After you have decided that librarianship is the right career for you, applying to library school is probably the most important thing you will do during your year as a graduate trainee. As I recently received an offer for a place on the MA Library and Information Studies at UCL, I thought I would use my experience to give some advice to those considering going to library school. As I only applied for the UCL course, this post will necessarily be limited in scope – I suggest that you also have a look at the relevant pages on the Cambridge and Oxford library trainees’ websites.
First of all, it is important to decide which course is right for you. You will find that all courses emphasise different aspects of librarianship. For instance, the course at UCL is known for its traditional content, whereas City University and Loughborough are known to put more emphasis on the latest technological development. Ask yourself what career within the library and information field you are most interested in and choose your course based on those interests. UCL and Aberystwyth run optional modules on Rare Book Librarianship, City offers an Msc in Health Informatics, Sheffield runs optional modules on Government and Media Librarianship, etc.
As I am interested in Rare Book Librarianship and I believe that a balance between traditional skills such as Cat & Class and modern technology is the best foundation for the career I have in mind, I applied for the UCL course. UCL has the earliest closing date for applications, 1st December. It is important that you give yourself enough time to contact your referees, write and rewrite your personal statement, fill in the forms and collect the necessary documents. I started working on the application in the middle of October, and I asked the Director of the University of Surrey Library and the supervisor of my MA dissertation for a reference (remember that you need to give your referees a few weeks to write their references, so contact them in time!).
The hardest part of the application is writing your personal statement. Make sure it conveys your passion about librarianship, demonstrates how your experience as a graduate trainee has allowed you to develop insight in the library and information field, as well as stating what sort of career you are interested in and why you are interested in that particular course. Remember, you are not writing an application letter for a job, so rather than stressing skills and qualities your letter should convey your enthusiasm for the course and librarianship in general.
I heard back from UCL at the end of January. I was invited to attend an interview at the beginning of February. I spent a lot of time reading up on the latest issues and developments in the information field, but at the interview it turned out that this had not been necessary (although it did make me more confident!). The interview was informal, and most questions centred on my personal statement, my interest in rare book librarianship, how I imagined my future career and funding. I talked about what I had learnt so far during my traineeship at Surrey, the events and workshops I had attended and my work at the E.H. Shepard archive. They also gave me the opportunity to ask questions about the course, and told me I would hear whether I had been offered a place a few weeks later.
I was offered a place a week later, and I am very excited about starting my course! If you use your time as a graduate trainee to deepen your insight into the library and information field by attending events and workshops, by visiting libraries you are interested in and by talking to the librarians in your institution, I think the confidence and passion you have developed will show on your statement and during your interview, and will secure you a place at the course of your choice.
University of Surrey