by Raymond Pun, reference and research services librarian in New York University Shanghai
Working Abroad As a Librarian: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead
Thinking about working abroad?
There are growing opportunities to work abroad as a librarian or information specialist these days. However, when you consider working abroad as an adventure, there will be tons of unexpected challenges and bumps along the way. These challenges are generally true for all professionals working abroad. Things to consider include:
- Location – Where will you live and work? Where is the U.S. embassy located as well? Do you want to live in a local neighborhood or in an expatriate hub where there are also other international workers too?
- Currency and expenses – Do you know the cost of living in the cities and countries you want to or plan to work in? It can vary greatly and that can make a huge difference to how you live your life abroad.
- Languages – Do you know if people are comfortable communicating in English or in their national languages of the country only? Are you comfortable communicating in other languages? You may be surprised to know that many cosmopolitan cities today still hold tightly to their mother tongue languages – these major cities include Shanghai (Chinese), Tokyo (Japanese), Mexico City (Spanish), Paris (French), etc.
- Health and safety – Just because living abroad sounds dreamy doesn’t mean it really is – are you prepared to deal with ongoing health and wellness issues? No clean water or air, limited supplies of (Western medicine), different hospital procedures and services, various challenges to affordable health care, getting your immunity shots taken, and dealing with various diseases too are all part of the experience.
One of the great things about being a librarian is that you tend to know how to conduct research better than most people out there – this is particularly important if you are researching for opportunities, locations, salaries, benefits, health conditions, etc. Use those skills wisely and efficiently as you are searching or negotiating for your positions.
But what if you don’t know where to begin? There are plenty of sites out there to help you get started, take a look at some of these:
INALJ is a good start – they list overseas jobs and employment opportunities from time to time.
The Global Librarian tumblr page is another useful site filled with links to other international LIS jobs
For me, I’m always the type to seize or make opportunities out of thin air. I still find it hard to believe that I am working abroad sometimes because of the work I do that is so interconnected and interdependent with people in the states.
But when you are in the U.S., it is so much easier to connect and network with others professionals When you are working abroad, there are challenges (fun ones) that need to be considered like professional development and learning opportunities – it’ll be harder to participate and attend conferences of ALA, ACRL, SLA, etc., – if you usually do go to those for continuing education.
You might not have any opportunities for professional development if you are working in a remote location. If you think that you can gain your PD online via webinars that can be done depending on where you are but your Internet can be substantially slower in bandwidth depending on location. You may also need to get a “Virtual Private Network” (VPN) if your host country has a major firewall as well.
Sure, you get to explore different cities and countries but your primary focus for living abroad is your professional work and identity. If you are unable to update your skills while you are working abroad, then that may be a challenge if you wish to transition back to the U.S. later on.
Another important site to keep track of is the U.S Department of State. You can find out more about the countries you plan to work in and the latest travel advisory updates as well. The Department of State also offer positions called “Information Resource Officer” from time to time about serving as an information specialist that is knowledgeable in U.S. library science theory and practice, and electronic information sources and services while working abroad. It is quite a competitive gig where you’ll also need to take an exam and go through a series of interviews as well.
To me, one of the major downside of living abroad is that you can be cut off completely from the “news” and pop culture in the U.S., that is – if you care for any of that stuff. I usually find my news through my friends on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ these days but I much prefer hearing the radio, watching television or just browsing through magazines or newspapers to find out about the latest movies or book becoming movie series, or ongoing world news. It’s definitely been a challenge to find out what’s going on back home.
Recently, the Metropolitan Library Council in New York (METRO) is featuring a series of librarians who are and have worked abroad. They also recently launched their “Global Librarian” e-book for free! Consider looking at this amazing volume and exploring what current projects are librarians working on outside of the U.S.
Ideally, you’ll want to connect with anyone who has worked abroad to get their insights but you definitely want know about their experiences working abroad as a librarian because every job out there is different in terms of social, cultural, political, and economical levels – Positions abroad may be classified as librarians but they may include different job expectations and functions that you normally wouldn’t associate a U.S. librarian job with – but those are things to keep in mind as you go through job applications and processes.
Even if you don’t get your first job abroad, you shouldn’t give up but continue to read more about international librarianship, network with people in IFLA or ALA International Relations Round Table and continue building your curriculum vitae with language, web and technical skills, including leadership and project management too.
If you were meant to work abroad, the path will open for you in time!
Bio: Raymond Pun is currently a reference and research services librarian in New York University Shanghai where he provides research support to faculty and students. Previously he worked as a librarian in the New York Public Library where he offered research and instructional services, and coordinated outreach and programming services. In 2012, the Library Journal nominated him as a Mover and Shaker and this year, he is one of the ALA Emerging Leaders. He has presented and published widely on various topics such as Chinese cultural history, international librarianship, digital literacy, etc. He holds an M.L.S and M.A in East Asian Studies and you can find him on Linkedin and discover his travel blog!