There are probably lots of people who’ve done blog posts about applying to library school, but you can never have too much advice (probably?) so I thought I’d chip in with my own thoughts on the whole thing.
First things first: choose your library school. There are tons of options: part-time, full-time, distance learning, that diploma thing, etc. Do you want to go to London and pay £8,000? Do you want to get a job and take a bit longer doing the course? Have a look at the prospectuses as well to see whether the actual course would suit you. I’ve chosen Sheffield not only because it’s in the North and that’s where I want to be, but also because it’s strongly focused on information retrieval, management and literacy, which are things I’m interested in. Other courses have different strengths that might appeal more to you.
Once you’ve decided where you want to go (and how many you’re applying for – I went for the all-your-eggs-in-one-library-school approach, but other people prefer to apply to a few and see what happens), it’s time to do the application. I only have experience of doing this for Sheffield, but I’m sure the process is similar for most places. So. The first bit of the application is easy – who are you? What qualifications do you already have? That sort of thing. Form-filling. The bit that’s obviously tougher is the personal statement. I hate stuff like this, because I feel like there’s only so many ways you can say “I’m really good, please accept me” before you start hitting the really weird words in the thesaurus. However, I usually find that once I’ve started it, it’s actually not as bad as I was expecting.
The first thing I did when I was thinking about my application was decide what they would want from me. You want to show that you’d be suitable for the job, which in this case is “Masters Student”. What is the job specification for a MA student? You’ve got to have good research skills, be good at independent study but also group work, be an effective communicator and be motivated, for starters. Make a big list of this stuff.
A good tip my housemate came up with once (and which was reiterated by Bethan Ruddock in her presentation to us) is to write down absolutely everything you can do in a big list. You can speak French? Put it down. You can ride a unicycle? Put it down. You once helped put up a marquee? Put it on the list. Then start thinking about how that stuff fits the sorts of qualities you need for the job/course/whatever. Speaking a different language = versatility, good communication skills, ability to think on your feet (when you’re translating), ability to pick up new things quickly, the list goes on. Riding a unicycle = determination and persistence, overcoming challenges, etc. Putting up a marquee = teamwork, communication skills. Seriously. You could probably shoehorn anything in and it’d work. Update your list every time you do something new, so it’s constantly up to date and you’ve got something to instantly refer to when you’re applying for stuff. It’s like a really in-depth CV.
The main bit of writing the application is then matching the stuff from list 1 (what they want) to the stuff from list 2 (what you’ve got). Don’t forget that anything and everything counts as experience. I struggled with writing job applications until I realised I could write about pretty much anything and make it relevant. I always talk about climbing mountains in my applications because it shows determination and motivation.
Obviously you also need to talk about your future plans – MA Librarianship or similar courses are there for career progression. You need to show that you’ve got an idea, even if you’ve not really thought about it a huge amount. As long as you sound convincing – “I intend to do X” rather than “I am considering X” or “I’d like to do X”, it doesn’t matter if your plans change later on. This is also a good place to talk about issues faced by the profession. Maybe throw in something about the economy or new technology or something similar, to show you’re interested in current events and you’re engaged in what’s going on.
Don’t forget to mention why you want to study at this particular place, on this particular course. Don’t let your application sound like you’ve sent it out to ten places without changing any of the words!
The only other tips I have are: have a beginning, middle and end – sum up your statement with something that’s going to make you sound good, like “I feel that this is the right course for me because X”; spellcheck! and read it through to make sure the spellcheck hasn’t missed anything; use a thesaurus so that you’re not saying the same three words over and over; make sure it still sounds like you. Using elevated language does nobody any favours.
I’ve just said “spellcheck” and remembered something I discovered after sending off my application – my CV still had my old address on it. Seriously, people, read your writing carefully.
I hope this is of some use to someone out there! Below you’ll find links to websites I used when writing my applications (and some more that I found on Google earlier). I really like the Newcastle University link (although I may be slightly biased), but they’re all useful. Your own university or workplace might also provide careers guidance that is also helpful here, so do look at their website too.
Here’s a useful page on the Sheffield Librarianship MA http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/courses/sscience/is/librarianship-ma . If you want to sound like you really know what you’re talking about, look at the list of modules, choose one and Google it (try “shef.ac.uk Educational Informatics module”, for example) and you should be able to find the website that describes the actual structure of the module. I’m sure this works for other universities as well.