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! firstname.lastname@example.org/@
Bursaries and Awards
Genevieve Larkin, CDG Secretary and Assistant Librarian at the Marino Institute of Education
Last 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):
When 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: https://hslgblog.wordpress.com/about/bernard-barrett-bursary/.
Looking forward to sharing ideas with you at the next conference!
Celine Campbell, Subject Librarian for Nursing, Dublin City University (@CelineCamp88)
I 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 (@) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
More advice is available at the following links:
LAI events page: Updated list of upcoming events & conferences for the Library Association of Ireland
NPD Ireland often feature advice on career development and upcoming events for new Info Professionals in Ireland.