Hack Your Art Librarianship Program: The University of North Texas

This Hack Your Art Librarianship Program post is contributed by Cassie Swayze. Cassie is a recent graduate of the University of North Texas and is interested in the convergence of fine arts, digital technologies and long-term preservation solutions. She currently resides in Austin, TX and can be found on Twitter @castleswayze. When she isn’t blogging or library-ing, she can be found reading longform articles and swimming in lakes, creeks and streams around Central Texas.

The University of North Texas (UNT) Information Science school is an ALA accredited program located in Denton, TX. The program requirement is 39 credits including the practicum and capstone courses. Incoming students can choose to major in either MS-Information Science or MS-Library Science. I received my degree from UNT this fall (just two short weeks ago), and elected to complete the MS-LS degree. Although, program staff strongly encourage me to pursue an Information Science degree because it is more versatile. However, my career objectives are focused on employment in either a fine art museum environment or humanities archives and the Library Science track was a better fit for my personal goals. This post will focus on the MS-LS program but you can read more about the IS track on their website [http://informationscience.unt.edu/].

The MS-LS can be completed online or in-person, or a combination of online and in-person. I live and work in Austin, and the UNT program is based in Denton (about an hour north of Dallas), so my program was primarily completed remotely. However, there were students in my cohort who completed a mix of online and in-person coursework, and it is feasible to tailor your experience depending on your location. I also encountered students in my cohort located across the country from California to Maine. Each region is assigned its own cohort but students interact with each other primarily through their program of study (more on that below). For example, one of my fellow students was located in the Bay Area and completed a wide variety of internships from area museums to the Internet Archive. There are advantages and disadvantages to pursuing an online experience. I elected to complete the majority of my coursework remotely because I did not want to relocate from Austin. I was also fortunate to obtain my degree debt free because I was working full-time and attended as an in-state resident.

Students enrolled in the MS-LS can select from seven different programs of study to tailor their degree experience. Students may also complete the general program of study for librarianship. Your selected program does not appear on your transcript or diploma but serves as a guideline for course selection. Students pursuing the online program are encouraged to speak with their advisors throughout the program and advisor approval is required before enrolling in courses each semester. I chose to speak with my advisor via telephone prior to each semester and emailed past instructors seeking advice about coursework selection. I was quite nervous about the level of involvement from faculty and program staff prior to enrollment, but everyone was readily available to advise and answer my questions. I only visited the advising office in person one time in two years (which was really different than my undergraduate experience)! Beyond the program of study guidelines each student must complete and pass three required courses: Information and Knowledge Professions, Information Organization, and Information Access and Knowledge Inquiry. The three core courses require in-person attendance at a two day institute either in Denton or a city based in your cohort\’92s region. These core classes were the only time I interacted with students outside my program of study and I found it refreshing to hear perspectives from student librarians, music librarians, metadata specialists, cataloguers, health informatics, etc.

Additional mandatory requirements include two guided electives selected from a predetermined list with the assistance of your advisor. Finally, all students must complete an 120 hour practicum. There is an option to waive the practicum if you have been or are already employed in a library or related organization (archive, museum). Although I qualified for a waiver, I chose to complete the practicum because it was excellent work experience and an opportunity to develop workflows using the applications and databases I learned about throughout my coursework. One big advantage to the online coursework is that the practicum can be completed anywhere. The UNT LIS program maintains an active graduate list serve where local and national organizations advertise opportunities for practicums and employment opportunities. The Dallas Museum of Art’s reference library and the Southern Methodist University (SMU) art library recently advertised practicum opportunities on the list serve, and the Amon Carter Museum of Art in Fort Worth occasionally posts advertisements for students in the local area.

I chose to complete my practicum with the UNT Special Collections Library and worked directly with the Portal to Texas History digital library describing records and performing metadata creation. Although my practicum was not in the fine arts I worked at the Blanton Museum of Art throughout my program. I was also able to perform processing duties at the Harry Ransom Center humanities library and collaborated on digital projects with staff at the Blanton Museum while enrolled. These experiences certainly made my online degree program feel worthwhile and diverse, but UNT LIS students must be proactive in seeking out opportunities themselves. I also joined professional organizations (student discounts!) and attended webinars whenever my schedule allowed. One big difference between an in-person versus virtual experience is that students have to be motivated about networking and internship opportunities. I was able to develop my resume while enrolled at UNT without relocating or pursuing financial assistance, which was ideal for my personal/family life. The UNT LIS department also offers scholarship assistance to enrolled students and has a lengthy menu of scholarships available. I was told during one of the core institutes that the department frequently has funds leftover from unclaimed scholarships.

The program of study selected by students provides guidelines for the remainder of the required credits for the degree plan. Although I entered the program intending to pursue art librarianship my interest pivoted to archival studies and digital humanities once I was enrolled. The program relies heavily on project-based learning and I was able to tailor my research to arts communities and user groups. In my personal experience, metadata and cataloging coursework at UNT accounted for visual arts resources and their unique traits. I was able to use any project-based learning to examine LIS issues in art museums. Frequently I used these opportunities to examine digital scholarship in fine arts environments.

During my second semester, my advisor recommended enrolling in Introduction to Digital Libraries, which was offered as a five week course during the truncated May-June term. The course was taught by Dr. Jeonghyun Kim and introduced me to digital curation, which was my academic focus throughout my program. UNT also offers a Graduate Academic Certificate (GAC) in digital curation, although, unfortunately the offerings required for the curation GAC did not align with my academic schedule. Instead, I completed the GAC in Archival Management & Imaging Technology with special focus on born-digital and digitized archives, and explored the integration of digital libraries and digital exhibitions into preexisting arts communities. I enjoyed my coursework in digital curation immensely and was able to apply the principles to my archival studies. Art museums and art libraries, especially in academia, are more committed than ever to preserving born-digital records and digitizing existing collections. The digital curation coursework was the most valuable information I encountered at UNT and Dr. Kim was one of my favorite instructors. I continued to encounter the standards and principles taught in my digital curation courses in nearly every other class throughout the program. Beyond digital curation, I focused on archival studies in humanities repositories and art museums. My coursework was mostly taught by adjuncts who are professionals in the field, and their real world advice was extremely valuable.

The degree plan allows students to pace themselves according to their personal and financial capabilities, and I elected to complete my degree in 24 months. Full-time workers are encouraged to take no more than six credits (two courses) per semester but there were colleagues in my archival cohort who enrolled in nine credits. Personally, I took nine credits during each summer term and it was very challenging to maintain the pace while conducting in-depth research. I completed my practicum while enrolled in both guided electives, each of which focused on metadata creation. There were many late nights trying to puzzle out an assignment about VRA Core or MODS while juggling my description duties for the Portal to Texas History. I would not recommend agreeing to this many obligations while working full-time; it was very challenging to remain focused and manage my personal schedule beyond school/work.

I have nearly a decade of experience in the fine arts, working in galleries, nonprofit arts organization, and art museums. The decision to pursue art librarianship was a longtime dream and felt integral to my personal career goals. However, there are salary limitations to librarianship (as most of you reading understand!), and I could not justify pursuing a degree with large out of pocket costs. Like the LIS program offered by San Jose State University, the UNT LIS degree is designed to advance students’ careers who are already employed full or part-time. Faculty and staff possess an understanding of working professionals unique needs, and I found that most faculty (and definitely the advising office) are compassionate towards remote students’ specific limitations. Throughout my program I met and collaborated with students employed in libraries, archives and museums, and they brought unique, real world experiences to our discussions. I really enjoyed the diverse perspectives because learning about librarianship and archival studies in theory is quite different than in practice.

The online program relies heavily on Blackboard discussion forums and GoToMeetings for lectures so a dependable Internet connection and reliable computer hardware is necessary. I returned to graduate school after seven years in the workforce so there was a slight technology learning curve for me. I also enjoyed pacing myself and my work load throughout the program. My time management and organizational skills improved ten-fold and I mastered effective online writing and communication skills. There are several other excellent LIS programs in Texas, but I would recommend pursuing the UNT program if you are a working professional seeking to expand your skills. If you are already employed in a library, art museum or humanities archive, the MS-LS or MS-IS provides an opportunity to gain academic credentials and expand your skill set without committing to full-time coursework.

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