Master’s Students in an Information Studies Program Enter the Program with Excitement and Leave with Concerns about Professional Preparation for their Chosen Fields

Christina E. Carter

Abstract


Objective – To assess master’s students’ perceptions of their information studies program with regard to the program’s academic quality and professional preparation as it moved to become an iSchool.

Design – Longitudinal survey, employing both quantitative analysis of demographics and closed responses, and thematic analysis of open-ended responses.

Setting – University of Toronto, Canada, Faculty of Information, Master of Information Studies (MISt) ALA-accredited program.

Subjects – Students enrolled in the MISt program from fall 2003 to spring 2007.

Methods – Between 2003 and 2007, a self-administered confidential questionnaire was distributed eight times: a short version of the questionnaire to incoming students in the fall term over the four years, and a longer version to the entire MISt student body in the spring term of the four years. Thus, individual students participated in the survey multiple times. Survey questions fell into four categories: program assessment, perceptions on the information professions, career and personal achievements, and demographics. The first questionnaire was mailed in paper form; after that, Web-based questionnaires were used. Quantitative data collected was analyzed using SPSS, version 17, and open-ended responses were examined for recurring themes.

Main Results – Across the four years of the survey, researchers obtained about 1,000 completed questionnaires. The response rate was always higher in the fall term than in the spring term, ranging from a high of 67% in fall 2003, to a low of 47% in spring 2007 which seemed to indicate “fatigue” with the study (p. 124). Respondents primarily were interested in the information professions and the majority planned to work in one of them (archives, library systems, or library and information science) after graduating. No statistically significant differences relating to the year the survey was completed were found for student perceptions of career prospects or for amount of computer knowledge required. A statistically significant difference was found for perceptions of new students of occupational prestige for archivists and librarians; it increased over the four years. The majority of students surveyed over the four years indicated that: 1) job prospects would grow, 2) required computer knowledge was high and would increase in the next five years, and 3) computer and systems-related tracks garnered higher perceived social status than the archivist and librarian “streams.” Students who had been in the program longer (completing nine or more courses) more strongly supported the master’s program’s move to an iSchool with more emphasis on technology and computing, and an increased emphasis on professional work. These students were also less positive about their academic programs than the students who had completed less coursework. Open-ended responses echoed many other studies pointing to social status assigned to library professionals being lower than the opinion of the students themselves.

Conclusion – The authors’ longitudinal approach and survey methodology revealed perceptual differences between new and more veteran MISt students at the University of Toronto of their master’s program, and that as students progressed through the program, they felt the need for more professional preparation. Between 2008 and 2010, the authors conducted similar studies regarding the perceptions of students at five other Canadian institutions, and planned to survey students at many other North American graduate library science programs via Web-based questionnaire to compare findings cross-institutionally.

Keywords


library education; graduate students; longitudinal research; career preparation; information professionals

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