Applying for LIS Bursaries & Awards

Application by is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

As a student or library assistant and during the first few years of working as a professional it can be difficult to gain the kind of exposure and recognition that you need to kick-start your LIS career. Unless you are attached to an institution which is flexible, progressive in its approach to employee CPD and very well staffed and resourced, attending or travelling to some of the bigger LIS conferences can be very difficult to organise and fund. Bursaries and awards offer a fantastic solution to this problem – many national and international library associations and committees offer some version of an ‘early career award’ or an annual bursary which will cover much of the costs of travel and/or attendance and provide you with exciting opportunities for networking, mentorship, and learning on a scale which would be impossible to finance on your own.

Having said that, winning bursaries is no easy feat – competition can be high and you have to find ways to make your application stand out from the hundreds and sometimes thousands received by judging panels for prestigious awards. With that in mind and due to requests, the CDG has put together a few resources for those keen to try applying for a bursary (with a little help from our friends!)

Below you will find a list of bursaries that come up every year open to Irish Library staff, followed by the experiences of a few lucky souls who have applied for and won bursaries, what they gained from applying, and their tips & advice for winning.* There are further links to useful resources at the end.

Let us know if we’ve missed any!

Bursaries and Awards


A&SL National & International Conference Bursaries

ANLTC Awards (Research Award & Library Assistant Award)

Bernard Barrett Bursary (HSLG)

BIALL Bursary

Cataloguing and Metadata Group Bursary (LAI)

CILIP Ireland Student Bursaries


CILIP Grants and Bursaries

IFLA Congress Fellowship Grant

John Merriman Joint NASIG/UKSG Award

LILAC Conference bursaries


Genevieve Larkin, CDG Secretary and Assistant Librarian at the Marino Institute of Education


gen-profile-picLast year I started making a concerted effort to apply for bursaries. Not only do they offer library professionals opportunities to attend huge international conferences where you can meet and listen to influential LIS leaders and see first-hand the range and diversity of issues affecting libraries globally, but the application process itself is a kind of self-imposed continuing professional development activity which encourages reflection on your career to date and where you want to be in the future. You will often have to revise your CV, write personal statements, or ask for academic or professional references. All of this information gathering and structuring is hard work, but if you see it as an ongoing part of your CPD, then none of it is wasted, even if your application is unsuccessful. It’s also good practice if you’re thinking about applying for an ALAI or chartering through CILIP, and the material can be re-used as interview preparation.

Some bursary application processes are akin to applying for a job. I’ve spent a month writing and re-drafting an application for an SLA ECCA  – the competition for these awards is so high and the prizes so staggeringly good that I felt that amount of preparation was necessary. I also spent a decent amount of time applying for an IFLA 2016 Congress Fellowship Grant which could have brought me to Ohio – but alas they were unsuccessful. The IFLA received over 3,300 applications from librarians and information professionals in 161 countries – which took the sting out of not winning!

I was delighted to be awarded a bursary (along with another winner) from the generous A&SL Committee to attend LILAC 2015 run by CILIP’s active Information Literacy Group, and was held in UCD in March 2016.

For my application, I had to write 500 words on why I wanted to attend and how it would support my professional development. I outlined challenges and opportunities that I faced in designing information literacy instruction in my workplace and listed the ways that I would benefit from a deeper understanding of best practice in teaching and learning in Libraries across the UK and elsewhere.

Grace Hillis, CDG committee member and librarian, Daugters of Charity Disability Support Services (@graceih):

grace-hillisWhen I first started working as a Health Sciences Librarian, EAHIL was in Dublin. EAHIL is the European Association for Health Information and Libraries. Our own HSLG group, part of the LAI, had successfully bid for the EAHIL Conference to be held in Ireland. Aside from the fact that we and our European and international colleagues got to enjoy amazing weather, this was my first opportunity to engage with fellow health librarians on a large scale. It was on for 3 days, in City Hall and included a dinner and dancing in the Mansion House! I went to loads of talks and looked at wonderful posters. I learned then the value of attending conferences – you pick up so many useful tips from your fellow librarians. Among the most memorable ones for me were:

  • to set up email signatures for journal alerts if you send them out
  • to remember to include a table of contents in your newsletters
  • to put things in the body of an email instead of an attachment where possible (paste an article abstract in the body of an email)
  • to have an elevator pitch ready
  • to get out of the library and join committees in your organisation
  • to make the library’s goals reflect the organisation’s goals

Conferences also allow us to meet representatives of organisations looking for our business, e.g. database vendors and book sellers. Talking to them can be awkward at first, but rewarding as sometimes they generously have prizes on offer. I was fortunate to win a bottle of champagne from one stand at a HSLG conference, and to win a meal for two at another conference!

Attending conferences costs money, and while sometimes I’m comfortable putting in a request to go to my line-manager I have also at times paid myself and on one occasion I applied to the HSLG for a bursary. They had advertised it on the HSLG ListServ and I thought I would give it a shot. I had to apply in good time and fill in a form asking me what I expect to gain by attending. As it is several years ago now I don’t remember what I wrote, but I can say that meeting librarians at conferences sends me home with fresh ideas and renewed motivation. It helps to strengthen our network as we put faces to the names we see so often on email, it allows us to mix with colleagues who have been librarians for a long time and those just starting, and those who do not call themselves librarians at all, but perhaps Information Managers.

The conference also gave me the opportunity to share something I was involved with, in the form of a 5 minute lightening presentation. It’s always good to get public speaking experience, right?! I talked about a community book club we run in my workplace for people with intellectual disability. Another one also gave me the chance, just recently, to do a poster presentation.

I received a HSLG bursary the year I applied. A condition of receipt was that I had to write about the conference for the HSLG’s e-newsletter, HINT. This was a useful opportunity to reflect on the two days in Athlone, and gain some valuable writing practice, and I’ve had a few other things published in HINT since.

Information on applying for a HSLG bursary may be found here:

Looking forward to sharing ideas with you at the next conference!

Celine Campbell, Subject Librarian for Nursing, Dublin City University (@CelineCamp88)

celine-campbell-2I applied for the A&SL bursary at the end of October 2015. I quickly got a reply saying that I would hear back in early December. I decided to apply for the bursary because I was eager to attend this particular conference as I heard from people the previous year that it was extremely worthwhile. I followed the A&SL 2015 conference remotely but I felt that I would learn more if I actually attended. I was particularly interested in the theme of the conference too.

The application form was fairly short but filling it in took longer than anticipated. I was eager to convey what I could do for the actual conference (write a review, Tweet during the conference) rather than place an emphasis on what I would actually learn at it. I also asked a friend to have a look over it to ensure that there were no major spelling/grammatical errors. Like a CV I would advise anyone applying for a bursary to do the same.

The conference itself was brilliant. I really enjoyed the networking sessions as I could catch up with old colleagues and I make a conscious effort to speak to new people. Everyone was really friendly so that made networking really easy. The talks were excellent and were so diverse that it was really difficult to decide on what talk to attend.

I knew I would be asked to write a review of the conference so during the two days I took notes whenever possible. It wasn’t difficult though to pay attention because the talks overall were extremely interesting and practical. The other bursary winner, Saoirse Reynolds, and I are currently working on a review of the conference. We have communicated via email but it really helped that I knew Saoirse before the actual conference- we worked together in Maynooth University I think it would be slightly more difficult/awkward to do it with someone I had never met before.

The whole experience was really worthwhile and I would advise anyone to apply for a bursary for many reasons. It looks great on your CV and it’s also excellent for anyone who’s unemployed and can’t afford to attend or anyone who works in a library with little or no budget to attend such conferences.

*The following are thanks to Shona Thoma (@shinyshona) who collated information from librarians in Ireland who were successful in their applications for awards and bursaries:

Award/Bursary name: Career Advancement Award

Awarding organisation: Leadership and Management Division of the Special Libraries Association

Award consisted of: Special Libraries Association Conference which included Flights and Accommodation to the value of 1,500 and registration to the conference.

Date awarded/fulfilled: Applied Feb 2016 Awarded in April 2016

Your tip/advice for anyone applying: 

Research the association or the particular division you are applying to. Know their goal/mission statement. Then build your application in a new format, one that stands out and that meets all the particulars of that group/division.

Siobhan McGuinness


Award/Bursary name: John Merriman Award

Awarding organisation: UKSG and NASIG

Award consisted of: Fully funded attendance at the UKSG Conference and Exhibition, travel costs on completion of an editorial for UKSG Insights, and funding to attend the NASIG Conference and Exhibition in America.

Date awarded/fulfilled: Applied February 2016, award comprised of events in April and June 2016

Your tip/advice for anyone applying: 

As soon as it even crosses your mind that you might apply, tell someone!

For this award and many others, you will be required to provide a written reference from an employer or someone who knows you in a professional capacity. Talking about the possibility of applying for an award has several advantages. It means you will be more likely to stick to your goal of submitting the application. Your chosen colleague or mentor can provide you with help and advice. If this person is your reference, it gives them time to write this part of the application and check with you about the submission guidelines. If the award or bursary is going to involve being away from work for a while, it’s a good idea to discuss this too.

Shona Thoma


 Award/Bursary name: A&SL National and International Library Conference & Bursary Scheme

Awarding organisation: Academic & Special Libraries Group, Library Association of Ireland

Award consisted of: Funding for a trip to the OpenRepositories Conference in Indianapolis 2015.

Date awarded/fulfilled: June 2015

Your tip/advice for anyone applying:

Just do it.

I have often procrastinated about applying for bursaries. Generally I would have two major doubts – firstly that my idea might not be very good and secondly that every other application would be fantastic.

You can spend ages worrying about both of these things but the best thing is just to get an application down on paper. Once you have a first draft you can revise and improve it. As to the second point I now know that from speaking to people involved in granting different bursaries that a common problem they encounter is a low level of applicants – so if you get an application in you are in with a decent chance!

Finally I would say to people to be ambitious. The conference I wanted to attend was in the States and I thought that I was chancing my arm a little. At the time I worked in a library which generously supported CPD and conference attendance but which wouldn’t stretch to fully fund a trip like this. In hindsight I think the fact that it was a conference I would have struggled to get funding for from elsewhere probably helped my case.

Padraic Stack


Award/Bursary name: UKSG Sponsored Conference Places for Students and Early Career Professionals (I got the student one)

Awarding organisation: UKSG

Award consisted of: The award covers the cost of attendance at the conference, including all meals, entertainment and accommodation. Travel expenses up to £300 will also be refunded on presentation of a report.

Date: March 2015

Your tip/advice for anyone applying:

When answering the questionnaire emphasise how the conference will be of benefit to you e.g. if you are a student emphasise how the content of the conference would be of interest to you as you are studying a certain aspect and specifically name the sessions you are interested in attending – this shows that you have read over the conference programme and know what is coming up.

Saoirse Reynolds


Both Shona and Saoirse have been recipients of the A&SL “first timers” bursary in the past. They echo Padraic’s advice of “Just do it”, you never know where it might lead…thoma

More advice is available at the following links:

Applying for the SLA Europe ECCA by @pennyb

CILIP Grants & Bursaries

CONUL ANLTC Library Assistant Award 2016 by Kathryn Smith on LibFocus

LAI events page: Updated list of upcoming events & conferences for the Library Association of Ireland

NLPN’s Top Tips: Bursaries: Great advice on applying for bursaries from the New Library Professionals Network (UK)

NPD Ireland often feature advice on career development and upcoming events for new Info Professionals in Ireland.


Lead to succeed: a final reflection

The last of our series of blog-posts ties together the visions of  leadership in Irish libraries presented by our inspiring speakers at Lead to Succeed and is written by CDG Chairperson Marta Bustillo. 

This year’s annual seminar and AGM of the Career Development Group sought to present a variety of views on leadership from librarians at all career stages, as well as from non-librarians. We invited John Lonergan, former Governor of Mountjoy prison, as our keynote speaker and we also had Kate Kelly, head librarian at RCSI; Siobhan McGuinness, 2016 winner of the Career Advancement Award from the Special Library Association’s Leadership & Management Division; Hugh Murphy, Senior Librarian at the Collection Management Division in Maynooth University Library, and Marie O’Neill, head of library services at Dublin Business School. All of them came at the issue of leadership from very different angles, yet a number of common themes seemed to emerge from all of the talks, which I would like to reflect upon in this post (slides available at links above & on our Slideshare).

At a time when even the need for libraries is being put in question, and when library staff are increasingly being replaced by so-called ‘open libraries’, effective leadership will make the difference between a thriving and well funded library, or no library at all.

hughmurphy-7Hugh Murphy asked: “a leader of whom? In what?” These are unequivocally the core questions we should ask of ourselves and of our profession. If we want libraries to flourish and play a central role in society, we must provide visionary leadership that can demonstrate the value and relevance for the future of what libraries offer and what librarians are trained to do. However as Marie O’Neill highlighted, where are our role models for leadership? Do we know sufficiently about the history of our profession to understand who our leaders were, and what they contributed to the world as we know it now? How many working librarians can actually name the founders of our profession and why what they did was important?

As a profession, we have remarkably little knowledge of our own history, of our own successes, and find it particularly difficult to adopt a style of leadership that works for ourselves and for our institutions. This of course could change if, as Marie suggested, we introduced modules on the history of our profession and on developing leadership into the LIS curriculum. Nevertheless, we would probably still come up against what could be considered as character traits of librarians: the unwillingness to ‘blow our own trumpet’ and the preference for keeping a low profile. As Kate Kelly highlighted in her talk, the ‘vision thing’ is difficult to achieve, particularly, it seems, for women, in a profession predominantly populated by women. It requires influencing and persuading ‘up, down and sideways’, something that librarians are rarely trained to do.

Responsibility, integrity and vision

johnlonergan-12John Lonergan defined leadership very clearly when he said that it is about taking responsibility for everything that happens in an organisation. It requires integrity, vision, the ability to get the best out of others and the humility to acknowledge mistakes. Without integrity, nothing else will work because staff won’t know what is true, what is expected of them and whether leaders can be trusted to stand by them when things get difficult. Without vision, staff won’t be enthused about their work and will not contribute their most creative ideas. Leaders must be committed to getting the best out of others, fostering an equal and respectful atmosphere at work, making good use of the expertise that staff bring to their positions, recognising the achievements of their employees and investing in their personal and professional development. When they fail to do so, this translates into high staff turnover and losses for their organisations. Finally, leaders must have the humility to acknowledge mistakes in order to foster a trusting relationship with employees, one which encourages staff to report the failures as well as the successes, and to try even when they may fail.

Ultimately, as Hugh Murphy pointed out, managers choose whether to be leaders or ‘power mongers’. One possible way of ensuring that leaders get the best out of their staff is by applying the concept of Appreciative Inquiry, defined as a system that ‘advocates collective inquiry into the best of what is, in order to imagine what could be, followed by collective design of a desired future state that is compelling and thus, does not require the use of incentives, coercion or persuasion for planned change to occur.’[1]coffeebreak-3

The CDG’s seminar was meant to start a conversation about leadership in Irish libraries, and certainly our five speakers achieved this very successfully. Now the question is where we go from here: what do we need to do in order to encourage leadership at all levels, to train leaders and to foster a culture of leadership in our libraries?

Watch this space – we hope to organise more events in the future that explore the concept of leadership and train future leaders.

[1] Bushe, G. R. (2013). Kessler, E., ed. ‘The Appreciative Inquiry Model.’ The Encyclopedia of Management Theory. Sage Publications.

Lead to Succeed: envisioning leadership in Irish libraries

Following on from Tuesday’s keynote recap, our second post below on Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries on Friday the 14th October in the RCSI is written by Committee member Andrew Moore and describes the remaining three speakers urging the Irish Library community to embrace leadership in all its forms. 

Speakers included Siobhán McGuinness, John Lonergan, Kate Kelly (RCSI), Hugh Murphy (NUIM) & Marie O’Neill (DBS).

siobhanmcguinness-3After a short break…Siobhán McGuinness gave her presentation entitled “Learning and developing leadership: opportunities, influence and motivation.” Siobhán gave real world examples of how she has forged a professional profile winning national library awards in career development. She stressed the importance of being “bold and brave” at the level of new, and mid-level management positions, within libraries. She then gave evidence of her recent achievements winning a prestigious award in career development, the Career Advancement Award from the SLA (Special libraries association) Leader and Management Division. Despite a temporary setback in her career, she has continued to liaise with her professional network; by having a library mentor, being involved on committees and teams, attending conferences, having a lively website, as well as blogging and tweeting about events. It is abundantly clear that Siobhán fully understands how to actively promote yourself as an important voice in the library profession. She gave sound advice:

 “No matter what your rank – we are all leaders”

and recommended that all junior library staff should break the mould of what a librarian is, or should be: turn your obstacles into opportunities, exert influence, set challenges and deadlines. That Siobhan had achieved all these things, and more, made her advice prescient, she clearly knew what she was talking about.
Hugh Murphy, Senior librarian at NUI Maynooth then followed with his talk entitled “Leaders, managers and power mongers.” Hugh delivered his talk with great humour as well as providing some food for thought regarding theories of leadership in libraries. He began by showing that culturally and professionally we have a problem with the term ‘power’ in Ireland. Historically a “Great Power” suggests colonialisation, invasion, occupation, and culturally it suggests exerting pressure on the weak by the ‘powerful’. Power is therefore ‘bad’ in cultural terms, and as a profession, librarians are prone to shy away from power.
Hugh stated that very few people are born leaders, and that he himself was wary of becoming one, but after attending a “Future Leaders” course he learnt about it in detail. He now leads a team of over 25 members of staff. He then gave examples of some negative aspects associated with leadership: ‘Role blur’ (information overload); ‘Energy theft’ (when a negative comment can deflate a meeting); and Gender politics and power. He then went on to describe one of the key skills of being a leader, the ability to be ‘self-reflective’ as well as to demonstrate ‘capacity and view’ and show empathy. He characterised librarianship as not being a ruthless work environment, in comparison to being a lawyer. He however countered this by asking if consensual management is any good if something goes wrong, and that therefore, leadership is a vital component of effective management.
marieoneill-1The ever engaging Marie O’Neill, Director of DBS Library, ended the day’s talks with a lively session which really made us all question our roles as leaders, and if we were doing enough to show leadership in libraries. In her talk  “Developing a leadership style and brand,” Marie discussed some of the problems of library training;  and that there is no recognised framework for the education of library leaders in Ireland. She asked those present the provocative question:

“Do we fully embrace leadership?”

Marie then went on to point out how our profession is detrimentally associated with the anachronistic image of introverted, shy & retiring type; a ‘cat-loving-cardigan-wearing’ librarian stereotype! She questioned if we are doing enough to break this association. She then gave an impassioned call for greater self-motivation, as librarians too often are satisfied with “generic management approaches,” and are anonymous in terms of political lobbying. She added that the library profession is doing too little too late, with closures and mergers in Ireland and the UK, and that although CILIP has issued an “Impact Toolkit” to help us counter these threats, the “horse may already have bolted.” She concluded by admonishing librarians for not putting our heads above the parapet, as we are not taught to be adversarial – and recommended that we begin developing leadership in Irish libraries by having a debating competition and debating cup!

Lead to Succeed: the keynote speakers

Following our highly engaging event Lead to Succeed: a vision for Irish libraries on Friday the 14th October in the RCSI, we have split our recaps and reflections into a series of three blog-posts to be released over the coming days. Today’s recap on the keynote speakers was written by committee member John Wheatley.

29993061444_f8dcc7f8da_zFormer governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, got the day’s event off to a start with an engaging and light-hearted talk entitled ‘Getting the best out of others’ in which he spoke about his philosophy of leadership and its application in the workplace. While the impenetrable fortress of Mountjoy Prison may well be a far cry from the leafy environs of the likes of Maynooth or the Royal College of Surgeons on Stephen’s Green, the principles of leadership, nevertheless, are similarly applicable in the library context. Staff members, prisoners, students, the general public – all are stakeholders. John emphasised the importance of maintaining respect for all stakeholders: subordinates and – in Mountjoy’s case – prisoners alike. A disconnect is all too often apparent between senior management and entry-level, front-line staff members. Humility, both intellectual and social, is key to removing this sense of disconnection. Leaders must understand that every single member of staff has a role to play and should be treated with dignity. He stressed the need to adhere to the principle of fairness and to behave consistently. “Nobody likes criticism!” On the subject of constructive criticism, he expressed doubts as to its merits, questioning the ultimate value in telling someone that they’re “a thundering eejit, but…”.
“Instead, we should strive for a collective improvement in performance and agreed targets without resorting to individual criticism.”
The talk was rounded off with an appeal for a more human style of management, a common sense approach. Simply by smiling and being nice to colleagues, the work environment can become much more enjoyable. In the library sector which increasingly reflects a corporate-like ethos, it’s easy to forget the importance of harmonious relationships built on mutual respect and understanding.
The next speaker to take to the stage was Kate Kelly, Director of Services of the RCSI Mercer Library, who spoke about the role of leadership in transforming vision into reality. Beginning her talk (entitled ‘Beyond vision: making it real’) with the assertion that leadership is not linear, but fluid, she elaborated by linking leadership to innovation. The capacity to turn vision into reality is a defining characteristic of great leaders, or, to quote Warren G. Bennis, “Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet be be heard”. “Soft” or “people” skills and emotional intelligence were cited as amongst the most important leadership skills needed in the workplace today. As library and information professionals, there is an understanding that we need to re-associate the word “library”. Information technology has had a transformational effect on the traditional library and imparting vision to embrace change is key to the library function retaining its relevance. By facilitating an environment conducive to experimentation, the culture of leadership in the organization can promote a “healthy anxiety” which can allow for the emergence of leaders at all levels.
 Leaders must be able to articulate the vision of an organization and, rather than planning, must take strategic action, effectively bringing the operational and the strategic together. Rather than equate strategy to planning, all action should be strategic. All action becomes strategic when there is organisation-wide buy-in to a defined strategy. This buy-in is achieved through influencing, risk-taking and engagement. Vision, thus, becomes reality rather than the vague, over-arching aspiration of a mission statement.
“Begin with the end in mind” and “Life is what happens to us while we’re busy making other plans” – two quotes worth keeping in mind!
It is the leader’s role to add detail to the “bigger picture” by assuming a role that rejects passivity and implements ownership and accountability. Inspiration can be taken by scanning the environment, especially outside the sector. Kate also spoke about how library buildings can act as physical manifestations of the vision of the organisation. Implicit in this analogy is the library as the epicentre of organisational activity: the symbol of and catalyst for change.