As many at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) have discovered over the past two years, it takes a village–and a whole lot of computer file space–to undertake and complete the American Library Association (ALA)’s accreditation process.

I recently got to be part of that by serving as proofreader and editor for the self-study document. That opportunity afforded me new insights into the iSchool’s Library and Information Science program, as well as the intensive process—and the dedication, time and effort put in by many people whose work lives the process touches—during the first phase of the accreditation self-study.

The iSchool’s founding program, the library education curriculum, dates back to 1896. The School also offers undergraduate programs in information management and technology and systems and information science; several specialized graduate certificate programs, master’s-degree programs in information management; telecommunications and network management; and library science, plus doctorate of professional studies and doctorate of information science and technology programs.

mslis 2

MSLIS at the iSchool at SU

Of course, the accreditation process involves the school’s master’s program in library and information science, and the LIS program’s school media specialization. The school has had a continually accredited LIS program since 1928, just a few years after the ALA started conducting such accreditations.

ALA’s external accreditation process is a lengthy, complex, multi-part, comprehensive effort. It occurs every seven years, per ALA guidelines. (The last one here was completed in 2008.)

This time, the process has been underway at the iSchool since late 2013—when planning first began—and it has continued throughout all of 2015. There will be several more important steps this fall when the six-member ALA External Review Panel (ERP) makes its site visit and assessment November 15-17. The process is due to conclude in January 2016.

The iSchool Village

Jill Hurst-Wahl, associate professor of practice at the iSchool and director of the LIS program, has been in charge of the process this time around. However, the effort has involved dozens of faculty, current students, LIS program alumni, staff members, and library-profession friends of the School, as well.

The first part of the process is called the “self-study,” a look-back in which the LIS program takes a full, reflective review of its own capacities and capabilities to educate today’s library professionals, and how the School is meeting the ALA’s defined professional standards criteria.

The self-study assesses:ala seal

  • The mission, goals, and objectives of the program
  • The curriculum
  • Faculty
  • Students
  • Administration and financial support
  • Physical support and facilities

Over the past year-plus, the iSchool has put together a lengthy document that involved:

  • LIS faculty authoring the document’s chapters, which correspond to six areas of professional standards
  • Current LIS students and LIS program alumni providing feedback on chapter writings to make sure they accurately reflect student experiences and perspectives
  • Review of the narrative by friends of the School who work in the library profession, who offer perspectives from outside of the school, and in the context of their professional capacities and realities
  • Staff members involved in many phases of producing, editing, and organizing the hefty document, including printing, collating and binding hard copies and e-files to be sent to the six review committee members.

snnip 31480 Files

In mid-July, the iSchool delivered the self-study document. It consisted of 200-plus narrative pages that examine how the School believes that it provides excellence in library professional education that meets ALA’s standards.

The submission also includes 60 appendices—everything from faculty bios, to student demographics, to course attendance data.

In all, the document totaled more than 350 MB (1480 files) of information.

(A staff member who provide Herculean efforts keeping all those data files sorted–and the various edited versions of those files up-to-date through the editing and revision processes as the document was compiled–was Blythe Bennett, Program Manager, Library and Information Science/School Media. She was an integral part of making sure the accreditation document came together in fine form.) Also playing an important role were Sheila Clifford-Bova, Student Services Office manager, and a team of student helpers.

ALA Working Group

Faculty/Staff involved in LIS Accreditation effort, from the Self-Study Document

Site Visits, Interviews

Once it was submitted, a team of six assigned reviewers began to read the document as preparation for a site visit scheduled at the iSchool in November. That “ERP” team has already submitted questions in advance of their visit. The iSchool is providing the ERP team with a full set of answers, in advance, so that the team members have that additional information before coming on-site in November.

During their time here, the group will review what the school does to educate future library professionals, plus assess the more concrete “where” and “how” of its delivery of library and information science education.

The team also will conduct in-person interviews with the school’s leadership (Interim Dean Jeff Stanton); with the Syracuse University Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor (Liz Liddy, who was formerly dean of the iSchool for much of the past seven years); and with Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud. Extensive meetings and discussions with faculty, students, and alumni of the iSchool also are planned.

The documentation provided for the accreditation process encompasses a 360-degree view of the program, since it involves participation by current students, alumni, faculty, staff, and associates and friends of the iSchool LIS program, who all contribute comments and perspectives about the program’s characteristics and effectiveness.

ALA Chapter reviewers and commenters

Reviewers and Commenters for the Self-Study document included alumni, library professionals, and iSchool friends and associates

Importance of Accreditation  

Jill Hurst-Wahl via

Jill Hurst-Wahl via

The American Library Association awards accreditation to 62 different schools across the country. That designation is an especially important one when students begin to assess where they would like to obtain a library and information science education.

“When prospective students apply to an MSLIS program, they look for one that is accredited,” noted Professor Hurst-Wahl.

“Those students who have assisted in preparing for our accreditation review know understand the work that going into being accredited and what accreditation really means. I think it has taught them important lessons, as they help us be comprehensive in our self-study.”

Barbara Stripling via

Barbara Stripling via

“The value of the accreditation process for our students is that we look back to look forward. We are building on what we have learned through our self-study to provide an education that empowers our students to lead libraries into the future,” noted Barbara Stripling, an iSchool assistant professor of practice, the school’s senior associate dean, and a past president of the American Library Association.

 Accreditation’s Importance

So much time and effort is put into the accreditation process because ALA accreditation is an important way to qualify and assure that the library education the iSchool provides meets the standards which the profession has set for itself. As practical considerations for library program students:

  • In the North American job market, most library employers require an ALA-accredited master’s degree for professional-level positions (a step to career advancement)
  • In addition, some U.S. states require an ALA-accredited degree to work as a professional librarian in public or school libraries
  • Outside of North America, ALA accreditation illustrates the program’s high standards, because the level of comprehensiveness and rigor of the accreditation process.

You’ll be hearing more talk about “accreditation” this fall as the process moves forward.

The school will be inviting current students, alumni, and faculty to get involved when the site team visits this November; the review panel members will want to hear from the iSchool and its LIS community and support systems. The iSchool welcomes that participation.

For more information about the ALA’s accreditation process, look here. Information about the iSchool’s M.S. in Library and Information Science is here.


(Editor’s Note: Syracuse’s iSchool program consistently ranks among the nation’s top programs, attesting to the quality of the faculty, curriculum, resources, and students. According to US News and World Report’s rankings of library and information schools, the iSchool ranks: #1 in information systems; #3 in school library media; #3 in digital librarianship; and #4 in library and information science schools.)