MLIS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I'm on a roll with the mega-long FIMS-related posts this week so here's another one…

I spent a lot of time compiling this document over the semester with the intention of putting it on the Student Council web site.  But I got pretty busy right at the end of term and never got around to making a couple corrections that were suggested by some people in Administration right before it was ready to upload. 

So I've now done that and thought I'd upload the FAQ here as a “sneak peek” before it goes live on the Council web site next semester.  I don't know what will happen to it here but hopefully there, it becomes a living document that gets modified and updated over time as new questions get asked and the answers to existing ones change. 

Here' s a PDF version in case you prefer that.  I've looked at this so much, it's like I don't see it anymore.  So suggestions and corrections are welcome. 

Frequently Asked Questions By MLIS Students
Compiled by: MLIS Student Council (Fall 2006)

a. Is there a secret to success in this program?
One of the best pieces of advice is “this program is all about time management.”  If you plan your semester well, keep on top of assignments and use a day planner and/or wall calendar, you will do well.  Also, read the Grad Student handbook.  It gives you the official word on grading, important dates, academic appeals and pretty much anything else you might need to know. 

b. Is the MLIS program difficult?
It depends.  It's probably best to describe the program as being as hard as you make it.  One former student described it as being “pelted with popcorn” – you have a lot of assignments, none of which are very hard but some of which may be time consuming.  Obviously, people graduate every semester so if it is hard, it's not impossible. 

c. Do you have to do all the readings?
This is a graduate program and therefore you should try to do all the readings.  But it's also a very busy program, especially if you do five classes in a semester so, as your semester goes on and you get busier, this might not be possible.  Since this program has chosen “students must attend all classes” rather than “each class must have a final exam” as the criteria for their American Library Association accreditation, it is fairly unlikely that you will be “caught” not having done the readings in most classes if you are unable to keep up.  You'll quickly learn which classes it's important to do the readings for and which ones you can let slide a bit if you have to. 

d. Who are the easy professors? Who are the hard ones?
This is a pretty subjective question and is sort of irrelevant too.  You might get your worst mark from your best professor because they expect a lot out of you and push you.  Conversely, you might get your highest mark from your worst professor.  With that said, the vast majority of the professors in this department are highly qualified, experienced professionals.  Many have worked in libraries prior to entering academia which tends to make for more well-rounded profs who can share “real life” examples.  Talking to other students, especially those ahead of you in the program, is a great way to get tips about professors.  The Graduate Resource Centre (GRC), the library for FIMS students, houses a binder with the results of end-of-term evaluations for each professor/class over the past few years though this only shows their numerical rating on a scale of 1-7 in a variety of categories. has ratings and also comments about some of the MLIS professors by former students though these are obviously very informal and should be taken with a grain of salt. 

a. When is the add/drop date for classes?
Check the FIMS Handbook on the intranet for all dates relevant to your semester. 

You can add/switch a class anytime until the end of the first Friday of each semester.  (This used to be the second Friday but was changed to the fact that it was felt that students missed too much of a class if they switched into something new after two weeks had already passed. Be aware that this means that, due to stat holidays, compressed courses or classes jointly offered with other schools who may start their semesters later, you may not even have a class during the first week to help you decide if you want to switch.  Even courses on Thursday afternoon/evening or anytime Friday may leave you with a tight timeline if you try to do a switch.)

The last date to drop a class without having it show up as “withdrawn” on your transcript is usually about four weeks into term and about halfway through term is the la
st day to drop a course without academic penalty. If you drop after this date, you will get an F on your transcript. Again, please check the calendar on the FIMS intranet for exact dates. 

b. Can a student take five classes and still have time for work/family/extracurricular activities?
This program is extremely busy but it is possible.  The current Student Council chair is taking five classes (and has through the entire program), works 15 hours per week at a local library and is also involved in a few student organizations, all while maintaining an “A” average. 

c. How do you do an independent study or a guided research project?
The most important thing is to find a professor willing to work with you.  Professors have no obligation to do this (and also can't take on more than two independent studies per semester.)  You do not have to have a full proposal ready when you meet with them but should have a pretty good idea of exactly what you want to do.  Finally, you are not allowed to do an independent study on the topic of an existing course (although you may do one on a specific aspect of the same topic.)  Archived copies of previous studies are kept on file in the GRC for anyone to read if they're contemplating an independent study or a research project.  This will give you a good idea of what each entails. 

[Edit – 2007-03-24: someone looking into doing an independent study added this information:  “I contacted Cindy Morrison to find out
exact meaning of 'regular fims faculty' because I wasn't sure — does it encompass
everyone on the fims faculty page? or, just the profs? or, everyone
minus the part-time lecturers and sessionals.  It turns out that
everyone listed on the faculty page is eligible to supervise such a
study EXCEPT those part-timers.”]

d. I'm planning to stay in SW Ontario after I convocate.  Can you take classes after you've finished your degree?
Unfortunately, no.  This used to be allowed but due to insurance policies which only cover current students, auditing classes after completing your degree requirements isn't allowed.  This policy also applies to students who have graduated but want to take a distance course.  With that said, you can take more than 15 courses while you are enrolled in the program but before you convocate.

e. Why does everybody talk about the 503 Lit Search as a scary assignment?
It is one of the most time-intensive, detail-oriented assignments that you will do out of your first five required classes.  It also tends to come mid-term just when people are beginning to feel stressed about the semester’s workload in general.  But it also gives you many of the skills that you will use over and over, both in this program, and when you become a librarian.  The main thing for this (and many other assignments) is to not let yourself get freaked out by it.  After all, it’s just another assignment, like any other in the course.  

f. How important are marks in this program?  How will they compare to my undergrad marks?
This is another subjective question but for the most part, marks tend to not matter much unless you are planning to go on co-op (75% minimum average with no single mark less than 70%), apply for a PhD program, apply for scholarships or enter certain types of libraries (such as academic) where your marks might be requested as part of the interview process.  Some public libraries (including Toronto Public Library who confirmed at a recruitment session in Winter 2006) aren't allowed to ask for transcripts (either due to union rules or labour laws.)  They did say that they would look at them if you included them in your application or brought them to an interview.  Most people tend to find that their marks fall somewhere between 70-85% on average. 

g. When is course registration each semester?  How does it work?
Course registration happens near the end of each term.  A course information meeting is held where the majority of instructors will present an overview of the course(s) they will be teaching in the upcoming term and following that, an online system will be activated which gives you a week to choose your courses.  It is *not* first-come, first-served but uses a ranking algorithm.  Most people taking five courses will get their first 2-3 picks but you may not get your last couple (you're asked to pick 7 so you have alternates.)  Due to student requests, the tentative course list is released two semesters in advance (it used to be only one) but the actual timetable for the upcoming semester is still released rather late – often the same day as the course selection meeting.  Some professors will have their full syllabus at the course presentation meeting, some will only have a general overview. 

h. Is it better to follow the “streams” outlined on the FIMS web site for each type of librarianship or should I take a wide variety of courses?
It's up to you but be aware that due to different instructor schedules, co-op terms and various other factors, you might not be able to take all the recommended courses for any stream during your time at FIMS, even if you would like to.  Some students also feel that it is helpful to have at least one course from other areas of librarianship to broaden your skill base as you might not necessarily end up working in your preferred area, especially right out of library school. 

i. Are all electives available every semester?
No.  The program usually offers a selection of 20-25 electives per term but not everything listed in the calendar gets offered every term.  Some get offered twice per year, some get offered only once per year and some get offered even less frequently than that.  What is offered depends on availability of qualified faculty, sessional instructors and PhD students who are able to teach courses, sabbaticals, administrative duties and so on.  Although it is no guarantee of future offerings, it is worth visiting the intranet web page once you’re at FIMS and have your user name and password as this page lists course offerings over the past couple years so you can see recurring patterns (some classes are only offered in summer term for example.)

j. Is it possible to get a temporary user name and password so I can access the FIMS intranet before I arrive?
Unfortunately, no.  But you will be given these things during your orientation and since all of your first semester classes are required plus you get a grad handbook at orientation (not to mention this lovely FAQ!) access to the intranet shouldn’t be a major concern for you until later. 

k. What is a “Special Topic” in the course calendar? 
These are classes that aren’t offered on a regular basis (the department’s goal with official electives is to have them offered at least once in every two year period) but special topics allow for a wider range of courses to be offered when specialized faculty are available or demand is expressed. 

3. CO-OP
a. Is it worth doing a co-op placement?
Yes.  Most people who've done co-ops learn a great deal and have very good experiences.  What do you have to gain from co-op?
* Practical experience in the “real” world
* Contacts in the profession (possibly a future job as some co-op students end up working at their co-op locations after their degree)
* A chance to test out working in a type of library you don't have experience in
* Experience applying for jobs (writing cover letters and resumes, doing interviews)
* $$$ (all co-op positions are paid and often have salaries similar to an entry-level librarian position, usually somewhere around $15-25/hr.)
* A break from school

This being said, co-ops may not be suitable for everyone. In particular, if you need to finish the degree in a short time span, don't want to move (most co-ops are outside London) or have a lot of previous experience, you may choose to not do a co-op.

b. Where are most positions geographically and by library type?
There are many positions located in Ottawa, with most others spread throughout southern Ontario (Toronto, Hamilton, Guelph, Waterloo, etc.), and a few out of province (Victoria, Winnipeg, Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba). Some students, especially those who don't want to move have raised concerns about the lack of positions in London (although there are usually a few.)
Most positions are in government/special libraries. Most academic library openings advertise during the summer co-op applications looking for people to start in Sept. There are typically very few (1-2) positions in public libraries.

c. Can you find/create your own placement?
Yes. Talk to Rosanne Greene as soon as possible if you want to do this.  This tends to be a popular option with people who have connections at a specific library, especially public libraries who don't tend to offer co-op positions but will do a “one-off” with somebody they know (or possibly even with someone who shows the initiative in approaching them about creating a co-op.) 

d. Does everybody who applies get a position?
No. There are no guarantees. If you apply for 8-10 positions odds are you will get one. In some terms, there are more jobs than applicants, but this is not always the case. If you really want a co-op, apply for a lot of jobs.

e. Can I take a course while on co-op?
Yes, you can take up to one course, either by distance or at FIMS if you are in London (or nearby) and it fits your work schedule. 

f. Can I take my final course while on co-op?
No.  The co-op jobs are like internships so you have to be a returning student with at least one course to “come back to” after you finish your co-op.  With that said, some people take that final course as a distance course or even transfer to a different school to complete their requirements. 

g. I am unable to move to a co-op placement outside London.  What other work opportunities are there?
Many of the libraries at UWO and its affiliated colleges hire part-time workers as does the London Public Library.  There are also often postings for research assistants and teaching assistants that can provide valuable work experience.

h. Is it better to wait to do a co-op after two full terms of classes?
This depends on how comfortable you feel after your first semester of required courses (which is often hard to judge since you apply for co-op positions well before the end of your first term.)  If you have prior work experience, if you’re very confident, if you want to gain as much library experience as possible – all are good reasons to apply for a co-op after your first term.  There are usually half a dozen or so people from each first term cohort who apply and go on to have successful co-ops out of the forty or so positions that are available if that helps put it in perspective. 

i. What are some things you can do to improve your employability if you don't do co-op?
An LIS student has written a blog post on “Tips For People Not Going on Co-op” with some ideas of what you can do.

j. Are there recruitment fairs when you're near the end of your program?
Unfortunately, no.  Some libraries and library representatives (notably Toronto Public Library, the Special Library Association) will visit FIMS on occasion to speak about their libraries.  The Student Council is planning to have a speaker on this topic each semester starting in January 2007.

a. What student organizations operate at the MLIS program?
Canadian Library Association – Student Chapter
Librarians Without Borders
Special Libraries Association (currently inactive)
Student Council

b. What is the peer mentorship program?
This is a very useful program that automatically pairs you with an upper-level student who has taken at least three courses.  This person can answer your questions, show you around and help you with any problems you may encounter. 

c. What is the professional mentorship program?
This program pairs you with a working professional librarian in a similar area to that which you're interested in.  Priority is given to upper level students and those who've never had a professional mentor before but there are usually enough mentors for all applicants and it is worth applying for the expertise and networking your mentor can provide. 

d. Should I join CLA?
It is definitely worth it to join CLA but some students choose not to join right away since you can get their newsletter and most other info they produce for free, either at the GRC or on the CLA web site.  Many students join if they plan to attend the annual CLA conference in late Spring/early Summer as this gives you a discounted student rate to attend.  Other students wait until right before they finish the program to join CLA as the student rate of $50 would get them a year's membership during their first year as working librarians (when the rate jumps by something like 400%).  The CLA Student Chapter has regular meetings and is worth getting involved with – you don't have to be a member to be involved in the student chapter unless you get involved on their executive.

a. Where how to I get my bus pass/student card/OSAP/etc.?
Bus passes are provided by the Society of Graduate Students, or SOGS and can be picked up at their office, on the 2nd floor of the University Community Centre, (the UCC, right beside Weldon Library), Room 260.  Their hours are 9-4pm. 

Make sure you have your fee bill, with the validation card, your student card and proof that you have paid part of your tuition, or you will be denied your bus pass! 

(This is worth repeating – make sure you have all of these documents when you go.  Print outs that you've paid via online banking won't help.  Your validation card by itself won't help.  You need these three specific documents!)

Student Cards can be acquired at the Registrar's Office, which is in the Stevenson-Lawson Building, across from the UCC and Social Science Buildings. 

OSAP can be picked up in the Great Hall/Sommerville House, which is also across from Weldon Library and beside Ivey.  You will need your student card, photo identification and your SIN card, no exceptions.

Following those dates, OSAP inquiries should be directed to Financial Services, in the Stevenson-Lawson Building, down the hall from the registrar's office.

Further Information on all these questions can be found at the Registrar's website.

b. What are some good restaurants in London? 
The Mongolian Grill is great, it's all you can eat, interactive food fun!  It's downtown, @ 645 Richmond Street (at John Street).

Barakat is excellent if you're looking for fast middle eastern food. The falafel pitas are highly recommended. It's down the street from the Mongolian Grill @ 551 Richmond Street.

c. Which are some good bars/pubs in London?
The Grad Club on campus is popular with FIMS students but a bit of a secret for some is The Spoke in UCC which has cheaper beer ($1 less per pint which really adds up over a year!)

Alex P. Keaton's has live music, free WIFI and lots of microbrews on tap.

Call The Office is a popular live music venue. 

London Source is a good resource for restaurants, bars and more information about London. 

d. What are some fun attractions in and around London?
You won’t have time for being a tourist!  Just kidding – check out Tourism London for some ideas. 

e. Do students have the opportunity to evaluate their classes/professors?
The Student Council runs mid-term feedback sessions which most professors participate in.  The feedback is only provided to the professor (not the Administration) but many professors do address concerns that are raised.  At the end of term, each class does an official evaluation of the course that is sanctioned by the University and allows students to give both numeric and written feedback on all aspects of the course.  (The numeric results of past end-of-term evaluations are in a binder in the GRC and available for student viewing.)

f. What should I do if I have an issue with a mark or a specific professor?
The first step is to approach the professor directly with your concern, either in person or by e-mail if you would like a record of the interaction.  Depending on the severity of the concern, you might also want to copy the message to the Student Council’s Academic Rep so they are aware of the concern and can be prepared if they need to become involved in seeking a resolution of the issue.

g. Why do we have to do so much photocopying?
The majority of instructors place their course readings and texts on reserve in the Graduate Resource Centre. However, reserved materials do not circulate — hence the large volume of photocopying. Students wanting to recycle articles and course readings can file them in the two large filing cabinets found in the photocopying room in the GRC. Before photocopying anything it might pay to check there first. You should be given a photocopy card with $5 on it at Orientation.  You can add money to your card directly at the photocopiers and it will work at photocopiers around campus. 

h. Can the profs make articles available online?  What about the course syllabus as a PDF?  Why don't they use course packs?
Because of copyright laws, most articles can’t be made available online although, increasingly, because of open access journals, professors publishing their own papers online and resources like Google Scholar, many readings are available online.  Some professors do provide both an electronic and paper syllabus but none provide only an electronic option that we’re aware of (yes, the syllabi are often long and have a lot of paper in them.  Welcome to library school!)  Finally, most don’t use course packs because you are expected to do a lot of your own research to find appropriate articles.  Also, often the professors will put required readings (articles and textbooks) on reserve in the GRC where you can photocopy them yourself which is a vast cost saving over course packs (although not as convenient, admittedly.)
ALA – American Library Association
CLA – Canadian Library Association
GRC – Graduate Resource Centre (a library specifically for LIS students)
OLA – Ontario Library Association

See the Online Dictionary for Library & Information Science for definitions of more library-related terms.

Comments 4

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Man, where was this list when I started? It would have helped so much. (Then again, I knew that I'd made a friend when someone sat down beside me at a computer and muttered about how dumb she felt, and I let out this huge sigh of relief and was like, “oh, thank god I'm not the only one – I feel so stupid!” A month later I had my bearings … and a friend).
    So, to add to some of your already excellent points:
    1a) Secrets to Success:
    – Talk to your instructors. Verify that you are on the right track, and if you're not sure about something, ASK. Ask lots of questions. They are almost always willing and available to help, and it's a good life-lesson for when you're working (I think). Don't just assume you know what's being asked of you. Clarify.
    – To that end, DO what the assignment asks. Read the syllabus, answer all the questions or address all parts of the assignment, and you'll do well, marks-wise.
    – Many of the assignments are reflective, so reflect. It can be tough to find the balance between academic/formal writing, and the reflective style that is often used in professional programs. But if it seems like you're being asked to develop any part of your personal philosophy, reflect! Talk about what you feel and what you're thinking.
    – Participate in class. If you care at all about marks, the 10% participation grade can make or break the final grade. Plus, it actually makes class more bearable. 🙂
    5g) You got $5.00 on your photocopy card? LUCKY! We were given cards and told that if they had any money left on them, it was bonus, but that the value in them was that they cost $1.00 at Ivey and the GRC was giving them to us for free. Where the $5.00 *does* come in is on the printer account. We start with $5.00 for printing anything from the computers in the labs, but if you use the photocopiers in the GRC then you have to put your own money on the card. [A helpful suggestion: write your name on your copy card in Sharpie].
    6. Going back to my first point about feeling like a lost idiot, there were more acronyms that were used that I had absolutely no friggin' idea about at the start, and everyone used them so fluently that I didn't want to ask what they meant. I'm sure there's some that, by now, are so familiar to me that I can't remember what they were, but to add to your list:
    – OPAC
    – MARC
    – AACR
    – SOGS
    – LISA, ERIC, other databases
    – even a reminder of the difference between LC and DDC
    – seriously, if you don't know what they are, think about a conversation which includes MARC, LISA, ERIC, and Dewey? Sounds like a soap opera.
    – and I can see that you've linked to ODLIS … but considering we often refer to it as ODLIS, how would anyone know where to start?
    I think I actually said (in frustration) in the first few weeks that I wanted to make a list of acronyms – ALL of them – so I could keep them straight.
    I love that you've compiled all of these Q&A's into one place. Thanks!

    Posted 14 Dec 2006 at 3:37 am
  2. Anonymous wrote:

    That is such a great list, Jason. I'm going to post a link to it over on the LiveJournal MLIS community. 🙂
    Barb, we (Jason's and my cohort) got free photocopy cards and $5 on our print accounts, too. Maybe it's changed? I never did write my name on my copy card, despite knowing I should. Maybe I'll finally get around to that in my last semester. Assuming I haven't lost the card while on coop. Come to think, where *did* I put that stuff…? Oh, dear. 🙂
    And you are so, so right about the acronym soup.
    Oh, and Jason, re: #5h, there are *occasional* classes with electronic-only syllabi – wasn't Gord Nickerson's 525 class this summer one such? Or did I just lose my paper copy of the syllabus and forget I'd ever gotten one? (Perfectly possible…*g*)

    Posted 16 Dec 2006 at 6:47 pm
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I had plans to expand a few sections quite a bit – the list of restaurants/bars/attractions was one and the list of acronyms/jargon was another. But I ran out of steam so both of those sections are a little sparse. If I trusted people more, I'd recommend that Council put this list up as a Wiki that anybody could edit. But there would inevitably be edit wars between students who didn't agree on the answer to a question and/or people who took a question like “who are the good/bad instructors?” very literally and started naming names rather than the more diplomatic solution I came up with!
    But yeah, getting past the jargon is a big step to getting comfortable and it's too bad nobody seems to help you much. They just start throwing out terms and it's sink or swim. I used my handy-dandy notepad to scribbble a few things during my first week or two for further research after class.

    Posted 19 Dec 2006 at 4:39 am
  4. Anonymous wrote:

    Thanks for posting the link over at the LiveJournal community – they get a few incoming students over there looking for info so hopefully the FAQ is a bit of a “one-stop shop” for them.
    I think I got the photocopy/print account backwards on the FAQ and you're right – we got $5 on our print account and a free photocopy card. That's why I think this FAQ might work best as a Wiki.
    You're right about the 525 syllabus being online only. That was nice (except I promptly went and printed off the list of assignments for my binder. But it was only a page as opposed to some of the 5 or 10 or 20 page syllabii you get.)

    Posted 19 Dec 2006 at 4:45 am

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