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Working Internationally for Libraries: How to write effective grant proposals

15 November 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Working Internationally for Libraries: How to write effective grant proposals

How did it all start? The story behind my award

It all started over a year ago. I had heard about the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) during my MSc, but I didn’t know much about the IFLA World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) till this conversation with a colleague who attends the Congress fairly regularly. From her description, it sounded like an exceptional opportunity for learning what libraries all over the world are doing and for networking. When she mentioned that various organisations offer bursaries to attend IFLA WLIC I set my mind to keep a careful eye for potential calls for applications. That is why, when I saw that the CILIP International Library and Information Group (ILIG) was inviting applications for the 2019 Alan Hopkinson Award, I grabbed this chance with both hands! I have to be honest: although I was quite happy with my application, I genuinely did not think I would stand a chance. I was sure that the number and quality of applicants would make my own application disappear into the haystack! Therefore, you can imagine that the notification email caused me a bit of a shock! I was over the moon.

What is the value of attending international events for librarians?

Inspiration, opportunities, ideas, learning, networking, career development, self-confidence and motivational boost. These are some of the benefits of attending international events. Thanks to my experience in Athens, my knowledge and awareness of current challenges and developments have improved, I have established contact with experts in fields of interest and my self-confidence was strengthened. Networking can be daunting, but when you start to open up to other professionals and see how rewarding that is, you feel very motivated to keep going. Just to give you an example: a chat with a delegate over lunch time turned to be a golden opportunity for me, that led me to meet a professional I admire and I had only watched on YouTube speaking at the Library of Congress before! You can imagine how glad I was to have started that conversation.

In general, attending international events allows professionals to compare their institutions and workplaces to others around the world. International conferences are showcases of successes, of ideas, are catalysers of change and innovation and precious chances of tackling challenges by leveraging on the community expertise.

What are the challenges and limitations?

We all know that libraries are facing tough financial times. We have to deal every day with budget cuts, jobs being put at risk, libraries being handed over to non-professionals or even closed. For those lucky enough to have a job, the chances of having access to funding for training and professional development are few. Attending international conferences costs; you must consider accommodation, travel, registration fees. If you have a family, you may also have to arrange childcare.

Furthermore, you need the time to travel and take part into the conference and all the social gatherings around it. We are always so busy in our day-to-day work and it is increasingly common that individuals have to take on more and more tasks from colleagues who have left and have not been replaced.

In some cases, your workplace may require you to use annual leave allowance to attend an event, if it is not seen to be relevant to your role. In addition, you need to make time to write up the report afterwards.

How to write an effective grant proposals?

I do not believe to be an expert on this, but I have to admit that I was successful in more than one application, so there must be something I am doing right!

One of the reasons behind my successes might surprise you: lack of applicants! I know well that time is never enough, life gets in the way and self-doubt and lack of confidence can stop us from trying. As I said, I really did not think I would be given the award, but I did! Remember that every application you are not writing/sending is a missed opportunity. I have heard on more than one occasions people on bursaries and awards panels complaining about receiving a very small number or even no applications at all.

Just before writing my application for the Alan Hopkinson Award I watched a SLA (Special Libraries Association) webinar entitled "How to win an award: Practical advice on making a successful award application", which offered some useful tips. Below I list some of the webinar advice, and some of mine too:

  • Know the awarding body: do some research on the awarding body, to understand what kind of person they are looking for
  • Read carefully the call for application: you need to have a clear idea of how you can be a good fit for what the awarding body is seeking
  • Find out about previous winners: if you have access to the reports they wrote or if you can reach out to them on social media, do it! They will (hopefully) be happy to provide some advice and tell you more about their experience
  • Explain your situation: why should they give the award to you? It may be that neither you nor your workplace are able to financially support your attendance and this conference would be very beneficial to your career development, for such and such reasons…Let them know!
  • Prove your value: show why they should choose you over all the other applicants. How can you benefit them? What are you planning to do during and after the event? Try to demonstrate that you are willing to go beyond the minimal requirements (generally, a report) and that you will spread the outcome of your experience widely. Don’t be shy, sell yourself!

My recommendation is to keep your eyes peeled for calls for applications for bursaries, grants and awards through various channels:

  • check the Awards/Bursaries page on the CILIP website keep an eye on social media – e.g., follow CILIP and other Library Associations
  • join mailing lists
  • join CILIP Special Interest Groups

I would like to grab this opportunity to thank once again ILIG for granting me the Alan Hopkinson Award. It has been an honour representing them at IFLA WLIC 2019 and I had such a wonderful time!

I hope this post has been helpful. Best of luck with your applications!

Laura Cagnazzo

Laura Cagnazzo is the Repository & Research Data Librarian at the University of the West of Scotland. She obtained her MSc in Information and Library Studies from the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) in 2017, with Distinction. Her MSc dissertation focused on the implementation and use of linked data across European national libraries. The results of this project were presented at ISKO International Conference 2018, in Porto, and published in the Journal of Documentation.

Laura is a keen traveller and a big libraries’ fan! You can find Laura on Twitter, @LauraFCagnazzo

This article was published as part of the Working Internationally for Libraries project.

Published: 15 November 2019

Contributor: Laura Cagnazzo

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