One degree, three streams: Three populations?


1. Introduction

There is a well-noted shift in library and information science (LIS) education towards breadth of disciplinary scope. The KALIPER study on LIS curriculum change found an increased focus on information technology, multi-disciplinarity, breadth and flexibility of offerings, including multiple degrees and specializations (Kaliper, 2000). This is reflected in the ways in which LIS programs have begun to position and market themselves. The recently inaugurated I-School caucus ( is the strongest expression of this trend. Among the core attributes of an “I-School” is that the faculty, “should come from various disciplines and have broad based, inclusive, multidisciplinary mindsets” (Bruce, Richardson, & Eisenberg, 2006). The curricula of the 19 member I-Schools reflect this, as they typically offer multiple degrees, and/or multiple specializations within a single degree.

This breadth of focus raises important issues of identity and cohesion among I-School faculty, as noted by King (2006), but equally important are the implications for student populations of information schools. We conducted a four-year study of students working towards a Master of Information Studies (MISt) degree at the Faculty of Information Studies (FIS), at the University of Toronto. FIS is a member of the I-School caucus and offers an ALA accredited program with three streams: Archives, Information Systems, and Library and Information Science (LIS). Data from this study allowed us to identify differences that exist between streams, with respect to demographics, attitudes and career aspirations. Understanding this diversity has implications for recruitment, curriculum planning, and student culture within I-Schools and LIS programs in general.

2. Methods

From Fall 2003 to Spring 2007, we conducted twice-yearly surveys of FIS MISt students via self-administered questionnaires. We surveyed incoming students in the fall and the entire student body in the spring. The fall 2003 survey was paper-based; all subsequent surveys have used web questionnaires. Our methodology was based on Dillman's Tailored Design Method (Dillman, 2007) and is described more fully in (Duff, Cherry, & Singh, 2007).

In this poster, we report on a subset of the survey results for fall 2004, fall 2005, and fall 2006, representing 3 distinct cohorts of incoming students. The data from Fall 2003 is not included as we did not ask students to indicate their stream(s) that year. The survey instrument included questions relating to student background, perceptions of the information professions and career expectations. For this analysis, we have pooled the responses for the 3 years and compared responses across the 3 streams (Archives, Information Systems and LIS). We report on a data from 231 students: 38 from Archives, 41 from Information Systems, and 152 from LIS. A further 20 respondents identified with more than one stream: this data was not included in this analysis.

2. Results and Discussion

We performed chi-square independence tests on the dataset. Table 1 summarizes some of the significant differences in responses across streams. The main demographic finding is the clear gender divide between the Archives and LIS students, who are predominantly female, and the Information Systems stream which has a male majority. Canadian employment statistics show similar gender trends for archivists and librarians, and an even higher male majority of 70-80% for Information Systems related professions (Service Canada 2007). There were no significant differences across the streams by age.

There are a number of interesting differences among the streams related to academic choices. Information Systems students are more likely to come to the degree from a related field of work or directly from an undergraduate degree than Archives and LIS students, who often come from work in unrelated fields. Information Systems students tend to cite pragmatic reasons for entering the program: seeking a graduate degree, career advancement, seeking employment; whereas more of the Archives students, and to a lesser extent the LIS students, are either “following their dream” or consider the career appealing.

With respect to future career aspirations, Information Systems students are more interested in seeking advancement in a current job or further education upon completion of the MISt than LIS or Archives students, who are more likely to seek new employment in their field of study. Information Systems students see themselves working in the business sector, taking on executive positions and owning their own businesses more than do LIS and Archives students, who plan primarily to work in the public sector, in universities or government, in nonmanagement positions.

Salary expectations of students in the 3 streams are significantly different as well (see Figure 1). Archives students have the lowest expectations, with most in the under $50,000 range. The range of expectations for LIS students is slightly higher, but only the Information Systems students' expectations range to the highest level of over $95,000. Student expectations are in line with Canadian employment statistics, which indicate a median salary for archivists and librarians of just over $40,000, and median salaries of approximately $50,000 and $65,000 for systems analysts and information systems managers, respectively (Service Canada, 2000).

These results show that strong differences exist in the backgrounds, motivations and aspirations of students in the various streams, over and above the different subject matter they have chosen to study. It is likely that these differences are expressed in different attitudes and expectations with respect to curriculum and services in their graduate education.

Table 1. Some Significant Differences across Streams
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Better awareness of these differences can benefit I-Schools and LIS programs seeking to serve these different populations, whether by working to forge more common ground and shared identify, or to carve out specialized and distinct programs of study for each. We have recently received funding to extend our study to other schools and over the next 2 years we will collect data at 3 additional institutions. We will explore whether student populations in other information programs exhibit the differences found in this study or differ in other ways.

Figure 1.

Salary Expectations by Stream