Skip to content Skip to main menu Skip to utility menu

UBC Proposes Merging SLAIS, School of Journalism to Create School of Media and Information

January 2, 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Message from Acting Director of SLAIS

This message is a follow up on our initial request dated December 18, 2016 regarding our request for feedback on a proposed new School of Media and Information.

This message was initially distributed on December 13th to heads of Archival Associations (ACA, LAC, CCA) and Library and Information associations (BCLA, CFLA, CARL), and shortly thereafter as indicated above to our alumni and student body.

We are happy to receive your feedback and would like to extend the deadline for submission to January 27, 2017. This deadline is to facilitate revisions to the proposal and it should be noted your feedback will continue to be welcomed after this date as we move forward in planning.

We will also be hosting an open Town Hall at the School, in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre on Saturday January 14th, 3pm – 5pm. Should you not be able to attend but would like to send questions in for consideration please send them to Melissa Nightingale. We will do our best to pose all questions during the session.

We encourage you to share this with your professional associations and colleagues.

Luanne Freund
Associate Professor and Acting Director
SLAIS, the iSchool @ UBC
The University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

In early December, the Faculty of Arts at the University of British Columbia (UBC) released a draft “Proposal for the Creation of The School of Media and Information.”

The new School would be created from the combination of:

  • the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies (iSchool@UBC);
  • the Graduate School of Journalism; and
  • the Bachelor of Media Studies program.

Stakeholders, SLAIS alumni, and community members are invited to send their feedback on the following three questions to Melissa Nightingale by Friday, January 6, 2017.

  1. What, If any, benefits do you envision from the establishment of a School of Media and Information at UBC?
  2. What, if any, concerns do you have regarding the proposal? How could we strengthen the proposal to address these concerns?
  3. What suggestions do you have for ensuring that this integration would be successful? What do you see as important values, features or guiding principles for the UBC School of Media and Information?

Extracts from the proposal:

1. Introduction

This proposal outlines the creation of a new school within UBC Vancouver’s Faculty of Arts that reimagines the information, media and journalism landscape in response to the dramatic digital shift of the past two decades. The new unit, The School of Media and Information, will be formed by combining two existing units: The School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies (the iSchool) and the Graduate School of Journalism, and integrating the interdisciplinary and collaborative Bachelor of Media Studies (BMS) program. The new School will enhance the research and teaching potential across these cognate units and programs and enable UBC to take a leadership role in this area.

This proposal emerges at a moment of convergence of traditional disciplinary domains and forms of expression, as digital media, data, and information operate on a shared platform that connects the work of journalists, librarians, archivists, designers, artists and other information and media professionals. Effective leadership in the digital economy requires graduates who can create, manage, interrogate and make sense of digital information in order to contribute to meaningful public discourse across all forms of media. The new School will be interdisciplinary, building on existing strengths to provide a space for inquiry, innovation and inspiration for students and researchers who seek to intervene in the knowledge economy to address the compelling challenges of the 21st century.

Our proposal reflects UBC President Santa Ono’s observation that “The academy used to be driven by disciplines; now it is driven by problems.” The new School will offer a significant and novel constellation of complementary areas of research and education with a shared focus on digital information and media; a commitment to multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and innovation and praxis; and will have farreaching research impact. The School of Media and Information will examine, interrogate, and design the information and media landscape of the future by:

  • Serving as a hub and incubator for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, scholarship and design focused on emerging real-world challenges and opportunities;
  • Educating future knowledge leaders, who can, individually and collectively, take advantage of the transformative and disruptive nature of the digital economy;
  • Engaging creatively with issues of critical societal importance, providing insight, increasing understanding, and designing solutions.

2. Rationale

The School of Media and Information is proposed in response to dramatic changes in the means and methods of creating, disseminating, analyzing, using, and preserving all forms of information and media, from Big Data to post-Internet art. These changes have produced shifts in traditional professional and academic disciplines resulting in greater collaboration and synergy among librarianship, archival science, information science, journalism and media studies. Grounded in an ongoing commitment to the important professional work carried out in these fields, the integration will capitalize on the rise of digital technologies and data science that demands new competencies and opens up new research areas within and across all disciplines.


Pragmatic aspects of this integration further recommend its implementation. Both the School of Journalism, with 5.5 faculty positions, and the iSchool, with 13, are below the Senate minimum size for department status, which is 15 faculty members. With 18.5 faculty members, the new unit will benefit from greater stability, a reduction in faculty administrative load, a streamlined administrative structure, an increased capacity for handling searches, appointments, and promotion, and a larger internal pool for leadership. The integrated unit will further benefit from the collaborative and interdisciplinary structure of the BMS, which draws on the teaching resources of 7 units in the Faculty of Arts in addition to Computer Science. The undergraduate focus of the BMS will be complemented by the graduate programs of the iSchool and Journalism, and the new School will provide the basis for the expansion of the BMS via a graduate component.

Market Demand:

Employment forecasts show great potential for graduates of the School of Media and Information. The BMS, which will graduate its first class in the spring of 2018, has made a number of alliances within Vancouver’s digital industries via the Arts Co-Op Program and with the assistance of the Vancouver Economic Commission, leading to internship opportunities with Microsoft Canada, among others. This bodes well for future career placement opportunities. The demand for librarians, archivists and journalists is still substantial (see Table 1), but is not on the rise and consequently, applications to the MLIS, MAS and MJ have declined gradually in recent years (Appendix 1). At the same time, there is a great demand for employees with many of the same competencies afforded by these professionally-oriented master’s programs. Increasingly MLIS, MAS and MJ graduates are finding work in non-traditional sectors, such as data curation and analysis, web design, multimedia production, public affairs, advertising, information management, digital preservation, and social media management. While this represents an opportunity, it also requires an expansion and re-envisioning of these traditional fields of study so they are seen to be relevant and versatile. The popularity of the new BMS program, which receives over 400 applications for 40 spots each year, and includes a number of courses from the iSchool and the School of Journalism, is evidence that students are attracted to the content if it is effectively packaged.

3. Description of the New Unit

Academic Programs:

The School of Media and Information will offer a unique and in-demand undergraduate degree (the BMS) and will inherit the graduate programs offered by the School of Journalism and the iSchool. Opportunities for the creation of additional relevant graduate programs, including wider opportunities for studies at the doctoral level, will be explored following the creation of the new unit.

The current programs and approximate total enrolments in 2015 are as follows:

  • Bachelor of Media Studies (120 students, with an increased cohort projected)
    • An interdisciplinary, enriched, direct-entry undergraduate program currently administered through the office of the Dean of Arts.
  • Master of Journalism (76 students)
    • A full-time, intensive program that runs over five semesters, including a summer internship, designed to provide graduates with professional experience and academic grounding in journalism.
  • The Master of Library and Information Studies (160 students)
    • A 48 credit accredited degree with two intakes per year; can be completed through course work or a combination of coursework and thesis; qualifies graduates to work as professional librarians throughout North America.
  • The Master of Archival Studies (27 students)
    • A specialized 48 credit degree that can be completed through coursework or a combination of coursework and thesis; it is the only stand-alone archival degree offered in Canada and one of only a few in North America.
  • The Dual MAS/MLIS program (35 students)
    • In this 81 credit program, graduates receive two masters’ degrees, equipping them for a wide range of career options.
  • The Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (9 students)
    • An academic, thesis-based graduate degree jointly offered by the iSchool and three other units (English, Creative Writing and Language and Literacy Education, and administered by the iSchool.
  • PhD in Library, Archival and Information Studies (14 students)

4. Implementation Timeline:

Fall 2016: Proposal preparation; Dean’s office review

December 2016 – January 2017: Public consultations

January-February 2017: Revised proposal submission to Faculty of Arts Council

February 2017: Submission to Senate

July 2017: establishment of the School of Media and Information

(via SLA Western Canada)


2 responses to UBC Proposes Merging SLAIS, School of Journalism to Create School of Media and Information

  1. Matt Thomas says:

    Not sure I support this merger. Having received my MLIS from UWO, I know what it’s like to attend such a combined school, and I’m not sure it works. Sure, LIS and media studies work well together, but journalism doesn’t really fit. Ideally, it should, but journalism doesn’t seem to have the same fundamental goals and principles that I feel would need to be shared in order to work well together like this. Cost savings and more representation sounds goods but not at the expense of the academics involved.

  2. Wilma MacDonald says:

    I am interested in knowing the current status of this merger proposal. Unfortunately the deadline passed before I had an opportunity to express my opinion ‘against’ the burying of the Library, Archives and Information Studies programme amidst the others. Thank you for any updated information you are able to provide.

Leave a comment