A network for new and aspiring library professionals

Top tips: Starting a library and information post-graduate qualification

If you have just started a library or information course (BA, BSc, MSc, MA, PGDip etc.) then you might find the following tips from Library and Information post-graduate alumni useful. They’ve been there, done that and got the graduation photo…

Our graduation day!

Our graduation day!

Team NLPN:


  • Blogs – are a great way to remain aware of current issues that are affecting the information sector as well as discovering new forms of practice, ideas and technologies. Let’s not forget that blogs are simple to set up and you could use it as a form of reflection on your professional development or as a way of expressing your passion or interest in a certain area. For instance, you might be really keen on mobile technologies but do not have the opportunity to develop this knowledge in the workplace.
  • Networks –  such as ours, provide free training sessions and events. Different networks have different aims e.g. UKLibChat encourage professional knowledge sharing. These networks will enable you to engage with your peers and increase your knowledge and skill set.
  • Professional bodies – For students in particular, professional bodies are a great way of getting involved in the library and information sector. Professional bodies value the importance of new professionals and often provide events and opportunities (such as sponsorships for conferences) specifically for new professionals. Professional bodies often have Special Interest Groups which allow you to explore your professional interests and develop an understanding of different sectors within the profession. Furthermore, membership to a professional body is often free or subsidised for students.
  • Institutional repositories – We found these to be useful when starting our dissertations. Most Universities now have their own repositories that can be accessed for free.

We have created a page on this blog that lists multiple examples of the 4 resources we have mentioned. The list is not exhaustive, but it contains examples that we, personally, have found to be useful.

Making the most of it

  • Student ambassador roles – These opportunities allow you to develop your skills in organisation, communication, liaison and team work. Key skills that you will find present in person specifications for roles across all levels. Ambassador roles are often available for each course but it also worth noting that many professional bodies, such as CILIP, offer student roles within their local branches and special interest groups.

  • Attend events – To some this might be obvious and to others it might seem unobtainable (“aren’t events and conferences expensive” I hear you cry) but attending events is an important part of our profession. There are a number of groups and networks, such as us, that offer free training and events. For major conferences such as LILAC, Umbrella and HLG, many groups (such as your local CILIP branch or Special Interest Group) offer full scholarships.
  • Volunteer/Shadow – For some this point is a bone of contention, but for others it is a way of gaining valuable experience and broadening their professional network. Volunteering or even a day shadowing a professional can provide you with an insight into a sector that you might not have considered before. It also offers you the chance to see how your current skill set can be transferred to that sector and the areas you may need to improve upon. In order to get experience check with your University if they are able to put you in touch with a library that they have connections with or you can contact a specific library. Also if you are keen to gain an insight into other sectors it is worth attending events that focus on that area, this will give you the opportunity to network & express your interest in gaining experience.
  • Peer support – It is pretty common for most courses to set up a Facebook group. We found ours particularly useful when swapping essay tips and resources and it definitely played a supportive role when it came to dissertation time.
  • Be realistic – For many the post graduate course is a means to an end, some students have worked in the information sector and need the certificate to gain a promotion. For others, the course marks the start of the career, and to these students being realistic is important. For instance, consider entry level posts once you have graduated in order to achieve the necessary experience needed for a professional post. If you are in an entry level post, speak to your manager about opportunities to ‘up-skill’; they should be supportive of your career development.

Tips from Ben Catt:

  • Say hello – Get chatting to other students, they will have experience of working in different sectors and can offer valuable insight when it comes to making your own career decisions. Be open-minded and sociable, even if you consider yourself an introvert (as many of us library folk tend to). If you’re feeling especially proactive then be the first to arrange a gathering outside the department (i.e. in the pub) or even consider forming a society, as demonstrated by Sheffield students last year.

  • Branch out – Approach public library services, archives and charities for work shadowing opportunities. If you have spare time then this is a good way to develop practical experience alongside your studies. Your tutors might be able to introduce you to alumni working within local organisations. Also, if your university is hosting an interesting-looking conference then volunteer to help out!

  • Stay current – Librarians love Twitter, and it’s usually the first place I hear library news (information specialist Phil Bradley has curated a list of UK librarians in case you’re in need of people to follow). Twitter and LinkedIn are also ways to keep in touch after graduation, so encourage your fellow students to sign up! Last year CILIP introduced free student membership which you may also find beneficial for developing current awareness of the wider professional sector.

  • Keep a diary / blog – This one I’ve stolen from Evelyn Webster’s post on Graduate Traineeships, but it is also especially relevant to students. Regular writing and reflection is a good habit to get into, and an effective way to keep track of your learning and achievements for filling in job applications next summer.

  • Don’t ignore feedback – As a humanities undergraduate I was initially challenged by the need to re-adjust my writing style for concise literature reviews, structured abstracts and critical analyses. Remember that your tutors have a responsibility to help you with this (you may even be offered a practice assignment at the beginning of term) so don’t be afraid of asking for feedback and arranging one-to-one meetings to discuss your work.

Top tips for conference bursaries by Penny Andrews

  1. Apply. Shy bairns get nowt, so if you keep saying you’ll do it next year, next year will never come. Or they’ll stop doing it or you won’t be eligible any more and you’ll wish you had done it before.
  1. Think of it like a job application. Don’t do it in a rush. Meet every explicit and implicit point of the criteria. Talk yourself up. Offer evidence in the STAR format for each point (situation, task, action, result). And for goodness’ sake do some research and pick out speakers, themes and so on that interest you and explain why.
  1. Easy pickings give you confidence. If the organisers are constantly promoting the bursary or extend the deadline, that means not many people are applying. Which means if you do something half decent, you have an even better chance of winning the bursary.
  1. Niche is good. Most of my successes have actually been related to my specific professional interests; which makes targeting the application easier. Others have had speakers on these topics.
  1. Niche is good part 2. What makes you different is what makes you special. Standing out is important. So what you’re keen, a new professional, live in the right area, work in a relevant sector, really really want to go. Same goes for most of the applicants. What’s interesting about you? You specifically?

  1. Present at the conference. You’re much more likely to get a bursary if you’ve applied to present at the event and have been accepted (lots don’t offer a free place to presenters, or do for some or all of the conference but don’t cover travel/accommodation). If you don’t have anything to talk about, so you’re scared to put in an abstract, then you wouldn’t have anything to say to anyone at the event if they picked you. And nobody goes to conferences just for the sessions. They go to network. People who sit at the back taking notes on paper (so, not to share) and only talk to their friends waste the opportunity.

Hope these tips help and please let us know if you have any to add 🙂



2 comments on “Top tips: Starting a library and information post-graduate qualification

  1. Kathryn Parry
    January 4, 2015

    I’d also add – if you’re a distance learner (MA ils) with a family and fulltime job;
    *train your family! Or at least work out their sleeping patterns. I’ve encouraged my teenage daughters to sleep in on weekends. Perfect studying time.
    * Ignore the dust and tumbleweed of housework – you cannot be a superhero. Until the kids have returned to school that is and you’ve sucsessfully navigated the turnitin process.
    * Set regular rewards so that you can aim to finish assignments on time. (Self setting deadlines can make you relax a bit too much) Mine have been a camping trip, John Bishop show and I’m off to Rome in a few weeks. (Hopefully finishing second module tomorrow)
    * Chat to others on course, even if you’re all having collywobbles, at least you’re not alone And remember life still goes on even if all you have to say when people ask what you did on the weekend “I studied” – it won’t be forever.

    • NLPN
      January 4, 2015

      Thanks Kathryn! Great to have a distance learner’s perspective. Enjoy Rome 🙂

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