to create a digital library using the Greenstone application, with an accompanying paper. The course was demanding because Greenstone was very tricky and problematic to use. Many hours I’ll never get back were spent on trial and error experimenting and perfecting my digital library which I called Interpretations of Tea. This course was my best grade so far in the program. I would recommend a digital libraries course to MLIS students but if you are not comfortable with technology you may want to look at other options.
So, as you can see from above, all my final projects were very demanding…and of course they were essentially due all at the same time, along with some other assignments. I had two weeks of stress, poor diet, no exercise, sporadic sleep, mental intensity and then after submitting an assignment 6:00pm on the last Friday of the term, I had to pack up and clean my apartment, then move Saturday back to Calgary and start my practicum work placement on the Monday. The practicum was for 3 weeks and then I finally got a break!
LIS 590 – Practicum
My practicum placement was at a special library for a large Canadian oil & gas company. I got great exposure to reference requests, original and copy cataloguing and I researched embedded librarianship and alternative library models for my final project. I would recommend library and information studies students compete a co-operative work placement or a practicum, as it provides great insight into real world librarianship. The practicum was pass/fail, three-week intensive (100 hours) and although I was not paid it does count toward three credits or a full course in my program.
LIS 598 Information Security
I took this as a one-credit course. We learnt about risk management, information security in the context of threats and vulnerabilities (such as hacking, natural disasters, password management, etc.), critiquing acceptable use policies. I learnt a lot in this course, plus it was timely with all the recent Lulzsec and Anonymous events. A final project was required consisting of four parts (Policy Analysis, Software Evaluation, Future Forecast and Incident Report). The summary may sound dry but the course was eye-opening, as we were shown the techniques and technology that hackers use and we studied risk management documents. I got a great grade in this course as well…and I only wish it had been a three-credit instead of a one-credit, it was that interesting.