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dMLIS Students Finish Successful First Quarter
By Sarah Bosarge
October 25, 2002

On Sunday, November 3, at 11:59 p.m. PST, the inaugural cohort of distance MLIS students heaved a collective sigh of relief as our first quarter officially came to an end. Projects and papers finished, we could start to look back with satisfaction on what we'd accomplished, and ahead to the next two and a half years with a little more certainty.

Only a few weeks ago we sat together in Mary Gates Hall as Mike Eisenberg commended us for being chosen from a competitive pool of distance applicants. He explained that starting this program had been one of his goals when he came to the iSchool, and that the program was committed to training new librarians and information scientists prepared to be leaders in the field from all over the western region. And we did come from all over the West: Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Utah, Northern and Southern California, and Idaho, as well as a large contingent from the Portland area and several students from King County and other parts of Washington State.

Some students had even postponed earning an MLIS until they could do so in a distance format from the iSchool. Justin McFadden of Salt Lake City said that he had started researching MLIS programs a couple of years ago and had decided then that the iSchool was his first choice, but that the lack of a distance program precluded UW. He had narrowed his choices down to two other programs when he found out about the new iSchool distance MLIS in January 2002. He rushed to get application materials together and was "ecstatic" to be admitted. So was Barbara Eales of Oxnard, California. Barb had almost accepted an offer from "another program" before she learned of her admittance at the iSchool, her first choice all along.

All 37 of us have different reasons for choosing the distance format. For most, current employment and family obligations are big issues. For many, employment has motivated their pursuit of an MLIS in the first place. Almost two-thirds of dMLIS students currently work in libraries, most in public library branches, but some also in school, law, corporate, and academic libraries. The rest of us represent fields from archaeology, to software development, to insurance services, definitely enough diversity to spark some lively forum discussions. The distance program carries the same requirements as the other iSchool MLIS programs. We started out with an intensive four-week session of LIS 500 while concurrently taking LIS 541 and LIS 550. We will spend the next two quarters focusing on core classes and then be able to choose from electives in our second and third years. We will work through all the "decade" classes, take electives according to our special interests, and complete portfolios just like other MLIS students.

Adjusting to the online format was a bit daunting at first. When we returned home from our first week of residency at UW, some of us were a bit disoriented getting all of our software installed and figuring out how to schedule everything-school, work, and life. Navigating the space of virtual classrooms was almost as confusing as being dropped into the middle of the real UW campus for the first time without a map, but we soon worked out strategies for participating in numerous forums, making sure we had access to streaming audio lectures, and planning synchronous communication times. Instructors Scott Barker and Stuart Sutton were ever available and patient at addressing our many questions and concerns as we settled into what was, for most of us, an entirely new experience. For many, the use of tools like MSN Messenger proved to be a lifeline as we could see who else was online and available to pop over and ask questions of, vent at, or rejoice to anytime of the day, or, more often, night.

The effort has been worth it though. Liesl Seborg of Boise, Idaho explains, "So far, the work for school has been very challenging but I feel that I am learning so much, and that it is worth the hours spent trying to figure out code and understand complex legal arguments!" Dorothy Harris, living in rural Soap Lake, Washington adds, "In my role as the only teacher-librarian in a small school district, I frequently find myself feeling isolated and unheard. The opportunity to research and discuss topics of great depth with people working in all areas of information services has been exhilarating for me." Indeed, dMLIS students know each other as well, or possibly better than, students in traditional residence programs might, since there is no limit to the day or hour that we can communicate with each other. Besides discussing the class content, we also hear about each other's illnesses, visits from relatives, home improvement projects, and new additions; two students became proud new fathers during the quarter, and we were some of the first people to learn the news and see the pictures!

By all accounts, the program is accomplishing the goals for which it was designed-it is meeting the needs of motivated students who may not otherwise have the opportunity to advance their careers in librarianship and the information sciences. Harris commends the students: "This is a great group of graduate students to work with. I truly hope all 37 will be able to manage the course-load and finish together in 2005." McFadden credits the dedication of the iSchool staff and faculty: "Our professors and instructors have been wonderful and have presented information in a way that has kept my attention and has allowed me to learn. …I also expected that as a member of the inaugural dMLIS cohort that there would be glitches and quirks to be worked out. There have been very few of these situations, indicating that the iSchool took care when planning and designing the dMLIS program." Seborg probably sums it up best for the majority of us-"I'm tired, but happy."

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