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Some Things They Never Told Me Before I Took This Job…

I’ve been a librarian for 22 years with the last 19 of those at Northern Kentucky University. I started in the Reference Department and moved “up” to Head of Public Services. I have also been an adjunct faculty for the Communication Department. A couple years ago, I took a one-year library leave and taught communication courses full-time. When I returned to my supervisory library position, NKU had hired a new Associate Provost for Library Services (my boss) who told me he didn’t need another supervisor. What he did need was someone willing to gain external funding for the library. He needed someone to write grant proposals. Would I do this?

My boss’ enthusiasm was, and still is, contagious. Being a bit of a people pleaser, as well as being ready to get out of the supervision business, I said, “yes.” “Yes” to a new opportunity and challenge. “Yes” to new marketable skills. “Yes” to the promised support I would need to learn how to write grant proposals. And, finally, “yes,” because I couldn’t say “no.”

Grants Coordinator at Steely Library was a newly created position. I started from scratch. There was no one prior to pass on inside tips and words of wisdom. So, I discovered, in short time, some things they never told me before I took this job:

  1. I would relive my glorious high school and college days. Writing a grant proposal is like writing a research paper, no, even worse, sometimes like writing a GROUP research paper. You may need to gather information from multiple people involved in the project and they might write some proposal sections. On top of that, I didn’t realize that some grants would require that I “cram.” I actually have become on occasion what I was NOT in high school, someone who works until the deadline to complete a project. This is tough for a girl who used to study for tests and complete papers days ahead of time.
  2. There are “turf” issues and egos to consider. Early on in my position, the grant writer in NKU’s Research, Grants and Contracts office befriended me. (Lucky for me she just happened to like me). I found out through her that I would need to “check” with the Development Office and the Foundation before I even considered sending a proposal or an inquiry letter to a potential funder. Of course, I found this out after the fact with one particular project. Uh, oh.One of my first projects was an 18th century collection of musical scores and parts that is in need of cleaning, preservation and cataloging. I searched for a funder that might match these needs and found a local corporation that appeared to be a great fit. However, Development was already working with this funder for the University’s Capital Campaign and my small project would be viewed as competing for dollars.

    No one told me that a funder doesn’t like to see that one part of campus is unaware of what the other one is doing, especially when those parties are both asking that funder for financial support. This raises some skepticism regarding an organization’s competence and why then would a funder trust this organization with their money?

  3. Prioritizing grant projects is HARD. I consider myself a highly organized person, and a very good multi-tasker. However, I started to go a little crazy when I could not get a handle on what project to start first or how to juggle proposals. This was compounded by the fact that my boss likes to drop by my office with proposal “ideas” when he thinks of them. Everything seemed to be important. Information from this newsletter and other grants’ listservs showed me I’m not crazy and that other people struggle with this very same problem.
  4. If a proposal is funded, implementing the project can be as much work as writing the proposal. I didn’t know how critical it is to get the “buy-in” up front from all the people who might eventually be involved in the project, especially groups external to the library. Simply getting specific information to write the proposal from other campus departments does not constitute their commitment or complete understanding of the proposed project. For example, I received funding for a proposal that required the involvement of Architectural and Construction Services, Physical Plant and Information Technology. I received the necessary information, such as budget figures, from these groups before submission. However, I should have held a collaborative meeting to explain the project holistically prior to receiving funding, instead of afterward.
  5. I would become a nag. I’ve taught Interpersonal Communication and I know that nagging is not considered an effective means of communication. But I’ve resorted to nagging when I’ve made the 5th phone call or sent the 3rd e-mail to Information Technology asking if the data drops will be installed this week, or whatever it is that hasn’t been done and should have been done two weeks prior.

No one stressed to me that those outside my own little library grant world are not necessarily on my timeline. Telling people upfront what the schedule is for the project period does not guarantee they are writing the deadlines on their calendars like I am. Why should they?

Because I’m pretty happy when I feel balanced, there is a positive counterpart for me for every unknown listed above:

  1. Despite the time-consuming research and deadline anxiety, I love the synthesis of the grant writing process, how information eventually comes together in an organized proposal. I have also discovered that I enjoy learning about the topics I write about.
  2. Communicating with the pertinent offices on campus benefits my projects and myself. Building good relations with people outside the library is extremely rewarding, not to say helpful, especially to someone new to this field. I learn from the expertise and personal experience from my campus grant writing and Development colleagues.
  3. Your higher-ups (immediate boss, administration) are the ones who should help you set priorities with proposals. This generally comes from understanding the mission and goals, in my case, of the university and library. I recently sat down with my boss with the list of projects I have and he guided me in setting proposal priorities. I’m not saying you can’t work on more than one project at a time, but this job can present more challenges in determining what those top projects are.
  4. Collaborating and discussing a proposal upfront with all groups involved is critical. Questions I cannot foresee arise from this initial interaction. Also, interest and commitment to the project result when we discuss workflow and project implications together.
  5. Being polite, respectful and understanding of others’ jobs/responsibilities (outside of the grant) make a huge difference in whether I am perceived as a nag. When I’m nice no one seems to think I’m nagging anyway, even when I know I am.

As with any new position, we learn best from experience. If I had simply been told these things before I said “yes” to this job, I doubt I would have remembered what I have learned so far. I know for sure now that I won’t forget them.

About the Contributor: Laura Sullivan

Laura Sullivan assumed the title Grants Coordinator for the W. Frank Steely Library at Northern Kentucky University in 2002. Under a new Associate Provost for Library Services, the position was created to facilitate development efforts in the library. She is responsible for the identification and development of fundable projects, identification of external funding sources, and the writing of grant proposals. Laura also assists library faculty and staff in identifying and developing funding opportunities in their departments and areas of interest.

She is a member of the American Association of Grant Professionals and is active on that group’s Professional Growth and Development Committee, as well as the AAGP Greater Cincinnati chapter.

Laura has been a library faculty member at NKU since 1984 and was tenured in 1989 as Associate Professor of Library Services. Her background is in Reference and Instruction, and she also served as Head of Public Services for six years. She discovered that her library skills matched well with those skills needed in the grants field, including research and organizational abilities. Laura also has a background in Communication and has taught interpersonal communication and public speaking classes as an adjunct in NKU’s Department of Communication.

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