Hack Your Scholarship Essay

21/02/2014 § 1 Comment

If there’s one thing library students are familiar with, it’s writing. Research papers, discussion posts, slide presentations, blogs—you name it, and we’ve written it. But wouldn’t it be nice to get paid for writing papers? Fortunately for you, you can!

Scholarships are a great way to secure funding for tuition, conference travel, textbooks, software, and other school-related needs, but in order to earn these scholarships, you first have to conquer the scholarship essay. You will be hard-pressed to find a scholarship application that does not require an essay or personal statement of some sort, so it’s important to be prepared. And as a person who has written approximately 2.2 million of these essays in library school alone (and earned 2 scholarships in the process), I’m here to help you crack the code.

My system isn’t guaranteed (note the aforementioned ratio of scholarships applied for and scholarships earned), but it is definitely confidence-boosting. If nothing else, you’ll send in your application with the knowledge that you did your best and that you have the same chance of winning as everybody else, and that can be a victory all its own. Here are my tips:

  1. Follow the instructions. Take care to stay within the limits of word count and essay length, format the paper in the requested manner (APA, MLA, etc.), and submit the application on or before the due date. This tip seems simple, but a hastily put together paper with good ideas may not go over as well as a less interesting paper that follows all the rules. Also, if you mention in your paper that you’re organized and pay attention to details, and then you fail to follow any of the directions, what does that really say about you? Be conscious of the message you’re sending out. It’s not just what you say—it’s also how you say it.
  2. Write about something that interests you. Most of the essay topics are fairly open-ended, so there’s an opportunity to inject some of your own flavor. My favorite topic to research and write about is the digital divide, so I usually find a way to weave a discussion of accessibility and computer education into whatever prompt I’m given. I’m not advocating that you dump in a bunch of unrelated information about your passion for AACR2 and clowns—I’m simply saying that if you have an opportunity to discuss your relevant interests, you should go for it. Your passion will influence your tone, and the scholarship committee will be able to sense the honesty and sincerity of your words.
  3. Read essays from those who have won in the past. Often, organizations post an excerpt of the winning essay in a press release, and in some cases, the essay is published in its entirety in an academic journal or professional newsletter. Read it, and figure out what made it a winner. Is the writer’s tone enthusiastic and persuasive or scholarly and informative? How many sources did he or she use? Is the essay significantly below the word count, or does it meet it exactly? Something about this essay was right—it’s your job to figure out what, and to implement those same strategies in your own paper.
  4. Google the names of previous winners. This is mainly a confidence booster because it helps you realize that the people who have won in the past aren’t really that different from you. And then you’ll start to believe that you have what it takes to win, too. A lot of library students have an online presence via LinkedIn, Twitter, or personal blogs, so it’s relatively easy to take a peek at their résumés. I wouldn’t contact them one-on-one, especially if they’re complete strangers, but my logic is that people post résumés online so that others can read them, so what’s the harm in indulging?
  5. Get feedback. Whether it’s yelling into the next room to ask your sister if something makes sense or emailing a copy of the finished paper to your advisor, a second set of eyes and ears never hurt when writing an essay. Something that sounds clear to you may prove to be confusing to others, and since you won’t be there in person to explain your essay to the scholarship committee as they read it, it’s important to be sure that your essay makes sense to someone other than yourself.

Writing a scholarship essay can be scary—you’re putting yourself out there and saying, “Pick me, pick me!” But with practice (and a healthy dose of confidence), this process becomes easier and easier. And who knows, you may find yourself a few dollars richer in the process.

What do you think, fellow hackers? Do you have any tried and true rituals for acing the scholarship essay?


The (Other) Digital Divide

14/01/2014 § 1 Comment

When people discuss the digital divide, they are usually talking about how race and class differences contribute to one’s ability to access and use computers and the Internet. But in my opinion, there is another digital divide among professionals, one that separates those who make their living creating technologies and those who make their living using (and teaching others to use) technologies. And from what I’ve seen online,  if you want to make people angry fast, all you have to do is place them on one side of the divide when they (or someone else) believes they belong on the other. In a riveting post by Cecily Walker of the Vancouver Public Library, there’s hard Twitter evidence of just such instances. All you have to do is call a librarian who codes a computer engineer, then wait for the thunder.

But why is this such a hot-button issue? Why can’t we all just get along? « Read the rest of this entry »

12 New Reasons Not to Do Your Homework

20/12/2013 § 5 Comments

You’re already reading Hack Library School, and you’ve undoubtedly heard about the magic being done at INALJ. Therefore, it can be deduced that you are indeed a savvy library student. But don’t you ever feel the need to branch out? Don’t you ever want to diversify your list of go-to blogs and websites for the latest in library news? Don’t you want to be able to watch your classmates turn green with envy when your presentations are so great they practically leap from the computer screen and shake people by the shoulders? Of course you do!

So here is an unofficial, unsolicited list of some of my favorite library-related sites. Proceed with caution, as some of these sites may cause you to spend hours upon hours neglecting your studies.

Creative Commons US: This site compiles photos, music, and videos that have been licensed for public sharing. As future librarians, information policy should always be on our minds when we’re publishing online, and this site provides legal access to a ton of free media. Just be sure to cite your sources!

Prezi: This one is the cool kids’ PowerPoint. It’s been around for a bit, but there are still enough people who don’t know about it that they’ll be impressed by it. There are various templates for creating timelines, resumes, and digital stories, but its most notable feature is that it allows you to zoom in and out of the slides and create an almost interactive, panoramic view within the presentation. « Read the rest of this entry »

Do What Makes You Mad

06/11/2013 § 7 Comments

In the library world, enthusiasm is not in short supply. I’d even go so far as to say that being excited about things is quickly becoming part of the new librarian stereotype, along with being 25, tattooed, pink-haired, and on a skateboard. Think about it—an abundance of library websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds focus on being clever, sharing new book finds, and poking fun at our profession. And while all this is great (and hilarious), I often wonder, where’s everybody’s indignation? Doesn’t something (other than rude patrons) make you mad?

I’ll go ahead and admit that I sometimes wonder why I’m in the library business at all. But then I meet people who remind me, like the 75-year-old woman who could hardly walk without breathing heavily who needed help applying for a job at Burger King. Unpack that one—digital illiteracy, elder care, unemployment, disability. That makes me mad. And when I get mad, I do what librarians do best—I start learning.

Of the five tracks my MLIS program offers (youth services, cataloging, management, reference, and technology), I originally chose to focus on technology because, honestly, I thought it would look amazing on my resume. But once I started working at a public library, everything I learned in my technology classes started to come into focus. Digital illiteracy became real to me, and I realized that my classes were preparing me to think about the big picture concerning the impact of new technologies on libraries, their patrons, and the world.

These classes and experiences prepared me to think critically about a topic that I hadn’t even realized mattered to me. They gave my studies a sense of purpose, and they reinforced the lessons I’d learned in core classes. And yes, as I predicted, they’re starting to make my resume look a lot better, too.

It is my advice, then, when designing your course of study, to specialize in something that makes you mad, something that will equip you with the skills to right the wrongs you see. I know that letting what makes you mad drive your decisions is usually a bad idea, but in this case, it makes sense. Enthusiasm wanes (Twilight, anyone?), but man, can people hold a grudge. And sometimes, that’s a good thing.

You don’t have to sink your teeth into an issue and never let go, but it’s not a bad idea to at least keep the issue where you can see it. Don’t ignore what you like—try tearing me away from display making, why don’t you—but don’t ignore what makes you mad, either. You may find something new to love.

What do you think fellow hackers? Is there enough indignation among library people? Is there anything that makes you mad?


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