We guide you through the process of securing a place on a library and information course at postgraduate level. We’ve covered how to find a course and the application procedure and interviews, drawing on the personal experiences of previous and current trainees. The particularly confusing topic of funding is also covered. It might also be useful to see our Library Timeline page which takes you through the process of becoming a librarian: qualification is only the beginning! Our Careers page highlights the different areas and sectors in which librarians can be found.
There are a wide range of Masters degrees available and it is important to choose the right one for you. Course content can vary, as can the emphasis given to different elements, for example, some courses are more IT-oriented than others. We’ve given a brief outline below of some of the courses on offer. Most courses require a good first degree and a year’s library experience. More detailed information can be found on the universities’ websites and the CILIP ‘accredited qualifications’ pages.
For all courses, candidates are strongly advised to apply as early as possible to increase their chances of being accepted.
Library School applications are probably the last thing on your mind when you have only just started a traineeship. Unfortunately, it’s worth thinking about fairly soon after beginning work because some closing dates for courses are very early. The closing date for first-round applications at UCL, for example, is often in January.
Early closing dates also have advantages when it comes to applying for course-specific funding. Universities need to process your application, interview you, offer you a place, and decide whether to put you forward for any scholarships or bursaries. It is therefore worth putting in your course applications as early as you can, regardless of closing dates and whether or not you are certain that you wish to take up the place, to give yourself the best chance possible.
Help is at hand when you’re deciding where to apply and filling in forms. A session on applications is usually held at some point in November with previous trainees giving their personal experiences and guest lecturers from library schools sharing their wisdom!
Writing your Personal Statement
The Personal Statement is the most important part of any application form and is often regarded as the most difficult. Here are some pointers which may help you to get started.
- Enthusiasm: Demonstrate that you are enthusiastic about your work and about the course. Research the course thoroughly so you can make specific reference to areas which interest you. You don’t necessarily have to list the modules you will take but do refer to the course content in some way.
- Motivation: What drives you? How do you motivate yourself? Universities will be keen to see you have the drive and commitment to undertake independent study before offering you a place.
- Make the most of your experience: You may not have much library experience yet but other experience may be relevant. You can use your degree/other work experience/outside interests to illustrate your organisational and time-keeping skills or your ability to work independently etc.
- Professional Awareness: Try to demonstrate you are aware of current issues and developments in the profession. Illustrate how your work as a trainee makes you reflect on the wider issues.
- Ambition: Although you are at an early stage in your career, try and show you have thought about the future and the kind of fields which interest you. You don’t have to have your whole career mapped out in front of you but some sense of direction is a positive thing! If you say you are interested in a career in law librarianship, make sure you research it so you can explain why it interests you and how the skills you have developed will be relevant.
One thing to remember is that your statement isn’t binding. If you express an interest in rare books only to avoid all related modules the following year, it won’t be a problem! Your priority at this stage is to put together an intelligent and well-thought out statement which will impress course decision makers. On the other hand, remember that your Personal Statement is likely to be the main
basis for interview questions and discussion so don’t write anything you’re not prepared to talk about.
There has been some confusion concerning the word count of personal statements. UCL’s application form gives the confusing opportunity to type out your statement in a box that is limited to 3.000 characters or upload a separate, uncapped document beside it.
We agonised whether this was a trick question, but after corresponding with UCL we now have the final word that
‘there is no limit for the size of personal statements’
and just to reassure you further
‘UCL:DIS has no preference over either format’
(–Laura Keshav, Postgraduate Administrator, UCL Department of Information Studies, May 2015)
However, make sure you are concise – lengthy descriptions can make your reader lose interest!
It is vital to have your place at library school organised as early as possible if you want to apply for alternative funding – many sources, such as charities, have early closing dates. In this section we’ll share our own experiences of applying to try and make your lives easier next year! We’ll also look at funding in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and alternative sources to try.
Postgraduate loans are available to English-resident students taking a taught or research based master’s course in the UK. For the specific stipulations, visit this gov.uk page.
As of October 2022, you may borrow up to a maximum of £11,836. This money goes directly to you and you may use it to cover whichever costs you like: tuition fees, rent, bills, or other costs as you see fit.
Repayments start only when your income exceeds £21,000 per year. You will pay back 6% of your income over this threshold. This is paid back at the same time as any undergraduate loans. Interest will also be charged on top. Visit this gov.uk page for more information.
Postgrad Loan and your Library Masters
As of October 2022, the majority of full-time one year degrees will cost you somewhere between £7,000 – £11,000. Below are some examples:
£9,110 (Aberystwyth, MA Information and Library Studies)
£9,850 (Sheffield, MA Librarianship)
£11,800 (UCL, MA Library and Information Studies)
This means that your postgraduate loan is likely to cover your fees with some amount leftover (if you take the maximum loan). Distance learning courses can cost as much or sometimes more, although the cost is spread over two or three years.
Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS)
The Library and Information courses at The Robert Gordon University and the University of Strathclyde are funded by SAAS through their Postgraduate Student’s Allowance Scheme (PSAS) on a non-quota basis. This means they will consider all eligible students for support and there is no limit to the amount of students they will support. However, the decision as to whether the course will be funded is taken each year in May so it may be best to have a back-up funding option in case the course is not funded in any particular year.
Student Finance Northern Ireland (SFNI)
As of August 2017, SFNI offer a Tuition Fee Loan of up to £5,500 for anyone wishing to study a Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma or Master’s Degree. However, if the course costs more than this, the difference will need to be paid directly to the university yourself.
The main criteria for this loan are:
- you are a UK/ROI national or have ‘settled status’
- you normally live in Northern Ireland
- you’ve been living in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man for three years prior to the first day of the first academic year of your course
The rules vary for EU nationals, so check the website for more details.
The university must be in the UK (including Open University) and be publicly funded.
The loan may be available to you even if you already hold a postgraduate qualification at any level.
Check the SFNI website for more details.
Alternative sources of funding
In addition to those mentioned above, alternative sources of funding may be available to help you through your postgraduate studies:
- Search the websites of the universities you are applying to, they will have their own pages describing any scholarships or funding opportunities that may be of use to you.
- The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding is a fantastic resource for finding obscure pots of money that you may be eligible to tap into including many charities. Many universities are subscribed to this, check the list to find out if yours is one of them in order to access the resource for free.
- Prospects.ac.uk also provides a list of a number of foundations that may be able to offer you some alternative financial help. A number of publications may also be available in your library listing the trusts and charities that you may be eligible to apply to (e.g. The Grants Register or the Directory of Grant-Making Trusts).
- The Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust offers awards for postgraduates in any subject. Application packs are usually available from January for the following year.
Financial Information on University Websites
- Sheffield University
- Northumbria University
- City, University of London
- Manchester Metropolitan University
- Strathclyde University
- Aberystwyth University