Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Rankings)

Every so often, someone comes across this space because they are interested in learning more about graduate programs in library and information science. Recent searches that led to this blog include "mlis jobs," "job market mlis," "mlis entrance essay," and "mlis graduate admissions essay," and that's just in the last week.

With that in mind, US News and World Report has released their 2013 rankings of the best programs for graduate study in library and information science. Here are the top fifteen programs:

Screenshot from here.
I'm number ten!

How did US News and World Report get these rankings? Did they toss a bunch of papers in the air and then pick them up in this order? Did they conduct a rigorous, scientific study taking into account curricula, graduation rates, job placement (wouldn't it be nice if the American Library Association made MLIS programs release those rates?), and reputation? Sadly, it appears to be the former.
The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed. (Source)
Um, yeah. That is poor social science. What we have here is a lazy, crude metric that attempts to get at something like "reputation," but the magazine's staff doesn't know how and doesn't care to know how to really do it. Those numbers on the right-hand side of the table above are based on a "peer assessment score," with 5.0 being the highest; the numerical result of asking the aforementioned small, incestuous sample. Just one more reason why there's a Wikipedia section devoted to this magazine's rankings.
Sportsball analogy alert: these rankings are to library and information science what the USA Today Coaches Poll is to college football.

You don't know about this series?  Bad librarian! Bad!
Through analyzing a Coach’s Difference Score (CDS), we found that coaches had a positive bias towards their own team. That is, they vote their own team higher than their peers. We also discovered that coaches tend to vote schools from their own conference higher than do coaches from outside that conference. Finally, we concluded that coaches from the six Automatically Qualifying (AQ) conferences were biased against schools from the smaller N-AQ conferences. (Source)
If you're going to choose an MLIS program based on these rankings, please reconsider. Don't do it. Look at course catalogs. Talk to faculty in the program. Talk to deans and administrators. Ask them about job placement rates and opportunities for real world experience in a variety of settings. Are there opportunities to publish and present at conferences? To learn marketable skills? Talk to librarians. We're a friendly bunch. Talk to students in these programs. They're training to be a friendly bunch. Find programs that feel right, that have a "fit." And take a course or two in research methodology, so you don't graduate and then publish misleading, faux-authoritative rankings like this one.

4 comments:

  1. I started noticing these rankings when I was in library school – probably because my "highly ranked school" publicized them. I was horrified by the methodology then, and I'm even more horrified now.

    I happened to get a lot out of my school (University of Washington iSchool), and I still support it in various ways. But "best?" That's truly confounding. It was "best" for what I wanted to do, which is to say I had lived in Seattle for 23-years and didn't want to move. If I had been truly open, I would've likely chosen a different school.

    Good grief, if you're going to get an MLIS or an MLS please do the work to figure out what is best for YOU. While the schools on this list are good (and great), at the end of your program you'll still find yourself lost and jobless if you didn't do your homework in advance.

    I'm so glad you posted this. It has bugged me for years.

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  2. If it is ALA accredited, it is a degree in good standing. I was working as a librarian when I wen to school and went to the college I could afford and not have to quit my job to complete.

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