LIScareer.com
Career Strategies for Librarians
by Chrissie Anderson  

Recently, a discussion popped up on NEWLIB-L about Online Learning vs. Distance Education Learning
vs. On-Campus Learning. In the current information environment, as well as that which lies ahead in the
profession, I think we will see more opportunities for those who do not live close enough to physically
pursue various degrees on campuses. Selecting the program and modus apparatus that are best for
you is a very personal and very important decision. Especially in a time when such programs are really
just beginning to “take off,” it may be difficult to find statistics and “hard numbers” to help in your decision-
making. This is where personal interaction – through telephone, email, or in-person – with someone
who is going through/has just gone through the program becomes imperative. Ask them tough
questions. Make them tell you the not-so-great and challenging moments, as well as the rosy parts.
Most programs can provide names and contact information of students willing to discuss the program
with prospective students.

I am working on my degree through the University of Tennessee's program, based in Knoxville. I am part
of a cohort that began in Fall 2000 that has, for the first time through UTK, the potential of taking every
class online for the ALA-accredited degree. The program is set up to take three Fall semesters, three
Spring semesters, and two Summer semesters. It is possible to take more time; it is possible to take
less time. Up until this semester, I was on-track to finish two semesters ahead of schedule. (I dropped
to one class this semester – as opposed to three classes the past two semesters – as I decided I
needed more time to adjust to a new job – and to plan my wedding.)

I am in a cohort with students from Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas. As there are so few ALA-
accredited institutions in our part of the country, the online education presents a wonderful opportunity to
those who may not want to abandon “real-life” to go back to school for 1-2 years to complete the degree
to further their careers. I work full-time in an academic library (community college), but also worked full-
time in a public library during my first year of the program. Many of my classmates have very active, busy
family lives. I think most of us would agree that the first semester is likely the toughest in terms of
prioritizing. Online classes require lots of self-control and organization! Working full-time simultaneously
can be challenging, but it is possible!

I've about two hours away from Knoxville and have, therefore, been very fortunate to take some classes in
Knoxville, as well as taking them online. Last Spring I took a Storytelling class on five Saturdays
throughout the semester. We had homework and email interactions between meetings. And the day-
long class was amazingly intensive on the Saturdays we met in person. But the end result was so very
rewarding! I also took a Young Adult Resources course in a similar manner during the Summer – three
Friday-Saturday combinations throughout the Summer. We had a guest author/publisher during that
class, too – Marc Aronson, the 2001 recipient of the Robert F. Sibert Award for “the author of the most
distinguished informational book published during the preceding year.” I also had the privilege of taking
a week-long seminar-structured class where we learned about children’s book writing and publishing
from one of 2001’s Newberry Honorees, Jack Gantos (author of such serial characters as Joey Pigza,
Rotten Ralph, and Jack Henry). These classes were open to me, even though I was not an “on-campus”
student. I feel that UTK really has tried every conceivable way to include distance education and online
learners in every aspect of the current program. I see those possibilities and offerings expanding even
more over time!

Although I like the online classes, there is a difference when you do not see your classmates physically
every week. There are times when scheduling a time to meet online as a small group becomes tricky.
However, it would likely be just as difficult to find time and place to meet in person, as well. As for
“missing” people in online classes, I have found that our Fall 2000 Cohort is very close in most regards!
We email each other, even when we don't have classes together; we correspond via snail mail and
telephone; we get together at conferences and workshops. We've opened our homes and our lives to
each other because we are who we are and we do what we do. It's a wonderful, new-fangled way for us
to build very solid friendships and working relationships. In a way, I think I have the best of both worlds,
living so close to Knoxville. Not everyone enjoys such luxury, I realize. I can be an on-campus student
when something strikes my fancy and I want to drive back and forth in order to take that course offering.
Or I can log on from home in my pajamas while eating pizza and be an online student just as easily. I
love the flexibility!

In terms of how employers look at the online vs. on-ground degrees, all indications I've read about or
heard within the field are that the ALA-accreditation is the major selling/sticking point. I think we will see
more programs offered in a “virtual” environment as time goes on. In the busy, technological world in
which we live and work now, I think it almost has to be that way (in terms of what is offered, not
necessarily in terms of how to pursue the degree).

I'd be happy to answer any further general “online” vs. “on-ground” questions that anyone may have.
Since I've had exposure to both, I may have encountered something along the way that may benefit
someone else. If anyone has questions specifically about the UTK program, I'd also love to tell you more
about that. UTK offers in-state tuition to folks in many states that may not have programs in their home
state. It's a wonderful incentive!

About the Author:

(updated Mar 2003)  Chrissie Anderson Peters is a Fall 2002 graduate of the School of Information
Sciences at the University of Tennessee, a program that she participated in as a Distance Education
student. A member of the Tennessee Library Association, the Virginia Library Association, ALSC, NMRT,
and YALSA, she is a Librarian for Northeast State Technical Community College in Blountville, TN. Her
passions include writing, music, reading, traveling, her "children" Mel and Reid (the feline kind), and
spending as much time as possible with her husband Russell Peters, who makes her life a joy each
day.

Article submitted Dec 2001

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