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LEEP weekend–the future (and now) of LIS education

October 16, 2010

If you are a librarian or are in library school you may be familiar with the mixed perceptions of what a librarian does and what it takes to become one. “You need a masters degree for that?” was a common question I received after announcing my acceptance to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

Similarly, I was co-teaching a first-year library instruction class the other week when a librarian asked the class, “what do you think a librarian does?” Their answer: puts books on shelves.  While librarians certainly do put books on shelves from time to time, the students misconception is clear.

I’d like to extend this idea of assumptions and misconceptions to LIS education, specifically the option (LEEP) that I take classes through.  I am regularly explaining how I attend class to those unfamiliar with graduate library science programs, and am happy to do so.  However, I’ve run into a few erroneous assumptions about how I attend class from professionals and students somewhat familiar with LEEP.

I am currently in a cheap hotel in Champaign, Illinois, 140 miles south of my home, a ritual I partake in three times per year because I chose not to attend my graduate classes on the UIUC campus.  LEEP, for those of you unfamiliar, is technically a scheduling option for students in GSLIS at UIUC.  Students may take all or some of their classes online–though registration priority is given to students who take all of their classes online, as they are likely only able to attend online class because of location (though some local full-time online students exist).

It seems like there is a stigma in the term “online education,” and I’d like to explore this a little.  Five years ago Karen Glover brought up the issue in Library Journal:

According to a survey conducted by Vault.com, out of 239 human resource professionals, 37 percent of those surveyed believe that an online graduate school degree is as credible as a traditional degree, while 54 percent said that it was not as credible but acceptable. But these are the interesting numbers: roughly 40 percent of employers said they believed my degree is credible. That means 60 percent of employers view my degree as second class, which makes finding a job that much harder for me than someone with a traditional degree. (her article)

While she addresses the specific misconceptions identified in the Vault.com survey, I’d like to explain what graduate school is like for me.  I’ve never been in another graduate program, so I don’t want to compare the two options.  However, I will say that the admission requirements, graduation requirements, course content, and many of the professors are the same in the LEEP option as they are in the on-campus option.

Here is what LEEP looks like:

It begins with boot camp. After the joy of the acceptance letter subsides, LEEPers embark on a two-week, nonstop, 9am to 9 pm class/orientation on campus at UIUC.  We basically rent out dorm rooms (or find cheaper housing, as I did via craigslist) and pump out project after project as we slowly lose our nerves and have mini breakdowns.  Okay, it isn’t that bad–the break downs are real, but they often come more from being away from family and friends and less from too much hard work. As I see it, if you make it through boot camp, you are gold. (See my cohort 14.2 here thanks to the wonderful Alyse Liebovich)

From there, we take classes on our computers (whether that be at home, work, or elsewhere) in live sessions during weekly scheduled class times.  We wear headsets and interact with our teachers and classmates with text chat, voice chat, whiteboards, application sharing, and various other interactive features of Elluminate. We are almost always required to: have daily and weekly participation in class and on the Moodle, work in groups, conduct research, examine theory, and have some level of praxis in every class. Once per semester we all get together during LEEP weekend to attend and eight-hour on-campus class (per class we take, so two classes equals two eight-hour classes, for example) and attend professional workshops and functions–which brings us to why I’m typing this from La Quinta Inn. On campus I have: examined and described rare books, had hands-on training for the preservation of film (which included the difficult splicing of VHS tape and smelling of a film overcome by vinegar syndrome), participated in a mini reference practicum, and had a webinar with a wikipedia editor.

LEEPers live in Champaign, LA, Seattle, Las Vegas, Tampa, Chicago, Madison, New York, Montana…

LEEPers are mothers, fathers, recent graduates, educators, techno junkies, archivists, aspiring archivists, single, divorced, windowed, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, with full-time, part-time, no-time jobs in or outside of libraries.

Any way, I don’t know what could make my experience less credible than that of the on-campus students; in fact, being online has forced me to become somewhat more technologically savvy, and living in Chicago has given me the opportunities to volunteer and intern at unique institutions in the city I want to work in.

I wouldn’t want my MLIS any other way.

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