If at First You Don't Succeed, Apply, Apply Again.

By Deb Raftus, MLIS day

Chances are you've got an overwhelming number of "No-time-now-I'll-get-to-that-later." e-mails lined up in your inbox. These messages come from various listservs, and many offer exciting opportunities for invaluable professional and intellectual growth. We read about the scholarship opportunities, we apply, we are rejected, and we think to ourselves, "Just hit DELETE!" I'm writing to ask you not to delete yourself out of a very worthwhile opportunity.

Last month, I attended the ACRL (Association of College & Research Libraries) 12th National Conference as a library student scholarship winner. (Details of the application process are listed on the ACRL conference Web site.) This conference is a Mecca for academic librarian wannabes (like myself), and I am very grateful for the experience.

In addition to the three days of conference programming, ACRL scholarship winners were invited to a special breakfast program where speakers offered advice, motivation, and personal anecdotes to guide our careers in academic librarianship. Scholarships are granted to library school students, support staff, and practicing librarians, which made for lively discussions around the breakfast table. I compared LIS programs with students from UNC-Chapel Hill, while librarians from all over the country compared their experiences and workplaces. (Afterwards, we were able to spot each other easily, as we were flagged with purple "Scholarship Recipient" ribbons.)

Addressing the morning's themes of mentoring and networking, Karen Downing, Foundation and Grants Librarian at the University of Michigan, traced her own career path, emphasizing the impact of mentors on her professional growth and development. She offered great insights into getting published (know the literature, identify gaps that need attention, volunteer for a journal's editorial board), and suggested networking ideas. She recommended that LIS students and new librarians join professional associations, take an active role in committees, or get involved in elections by working for a candidate.

A panel of three librarians spoke of the successes and challenges they met during their first few years of professional librarianship. Most memorably, one panelist described being introduced to his new co-workers, all of whom had worked at the institution for 20 to 30 years, as "our bright, young librarian of the future who is here to change everything." While administrators meant this as a compliment, he spent his first months building relationships and gaining trust from his colleagues, assuring them that he was not planning to single-handedly tear down the foundation they had worked so hard to build. Another panelist was able to create a new role for herself, as an Electronic Resources Librarian, by pinpointing a need at the library and offering solutions. The third panelist spoke of her unique experience in working with tribal colleges and in recruiting diversity with the ALA's "Grow Your Own" campaign.

The presenters offered simple solutions to navigating the conference and to getting involved in the field. I left the breakfast feeling inspired, excited, and better prepared for the conference, and more importantly, for my career.

I conclude with some words of advice on seeking conference funding:

Plan ahead. Talk to librarians, your fellow MLIS students, and iSchool faculty about the conferences they enjoy most. Summer is a good time to begin thinking about next year's conferences, so you have time to research scholarship opportunities. (The ACRL scholarship was announced last fall, and the application was due January 3rd.)

Join professional associations to improve your chances. (The ACRL award jury gives preference to ALA and ACRL members.)

Be persistent! I had my share of rejections before receiving the ACRL scholarship. (It just makes that "Congratulations!" e-mail all that much more special.) Keep applying -- there is a "Scholarship Recipient" ribbon out there with your name on it, waiting for you.

Consider going anyway. Let's say you don't win the scholarship to the conference of your dreams. Put together some scratch and go. I paid my own way to 2 other conferences ( WILU and WLA), and they were worth every, that is, worth the 19% APR.


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Page last updated: March 14, 2004