Number 35 (december 2015)

New career opportunities and their impact on Library and Information Science degrees, an exploratory study


[Versió catalana]

Terry Weech

Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Library & Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois USA



In the USA and Canada, there has been considerable effort on the part of program providers of professional degrees in Library and Information Science to expand job opportunities for graduates of their programs beyond the traditional placement in libraries. This has led to the development of specializations in topics such as Data Curation and Data Analysis. In other cases, new degrees in Information Management and Knowledge Management have been developed and offered in the effort of improving job placement results of graduates. Expanding placement opportunities for graduates of programs educating information professionals is often referred to as developing alternative career opportunities to the traditional jobs for information professionals in libraries and related organizations such as archives and museums. Such programs often focus on the broader term information and promote education and research for the information professions beyond the traditional LIS professions in libraries and related institutions. A number of schools no longer offer LIS degrees, but offer degrees in Information instead. This paper examines the patterns of name changes found in degrees and programs in schools with American Library Association accredited programs and presents an analysis of the reported impact on alternative and/or new career opportunities on the graduates specifically with Information Management degrees. Suggestions are made for further research needed to determine the success of these new degrees as well as issues related to the relevance of accreditation of programs by the American Library Association in the context of the changes taking place in LIS education.


Als Estats Units i el Canadà s'han posat en marxa nombroses iniciatives per part dels centres acadèmics que ofereixen plans d'estudis en Biblioteconomia i Documentació per tal d'obrir el ventall d'oportunitats laborals als seus titulats més enllà de les tradicionals biblioteques. Aquestes iniciatives han donat lloc a l'aparició d'especialitzacions en àmbits com la custòdia d'informació i l'anàlisi d'informació. En altres casos s'han creat nous títols en Gestió de la Informació i Gestió del Coneixement amb la finalitat de millorar les oportunitats laborals dels titulats. Sovint, la millora del ventall d'oportunitats laborals per a titulats de programes de formació de professionals de la informació es coneix també com a "creació d'oportunitats professionals alternatives a les ocupacions tradicionals en biblioteques i centres relacionats, com ara arxius i museus". Aquests programes s'acostumen a centrar més en el terme informació, d'abast més ampli, i a impulsar la formació i la recerca per a les professions relacionades amb la informació per tal de dur-les més enllà de les tradicionals lligades a biblioteconomia i documentació en biblioteques i institucions relacionades. Hi ha alguns centres que ja no ofereixen titulacions en Biblioteconomia i Documentació, però sí en Informació. En aquest treball analitzem els patrons de canvi en la denominació de titulacions i plans que se segueixen en centres que ofereixen programes acreditats per l'American Library Association, i n'estudiem les repercussions en les sortides professionals creades de nou o alternatives per als titulats en Gestió de la Informació, concretament. Es proposa, d'altra banda, aprofundir en la recerca per tal de determinar el nivell d'acceptació a què han arribat aquestes noves titulacions i també investigar la rellevància que té l'acreditació de programes per part de l'American Library Association en el context dels canvis que tenen lloc en l'ensenyament de Biblioteconomia i Documentació.


En Estados Unidos y Canadá se han puesto en marcha numerosas iniciativas por parte de los centros académicos que ofrecen planes de estudios en Biblioteconomía y Documentación con el fin de abrir el abanico de oportunidades laborales a sus titulados más allá de las tradicionales bibliotecas. Estas iniciativas han dado lugar a la aparición de especializaciones en ámbitos como la custodia de información y el análisis de información. En otros casos se han creado nuevos títulos en Gestión de la Información y Gestión del Conocimiento con la finalidad de mejorar las oportunidades laborales de los titulados. A menudo, la mejora del abanico de oportunidades laborales para titulados de programas de formación de profesionales de la información se conoce también como "creación de oportunidades profesionales alternativas a los empleos tradicionales en bibliotecas y centros relacionados, como por ejemplo archivos y museos". Estos programas se suelen centrar más en el término información, de más amplio alcance, y en impulsar la formación y la investigación para las profesiones relacionadas con la información para llevarlas más allá de las tradicionales ligadas a biblioteconomía y documentación en bibliotecas e instituciones relacionadas. Hay algunos centros que ya no ofrecen titulaciones en Biblioteconomía y Documentación, pero sí en Información. En este trabajo analizamos los patrones de cambio en la denominación de titulaciones y planes que se siguen en centros que ofrecen programas acreditados por la American Library Association, y estudiamos sus repercusiones en las nuevas salidas profesionales creadas o alternativas para los titulados en Gestión de la Información, concretamente. Se propone, por otro lado, profundizar en la investigación con la finalidad de determinar el nivel de aceptación al que han llegado estas nuevas titulaciones y también investigar la relevancia que tiene la acreditación de programas por parte de la American Library Association en el contexto de los cambios que tienen lugar en la enseñanza de Biblioteconomía y Documentación.


1 Introduction

In this paper, for the sake of consistency, LIS (Library and Information Studies) will be used throughout this article to refer to schools with programs accredited by the American Library Association (ALA) regardless of the specific name used by the specific program. As will be noted in the paper, there are considerable variations in the terminology used in ALA accredited programs to describe their degrees and programs of study.

The first library school in the U.S. and Canada was Melville Dewey's School of Library Economy, which enrolled the first class in 1887 at Columbia University in New York City. (Melvil Dewey, 2015) The University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science was founded in 1893 by a student graduating from Dewey's library school, Kathrine Sharp, and is one of the oldest of the continuing LIS education programs in the world. Over the more than 125 years of education of information professionals, there have been many changes in focus and directions and terminology. What started out at the beginning of the 20th century as a 5th year bachelor's degree, to be granted to students who had meet the requirements of a 4 year bachelor's degree in an academic subject (Grotzinger, 1992, p. 12), evolved into a 5th year master's degree in 1949. In response to the need for faculty to teach in the professional schools that from the 1920s on were to be in academic research based institutions as opposed to the training schools in the early 20th century that were often affiliated with large public libraries and provided an education more akin to internship or apprentice education, The Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago was established to provide master's and doctoral degrees in library science in 1928 (University of Chicago Graduate Library School, 2015). Other degree changes in the 20th century included the discontinuance of the 5th year bachelor's degree and the institution of a 5th year master's degree in the late 1940s. The LIS doctoral degree, which was available only at the University of Chicago since 1928, was established at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan in the 1948-1949 period. While there was consideration of the length of the master's degree in the last quarter of the 20th century, with some schools extending their one year master's degree to two years of study, most LIS schools retained the one year program, which usually included two academic semesters and two summer sessions necessary to obtain sufficient credits for graduation.

Other changes in the last quarter of the 20th century to LIS education in the U.S. and Canada was the addition of information science or information studies to the names of the schools that had been known as library schools or graduate library schools. Although there was some controversy in some institutions over this name change from Information Technology or Computer Science interests on some campuses, by the early 1980s, most programs previously known as library schools had adopted various versions of LIS (Library and Information Science or Library and Information Studies), or other similar terms that would result in LIS as the identifying acronym for the ALA accredited program. In 1993 Cronin, Stiffler, and Day discussed the emergent market for information professionals and suggested that LIS schools were beginning to offer master's in Information Management (Cronin, 1993, p. 273). The most recent change in terminology has been the adoption of the term Information School, or iSchool, which began in the last decade of the 20th century and accelerated in the first decade of the 21st Century with the adoption of the term the iSchool Caucus in the U.S. to describe the governing group that oversees the iSchool movement. (Chu, 2012, p. 1).

It is the objective of this paper to examine the extent to which new degrees in Information Management are being established in the "Top Ten" LIS accredited programs in the U.S. twenty-two years after Cronin, Stiffler, and Day suggested that such degrees were part of the repositioning strategy of LIS schools as schools moved away from the traditional library focused degree programs.


2 Issues of Career Opportunities

For the first 100 years (1880-1980s) of LIS education in the U.S. (through early 1980s) concern with careers of graduates of LIS programs was limited to enrolling sufficient students to meet the demand for graduates to fill positions. In the mid-20th century in the U.S. there were sufficient shortages of graduates from accredited LIS programs that Federal and state governments funded special fellowships to recruit students to LIS programs to meet the demand for credentialed librarians. During this period, there were some up and down cycles of job openings and a number of LIS education programs were closed because of falling enrollments and financial shortfalls at their host institutions of higher education. The closing of the LIS program at the University of Chicago and at Columbia University, both highly ranked programs, were among the most notable. But until the last decade of the 20th century, in general the sense was that career opportunities for professional librarians would continue to grow at a rate that could sustain the existing LIS programs. The economic downturn in the U.S. in the 1990s did cause some programs to question the sustainability of future growth, especially with the expansion of enrollment of graduate students in programs delivered online. The exploration of alternative careers for LIS graduates became an important area for exploration during this period, and this interest accelerated in the first decade of the 21st century as the potential impact of the internet and access to digitalized information sources became more prevalent.

Initially the focus for alternative careers was on applying principles of entrepreneurship to LIS skills and suggesting that students could explore careers and independent information professions much as attorneys establish their own independent practice or doctors might build a practice independently of a hospital or medical clinic, thus freeing LIS graduates from the institution of the library. The "de-institutionalization" of the profession became an alternative to a job in the library for LIS graduates. Unfortunately this alternative career concept was not successful for most graduates because of the necessary capital to establish a private business career independent of a larger organization. The fact that access to digital information often proved expensive for users not affiliated with a larger institution and that in the U.S. most small businesses fail in a few years after their start meant that the independent information consultant was not a viable alternative career option for most LIS graduates.

The other option taken by LIS schools in the U.S. and Canada was to change the "brand" of their education programs by focusing on the potentially broader career placement opportunities found outside the institution of the library. This led to the focus on "information" as the area of study and to diversify the characterization of the goals and mission of the LIS program away from educating students for professional positions in libraries to education of students for positions in a broad array of organizations and institutions that work with information in many diverse ways. This might be seen as the ultimate culmination of the "de-institutionalization" movement of the 20th century. With the establishment of the iSchool movement in the first decade of the 21st century, the possibility of separating LIS education from the institution of the library seemed close to realization. But to achieve full realization, the name of the degree would have to be changed with the dropping of the reference to "library" in the degree name as well as in the names of the programs.


3 The name change game

In 2015, there are 65 iSchools listed as members on the iSchool organization web. (iSchools Directory, 2015). Of these, 23 currently have ALA accredited programs. Twenty of these accredited programs are located in the United States and three in Canada. iSchools with ALA accredited programs were selected for study because they represent the highly ranked LIS programs. In fact, all the LIS programs ranked in the top ten by U.S. News and World Report in the 2013 survey are members of the iSchool organization. (Best Grad Schools: Library and Information Studies, 2013)

Dropping "library" from the names of programs and degrees clearly presents some problems for recruitment of students who are seeking a degree that will provide an opportunity for a career as an information professional. The iSchool Vision is stated on the iSchool web as:

"The iSchool Caucus seeks to maximize the visibility and influence of its member schools, and their interdisciplinary approaches to harnessing the power of information and technology, and maximizing the potential of humans. We envision a future in which the iSchool Movement has spread around the world, and the information field is widely recognized for creating innovative systems and designing information solutions that benefit individuals, organizations, and society. iSchool graduates will fill the personnel and leadership needs of organizations of all types and sizes; and our areas of research and inquiry will attract strong support and have profound impacts on society and on the formulation of policy from local to international levels." (iSchools - About- Vision, 2012-2014)

Note that no reference is made to libraries in the vision and in fact many of the iSchool members have no stated connection with LIS education or the profession of librarianship. A number of the schools that were part of the founding iCaucus governing body of the iSchool organization changed both the name of their school and the degree they award from one of the variants of the LIS term to identifying themselves as a School of Information and their master's degree as a degree in Information.


4 Methodology

For this analysis of the impact of new career opportunities on the names and nature of the degrees awarded by LIS programs in the U.S., the "top ten" LIS programs identified in the 2013 U.S. News and World Report survey report were selected for study. (Best Grad Schools: Library and Information Studies, 2013) "Impact" is defined in this ranking as the number of students enrolled in the degree program and reports provided by the schools on successful placement of graduates with the degree. Data analysis is based on the information provided on the school websites and from published or publically available data from other sources in the internet or from direct communication with the schools. Because of ties in the rankings, the "top ten" list actually represents twelve programs. This list of LIS programs was selected for analysis because it represents programs of study accredited by the American Library Association, one of the longest established and most widely recognized efforts of quality assessment of Library and Information Studies education.

The twelve programs listed as the "top ten" LIS programs in U.S. News, 2013 are:

1. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
3. University of Washington-Seattle
4 Tie. Syracuse University
4 Tie. University of Michigan
6 Tie. Rutgers University
6 Tie. University of Texas at Austin
8. Indiana University Bloomington
9. Simmons College
10 Tie. Drexel University
10 Tie. University of Maryland
10 Tie. University of Pittsburgh

Nine of the "top ten" LIS schools still retain the LIS master's degree or have separated the library science and the information science master's degree into two degrees as part of their professional degree program accredited by the American Library Association. They are:

  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Washington-Seattle
  • Syracuse University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Simmons College
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Drexel University

Indiana University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill each has both a Master's in Library Science and a Master's in Information Science. The University of Maryland also offers a Master's degree in Human Computer Interaction (HCIM) degree and a Master of Information Management (MIM) degree. The University of Washington and the University of Maryland offer a Master's degree in Information Management (MSIM and MIM).

For purposes of this paper, the academic degree selected to determine the impact of new career opportunities on degrees offered was the degree of information management. This degree was selected because in the U.S. it is one of the newer degrees established in schools with ALA accredited programs. It is also a degree that is much more frequently offered in schools outside the U.S. and Canada. The Information Management degree is a degree often offered in Europe and in Asia. It may have a variety of specific definitions in terms of mission and scope in other countries, but in the U.S. there is a common theme of working in careers that are not exclusive to one type of institution or organization, and is clearly distinguished from some of the legacy information professional positions that LIS schools have focused on such as librarians, archivists, and museum curators.


5 Discussion and Conclusions

Three of the "top ten" iSchools offer master's degrees in Information Management. They are the University of Maryland, Syracuse University and the University of Washington. Both the University of Washington and Syracuse University have two Information Management programs. One for executives or those with substantial experience and another for students who do not have such experience. The description of the two programs at Syracuse follows:

  • "The Master of Science in Information Management for Executives is for students with six or more years of appropriate full-time professional experience in the information management field and who demonstrate appropriate professional qualifications may apply into the Master of Science in Information Management: Executive Track. Those who are accepted into the executive track may waive the internship requirement, and reduce the number of credit hours required for the degree to 30. This M.S. in Information Management degree program can be completed on campus, online, or a combination of both options".1
  • "The Master of Science in Information Management is an interdisciplinary program covering topics in information science, information technology, and management. An executive version of the program is offered to students who already have substantial experience. Graduates work in IT, project management, and consulting at corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. The program has been ranked first in the nation by U.S. News & World Report" (Syracuse University School of Information Studies, 2015)

Syracuse and Washington placement data for the LIS degree were listed in the 2014 Library Journal placement issue. Placement results for Maryland were not listed in the 2014 Library Journal placement issue. (Maatta, 2014). But all three programs provide enrollment and graduation information on their LIS degree students, to the American Library Association Committee on Accreditation. This information can be found in the ALA COA statistical reports. (American Library Association, Committee on Accreditation. "Trend data by Program..." 2015)

In contrast, for programs offering the master's degree in Information Management, only the University of Washington linked from its website quantitative enrollment data and placement statistics on Information Management graduates, and that was only for one year (2012 data). While all three programs provided some qualitative data on Information Management placement (examples of types of positions or list of potential employers and specific case studies of successful graduates), neither of the other IM programs provided specific numbers of students enrolled or placement data for Information Management graduates on their websites. Some information was available from secondary sources, such as Peterson's Guide to Graduate Schools, but this was limited to enrollment and did not include placement data.

An acknowledged limitation to the findings in this paper is that only degrees in Information Management were selected for analysis. This was done because it is the most consistently defined additional degree to the LIS degree in the "top ten" programs examined. Other degree names are often degrees that are new names for the former masters in Library and Information Science (LIS degree) and its variants (Masters of Information Studies, and the broadest of the new alternative degree names, the LIS Masters of Information). In the case of the Master's of Information Management in the schools examined, the degree is in addition to, not replacing the ALA Accredited LIS masters degree.

From the content analysis of the school websites and the review of available data sources on enrollment and placement, there is evidence to support the contention that new career opportunities do impact the nature of the degrees offered by iSchools with ALA accredited LIS programs. Using Information Management as a case study of a recently developed degrees being offered by three iSchools with ALA accredited programs, the examination of the descriptions of the Information Management degree clearly differentiates it from the LIS master's degree offered. However, one of the frustrating findings is that there is little longitudinal data available to compare the success of the Information Management degree to that of the legacy LIS degree. There is some indication that the Information Management degree does bring in more students and potentially more tuition dollars, which is an important consideration, but without longitudinal data, the impact of the Information Management degree on the overall financial health of the school providing the degree, cannot be determined. It might be noted that the legacy LIS ALA accredited master's degree does have a well-defined employment landscape. Many organizations seeking to employ information professionals in legacy positions in libraries, museums or archives, specify that the ALA accredited degree is preferred or required. There is no such structure for establishing the Information Management degree from any specific school as preferred or required. In fact, Peterson's Guide to Graduate Schools lists 1537 graduate schools offering information management. (Peterson's Graduate Schools found for 'Information Management', 2015) When considered in contrast to the fewer than 60 ALA accredited graduate programs in the U.S. and Canada, it seems reasonable to assume that the competition for career placement would be much more competitive for graduates with an Information Management degree than those with an ALA accredited master's degree. It should also be noted that there are numerous undergraduate programs offering bachelor's degrees in Information Management, which is not the case with LIS degrees in the U.S. and Canada.


6 Further Research

It is clear from this exploratory study that much more research is needed. For example, there are a great variety of definitions of Information Management even in the three iSchools examined and without doubt an even greater disparity when some of the other 1,500 plus Information Management programs are examined that are listed by Peterson's Guide to Graduate Schools. Another question that is worth exploring is the extent to which the development of an information management degree in iSchools is a strategy of shifting the focus of the school away from the legacy LIS program to the new branded Information school (iSchool) movement. This raises considerable questions relating to the future of the iSchool movement now that the majority of the members no longer have ALA accredited degree programs. It should be noted that this comes at a time when some iSchool members have called for a discussion of some form of accreditation for iSchools and others have expressed the desire to explore a program of international accreditation for LIS programs. I believe we have an opportunity to begin some important discussions about the extent to which new career opportunities should impact the kind and number of degrees we offer in schools educating future information professionals.



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Grotzinger, Laurel (1992). "Remarkable Beginnings, The First Half Century of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science" In Allen, Walter C. and Robert F. Delzell, (eds.): Ideals and Standards: The History of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1893-1993. p. 1-22.

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