Grace Agnew talks about her Grant Writing class

We interviewed Grace Agnew a year ago, prior to the start of the first session of her Mechanics of Metadata course. Grace is Associate University Librarian for Digital Library Systems at the Rutgers University Libraries and has been an adjunct professor in the Library Information Science program at Rutgers University since 2005. She is teaching a different class for us next month, Grant Proposal Development for Libraries, as well as another round of The Mechanics of Metadata later. Grace sent me the following introduction to her grant writing class, which outlines what it will cover and talks a bit about her background for teaching it. Here is her intro:


I’ve been writing successful grants since the mid-90s, for public and academic libraries. I have played a substantial role in obtaining $8.4 million in grants over the course of my professional career, of which $6.9 million were in my current position over the last decade. In addition to being a principal or co-principal investigator for many grants, I have also reviewed grants for the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and served as a site visitor and consultant to the National Science Foundation since the late 90s. I have obtained grants from federal granting agencies and from foundations.

My course is going to focus on the most critical aspects of grant development, as well as some of the most overlooked aspects. The first week will start with a frequently overlooked area, which is the readiness of the organization itself to undertake a grant. I have found that organizations (my own included!) frequently under-estimate the work and other consequences of a successful grant proposal to the organization. Receiving a grant is very much as if a giant chunk of concrete were dumped into a small and quiet pond. The amount of disruption is considerable and needs to be taken into account, since we are service organizations with many obligations and commitments on our time. My recent consulting and research have focused on the sustainability of digital initiatives, and a critical factor in sustainability is the commitment of the host organization to maintaining the new service or resource created through the grant for the long term, so employing a strategy to assess the readiness and support of the host organization is critical to a grant’s success.

Equally critical to a grant’s success is selecting the right granting agency, so that the organization’s needs and the granting agency’s needs are aligned.

Clear identification and understanding of the user–identifying the user, identifying the user’s needs, and building user support before, during and after the grant–are critical to developing a successful grant, and one that will have a sustained impact over time. Week two will develop strategies for identifying users, identifying their needs, and developing a fundable project that supports the user’s perspective.

Grant proposals must be innovative and impactful. Innovation often involves looking at a problem in a unique way–“mixing it up by adapting strategies from a different discipline, addressing a user need in a compelling way, or simply doing something no one else has done. But innovation is only half the story. The proposal must also have lasting impact, which involves serving a real need, being replicable within the organization and by others, and being sustainable over time. In week three, we will learn to add innovation and impact to a grant idea.

Week four will look at measuring impact, which involves being accountable to the user and the organization as well as to the granting agency.

This course works with a “real world” scenario involving a collaborating public and academic library. Participants can take either role. You will work through the four areas of a successful grant proposal for this real world scenario. This takes the pressure off of the participant, who is not worrying about the realities facing the actual organization, but is free to have fun and to learn. If the scenario is unfamiliar to you, that is excellent, because innovation frequently emerges when you step out of your own area of expertise and into someone else’s space. The final project is a 4-5 page prospectus for a grant, which I will critique.

In addition to written assignments each week, there will be small quizzes to help you understand some of these principles.

Not only will you learn how to make a grant proposal more compelling, but hopefully also some strategies to add user focus and creativity to any library project, whether grant funded or not!

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