This article is about funding opportunities to attend conferences and other professional events, with particular attention to the needs of new professionals.
Attending conferences and other events for LIS professionals is universally known to be great for professional development. It can help you expand your professional network, and it provides valuable portfolio material if you are working towards certification. Personally, I also find conferences and smaller events really interesting and motivating in my day to day library job. Moreover, attending a conference is an excellent way to stay up to date with the recent developments in the profession.
However, and it’s a big however, conference-going can easily become an expensive hobby, with the largest events costing several hundred pounds in attendance fees, accommodation, and travelling expenses. Although there are some great organized events that are cheap or even free, not many are lucky enough to have such events in their local area.
Fortunately, since I began working in libraries not very long ago, I have found several funding opportunities, which I have used to attend three conferences and a handful of other events, some of which were aimed at new professionals and helped me get started with my career.
Not having a particularly brilliant professional background myself, I did not think my applications for funding would be very successful, but actually I was very surprised to see that conference organizers, special interest groups, and publishers are really keen to get new professionals involved in what they do. In fact, while some important prizes are aimed at colleagues who have had a profound impact on the profession as a whole, some bursaries and grants are actually reserved for LIS professionals with less than five years’ experience. Therefore, if you enjoy conferences and you do not have much experience in this sector, this is the best moment to take advantage of all the funding opportunities there are around.
Moreover, I found that a considerable number of these initiatives receive very few applications. For example, I am on the committee of a CILIP special interest group (Academic and Research Libraries Group, London & SE). Last year, the committee offered a full bursary to attend the Academic and Research Libraries group annual conference in Birmingham. It looked like an amazing opportunity for a new professional, but we only received two applications.
On this note, CILIP special interest groups and their regional committees often award funding to attend a specific event or one of the annual conferences most relevant to the group. Like most other initiatives mentioned in this article, I found that they tend to prefer new professionals or library school students, as they often need financial support, and because they are more likely to gain valuable experience from attending a national/international event.
The CILIP website has a list of such funding opportunities, but individual groups (e.g. UKeiG) often advertise independently. If you are feeling especially adventurous, some international conferences welcome applications from UK professionals, including the Special Libraries Association which last year had their conference in Philadelphia. Moreover, it is worth enquiring with conference sponsors as their sponsorship benefits often include free entry for two members of staff, but sometimes they don’t need (or cannot use) both, and they have been known to offer one to a new professional.
Finally, there is always the option of giving a presentation yourself. Speaking delegates often get their travel expenses paid, their attendance fee waived or reduced, and sometimes even accommodation paid for. Personally I found this a good excuse to overcome my fear of speaking at a conference, which is incredibly useful for professional development, and it is also a nice opportunity to showcase what you are doing to the rest of the LIS community.
As for many other things in today’s LIS world, it’s worth keeping your eyes and ears open on the internet about opportunities that might be under-advertised. Newsletters like LIS-LINK@Jiscmail.ac.uk are gold, as is Twitter (come say hi @LISNPN!); and more generally speaking, it pays to be part of a network of people with different professional interests. For example, I received a very generous bursary to attend last year’s Forum for Interlending in Portsmouth, a very interesting conference but not on a subject I was working on at the time, so I have to thank personal connections (and again, newsletters!) for telling me about it.
How to apply
Usually applicants are required to write a short personal statement (about 200-600 words, sometimes more), including a brief career profile, and their motivation to attend the conference (e.g. what they expect to get out of the experience).
– Try to suggest you have an interest in developing a career in the area of LIS most relevant to the conference;
– Show that you have done your homework and say what keynote presentation you are particularly looking forward to.
What can you do in return?
In my experience, funding opportunities for librarians are exceedingly generous, so I like to show I am grateful by doing something to help the event organizers, or to make the event known to the community. This is also a great opportunity to gain experience to add to your CV and professional portfolio. Perhaps more importantly, if you are lucky enough to get financial help, you should try and give back to the wider LIS community a little of what you received.
How you can help at the event:
– Live-tweet during the event using the relevant hashtag, for those who couldn’t make it but would still love to know what’s happening (also a good chance to meet colleagues active online)
– Help out at the conference stand, if for example funding is provided by a special interest group. This gives the regular staff time to enjoy the conference a little bit more, and it’s especially useful when the exhibition area gets crowded (e.g. at lunchtime).
– Write and share a conference report. Most funding opportunities require you to write up a report after the conference to be published in a newsletter, on a specific section of the CILIP website, or even in a LIS journal. Even if you are not strictly required to write a report, it’s a good idea to edit your conference notes and offer them for publication to one of the many interesting LIS blogs (LISNPN for example welcomes guest submissions!).
These are only options that I used to get funding over the last year. If you have more, feel free to get in touch!
Thanks for reading.
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