Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yes You Can! Library Girl’s Tips for Getting That Grant!

Note:  This post also appears on the Georgia Library Media Association's blog.  Thank you Buffy Hamilton for asking me to be a part of Georgia's professional resources for teacher librarians.  

With mandated library funding rapidly becoming a thing of the past, grant writing is no longer just a nice skill to have.  Rather, it is a necessary and important part of the school librarian’s job description.  While I certainly haven’t received every grant I’ve ever applied for, these strategies have helped me earn over $30,000 of supplemental funds for my school library over the last several years.  I hope they will help you too!

CC image via http://ow.ly/3BW3q
Think Locally: There are tons of great federal and corporate grants out there and some of them offer big pots of money.  However, with big pots come big competition and, sometimes, big strings attached.  Plus, local foundations, businesses and civic organizations have something the big boys don’t -and that’s a potential tie to your community.  You’ve got a better chance at making a personal connection with your application, if the folks reading it *know* your school or even just your community or region.  Regardless of the grant you’re applying for, it’s important to use the limited number of words you’ve been given to paint a picture for the team reading it. Taking a shot at winning some homegrown grant dollars, makes doing that a little bit easier.

It’s Okay to Put the Cart Before the Horse: While it may seem logical to identify a need in your library BEFORE hunting for grant monies, sometimes locating the grant first can yield better results.  Let’s face it, most organizations offer grants, at least in part, to further their own agendas.   In addition to whatever tax benefit an organization receives for giving you their money, publically aligning themselves with certain causes can also serve as a potential shot in the arm for the donor.  The reality is that grant committees consider more than just your needs when deciding which applications to fund, they also look at which proposals best meet their needs.  Therefore when you’re hunting for a grant, try to look at it from the donor’s perspective.  Do you have a need that furthers the mission of the funding organization?  Is there a programmatic match between your library and the company donating the money?  Besides the obvious boon of philanthropy, what does the donor get from giving their money to you?  In other words, ask yourself not what this grant can do for you, but what you can do for the grant provider.

There No Such Thing as One Stop Shopping:  Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something akin to a grant supermarket out there?  A free money mega store, where you could simply stroll down the “grants for great libraries” aisle, read a few labels and then fill your cart with all the items on your list!  Alas, no such place exists in either the real or virtual world.  However, what we have is even better: we have each other!  When I was asked to write this post, I spent some time thinking about where I’d found grants over the years.  Through that reflection, I realized that all of the grants I have received were brought to my attention as a result of being involved with my professional community.  Whether stumbling across a grant in the pages of School Library Journal, in a post on a library listserv, posted on one of the blogs I subscribe to or while sharing resources on twitter, it’s that involvement with my colleagues that always leads me to the best stuff.

Put Those Research Skills to Work: As research specialists, grants provide us with the opportunity to follow the very advice that we give our students every day.  Regardless of the grant you are applying for, be sure to: proofread, (you only get one chance to make a first impression and spelling and grammar mistakes do not convey professionalism), follow the donor’s instructions to the letter, (a failure to follow instructions is often the first criteria used by the donor to eliminate applicants from consideration), and, if possible, cite research that supports the program for which you are requesting funding.

Be Prepared: Back in library school, Dr. Karen Lowe told me to begin each school year by preparing  an up to date personal statement – as though I was, at that moment, applying for a grant.  Although they are sometimes called different things, every grant requires this step:  a statement (usually a few pages) dedicated to telling the donor about your school.  Most of the information they require is statistical, but sometimes you are asked to describe your school or the types of learners you serve.  What Dr. Lowe suggested turned out to be some of the best grant related advice I’ve ever received.  Each year I update this personal statement with the most recent enrollment, demographic and socioeconomic information at my disposal.  Then I spend some time thinking about my school and our learners, tweaking each descriptive element as necessary.  Then, when the grants come along, I’m ready.  An aside:  this proved very true just last year when a $6,000 grant for art related library materials was brought to my attention only 2 days before the deadline.  Thanks to Dr. Lowe’s advice, I was able to submit an application on time – and what do you know?  We got it!

Be Fierce! Joyce Valenza recently declared 2011 the “Year to be Fierce,” encouraging all school librarians to “own power, clearly define our roles, [and] design our future.” When it comes to supplementing our dwindling budgets with grant monies, we must also be fierce.  Fierce librarians never say “I can’t.”  There’s no doubt, times are tough.  But we are tougher.   So… go get ‘em!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Scratching The Resolution Itch

As the sun sets on another year, it's only natural to reflect on what's transpired over the last 12 months and to then look ahead to the 12 on the horizon. Indeed, many of the blogs I read are currently sporting New Year's Resolution posts and it's been inspiring to read what others are reaching for in 2011. It is in that spirit of healthy self refection and in knowing that, as someone "of a certain age," writing things down is always a safe bet, that I too started making a list of professional goals for the coming year.

For me, 2010 has been a year of extreme professional growth. Even though the connections I've made have been almost entirely virtual, I feel more connected to my colleagues than ever before.  What's more, these connections keep me constantly striving to do and be more. These days, it seems like not a day goes by when I don't find myself inspired to try something new or to push myself one step further. I love that feeling, but there are things about it that make me nervous too.

Being something of a librarian newbie, (this is only my 5th year in the library, after 10 years in the classroom), sometimes I worry about leaping before really looking - that is to say, diving into to new programs/projects without fully exploring the *why* of it.  This is compounded by the fact that, more often than I care to admit, the time I need, post lesson, to truly reflect on student learning is simply not there.(I'm hearing Mr. Schu's Metacognition song in my head even as I type this).  If nothing else, I am desperate to be purposeful in my practice.  Even if I can't be as formally reflective as I'd like to be, I *can* act with intention.

And so, here I am, with a goal setting itch that needs to be scratched. 

The Goal The Why
1.  Explore/begin using Evernote & Diigo: I know there are plenty of high schools that have integrated both of these tools as a part of their instructional programs, but I'm unaware of middle school examples. That said, I'd like to take the Evernote plunge PERSONALLY and implement it as a cloud replacement for MS OneNote (which has, sadly, gone from life changing to increasingly clunky as of late) but also as a research tool for my students. I feel that one of my strengths as a librarian is teaching students how to locate and evaluate resources - particularly those online. However, I also know that I am weaker at showing them how to stitch all of of the information they find together together into a useful, ever evolving tapestry of resources. I believe (hope!) a tools like Evernote & Diigo might help me help my students collect and organize information.  This has been on my radar for awhile, but 2011 feels like the year to do it!
2. Increase visibility/validity of library Facebook Page: I've already taken the plunge and created a facebook page for our library, but in 2011 I'd like to see the followers increase to 450 (half our students population) and I'm committed to updating the page at least once per week.  I'll admit the why of this goal is partly selfish. I believe strongly that this kind of promotion and branding of our library will be an essential part of our survival as we head into budget talks this year. However, I'm also committed to connecting with students in the digital world where they already live and to proving that social media can be a force for good in education.
3. Complete 365 Photo-A-Day Project:  As a part of our library's FB page, I'd like to start a photo a day project (Diane Cordell Style) to include as part of the FB feed. Some of the photos may be personal, but I'm planning to make those taken on "school days" in particular related to the library so that they can become a feed for students to access.  There are so many opportunities for me to enhance the connections I make with students via digital images. As I'm planning to have students both access and contribute to the feed, I'm hopeful that this project will provide another avenue for students to feel connected to the library, its resources and to me.
4.  Explore/Implement QR Code program:  Truly, I need a whole other blog post to talk about how excited I am about QR Codes, (thank you, Gwyneth Jones and Steven Anderson - and thank you Ryan Redd for showing me the way) but I plan to integrate them into NUMEROUS collaborative projects *and* as a means of transforming my library into a creation station - (more on this later). Following Joyce Valenza's assertion that the library is a place to learn and create, I believe QR Codes will provide my students with a creative, innovative means of sharing their digital, "library-made," creations. I can't wait!
5.  Continue to grow Nook program, explore other options for student use, grow Nook wiki: Project Nook will continue in 2011. As they cannot be checked out in my district, my work will be focused on their continued integration into content area instruction.  Further, I want to grow the Nook wiki to include student and teacher reflection videos.  I believe our Nooks provide the perfect opportunity for students to engage in open choice reading. Following Donalyn Miller's example in The Book Whisperer, it's my goal to both encourage and actively collaborate in literature projects that afford students the opportunity to choose what they read. Frankly, this will require a shift in thinking for some of our teachers, but I'm ready to "direct the Rider, motivate the Elephant, and shape the Path" in order to make this a reality.
6.  Continue to grow "You Might be a 21st Century Librarian in NHCS" wiki:
I have the specific goal of increasing participation in my district's "You Might Be A 21st Century Librarian" wiki to 80% by the end of the school year. I will also add pages for links to artifacts (with a nod to Kathy Kaldenberg for the idea!)
 Like many districts around the country, ours is facing even deeper cuts into budget and personnel next year, I believe our wiki will provide us with a means of focusing our instructional efforts and provide documentation of our "value added" for shareholders. Plus, I love reading about what others are doing and implementing some of those same ideas with my own students.
7.  Continue to grow/promote Gators Read Everywhere Project: I have the specific goal of increasing participation in my Gator's Read Everywhere Project to 250 students with at least 10 classes having used instructionally - by the end of the school year. I love this project and want so much to see it grow in 2011. I started the map because I truly believe that the Gators Read map is the perfect marriage of 21st century skills, reading promotion and connecting the library to the learning that goes on in every class.I feel there's so much potential in this project, I just need to stoke the fires a bit.
8. Help Develop and grow a long distance Collaborative Book Club:  I wish to implement a collaborative book club with at least one other librarian and his/her students in 2011.  I have learned so much by connecting with others from around the world, I can only believe that the same would be true for my students. Plus, collaborating with other libraries from around the country/world would provide my students with another opportunity to use tools like wikis, blogs and skype as a part of the book club process.
9.  Maintain and update Library Girl blog with more frequency: I have the specific goal of updating this blog once per week.  This blog provides me with a platform for reflection. It's a place when I can think about my own learning (queue Mr. Schu again). I believe this makes me better at what I do. At least, I hope so. :)
10.  Write monthly "Professionally Reading" column:   I have the specific goal of contributing one review, of a professional resource, to our district's employee newsletter - our district PR officer has named this column "Professionally Reading w/Jennifer LaGarde"  I often joke that I never read books for anyone over 4ft tall. This project gives me an excuse to step out of the world of YA fiction and read some of the professional titles that I've been longing to dig into, but that I keep putting off!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaah.  That feels better. :)

Happy New Year, everyone!