Data-Focused Courses Prepare MLIS Students for Growing Careers in Digital Services


This fall, the San José State University (SJSU) School of Information will offer a new course in its nationally ranked Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program, LIBR 246 Big Data Analytics and Management, as well as two other data-focused course offerings, LIBR 220 Data Services in Libraries, and LIBR 284 Tools, Services, and Methodologies for Digital Curation. The courses focus on new techniques and new technology, in order to make sure the school’s graduate students are well-prepared for the job market and skilled in the ways data can be used in numerous job scenarios.

The demand for data management courses has increased since many jobs for information professionals require extensive knowledge of data services, data analysis, and digital resources. For example, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook  noted that occupations in information science fields such as “database administrator” and “information security analyst” were projected to grow rapidly over the next 10 years.

Dr. Michelle Chen, an assistant professor at the SJSU iSchool and an expert in information systems and big data visualization, is teaching the new LIBR 246 Big Data Analytics and Management course. Chen believes information professionals live in a “data-intensive world,” and that being able to manage data is an essential skill in today’s job market. According to Chen, “No matter what the student’s career interest is, it is almost inevitable that they will be dealing with a large amount of data at some point and some level. Being able to effectively understand, interpret, communicate, and analyze the data will be paramount.”

In Chen’s course, students will “learn how to analyze and visualize large-scale data sets using different software systems and tools. Through a better knowledge discovery process, they will be able to make more informed, strategic decisions with the presence of a massive amount of data.” The course is indispensable for “students interested in learning about large-scale data analysis,” and those “who are interested in exploring what big data is,” said Chen, but it is also useful for students hoping to add more technical or analytical skills to their portfolios.

For students planning a career in academic library services or in any library or institution where they might be asked to help patrons find data resources, LIBR 220 Data Services in Libraries is an especially timely offering. Dr. Mandy Swygart-Hobaugh, a lecturer at the SJSU iSchool and a data services librarian herself, said, “In academia, faculty, graduate students, and increasingly undergraduate students are expected to engage in data analysis—and librarians must be able to help them find and access existing data sources for them to analyze.” Furthermore, “as most government-funded researchers are now required to make their data open to the public,” she added, “academic librarians are ideally situated to support the researchers in making that data available, searchable, and accessible for others in the short and long term.”

In Swygart-Hobaugh’s LIBR 220 course, graduate students will gain valuable job skills including, but not limited to, competency using flagship sources to answer a wide range of reference and research questions, creating a data management plan for a hypothetical research project that meets NSF-SBE guidelines, and conducting an environmental scan and making recommendations for developing or expanding data services at a particular library.

Another important course for graduate students wishing to build a comprehensive data management skill set is Alyce Scott’s LIBR 284, Tools, Services, and Methodologies for Digital Curation class. Students will not only gain “an understanding of the preservation requirements of digital files, including identification of their particular vulnerabilities, and how to address them through the creation of a preservation strategy,” but will also learn to understand “the requirements of trusted digital repositories” and obtain experience with web archiving.

Digital curation skills are vital, according to Scott, because “digital curation is becoming more important every minute” as more and more materials are digitized, and students will need to know how to preserve, access, and use digital materials and services effectively.

The ALA-accredited MLIS program at the SJSU iSchool offers numerous career pathways, including Digital Services and Digital Curation, with courses on data management and digital resources. New courses are continually added to the MLIS curriculum to ensure alignment with the job market.