This is an interview with Kate Holvoet, who has worked in LIS and teaching English in Japan and the United Arab Emirates, done by Naomi House of INALJ. She also wrote one of the definitive books on LIS job hunting overseas, Taking Your MLIS Abroad : Getting and Succeeding in an International Library Job. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series with librarians abroad, focusing on the work they do and how they got their job.
On Taking Your MLIS Abroad :
an INALJ Librarians Abroad Interview with Kate Holvoet
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what Librarian work abroad is and how LIS folk can find employment opportunities. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (or your educational background) and what you do?
My undergraduate degree was in Studio Art (monotype for the win!), which led me in a roundabout way to teaching English in Japan from 1994-1997. When I returned to the US, it was to get my MLIS from the University of Iowa. I’ve held librarian positions at Florida International University (State and Local Documents Librarian), University of Utah (Head of Online Services), Zayed University, Abu Dhabi (Electronic Resources Librarian), and now am the Electronic Resources Librarian at San Diego State University.
Q2: You co-authored one of the definitive books on LIS job hunting overseas, Taking Your MLIS Abroad :Getting and Succeeding in an International Library Job. Can you speak a little bit about what readers will find in the book?
Lara Seven Phillips (my co-author) and I looked at our book as kind of a how-to manual for people wanting to work in a library in a foreign country. Each chapter tackles a different issue, from where to find job listings, how to apply and interview, actually moving overseas, and what to expect while living outside of North America, both professionally and personally.
Q3: Now can you tell us how You personally found your overseas job and what that job was?
A colleague of mine (Leslie Haas) at the University of Utah left and took a job in Chicago. Several years later she left that position to take the Learning Commons Supervisor position at Zayed University. After about a year, she was promoted to Library Dean, and was recruiting to backfill her old position. One of the things you learn when you work in an academic library overseas, it can be difficult to fill positions with qualified candidates (for a variety of reasons), so I saw her recruiting email several times over about 6 months before I applied, and eventually got the job.
Q4: What do you think makes an LIS worker a strong candidate for hiring managers in this type of job abroad?
Honestly? The biggest advantage you can have when applying for a librarian position abroad is having an ALA accredited degree (or equivalent accredited degree from the UK or Australia, for example). The reason ALA accredited degrees have an outsized advantage is that many overseas universities partner with European, Australian, or North American universities to offer joint degree programs, and the foreign university adopts the partner university’s faculty hiring standards to meet program accreditation.
The next thing you can do to be competitive is to apply, preferably with a complete application with few grammatical errors. Some regions don’t have an ALA accredited degree program available, making it necessary to import qualified applicants from outside the country or region. For the last position I helped hire, we had over 60 applicants; 7 met the minimum qualifications, but only 4 ultimately had relevant experience. In that pool, for those 4 candidates, they were starting out with a one in 4 chance of getting hired.
Interestingly, Lara and I found that there are more school media specialist positions available internationally than academic librarian positions. Almost every country and every major city has an International School, or American School for k-12 students, and often more than one per city.
Q5: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first overseas job? What are some of the most important things that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
Often the biggest hurdle is finding out about available jobs. Not all libraries advertise their jobs on the job lists that North American librarians are used to using. Some universities accept international applications, but advertise mostly in-country. It’s good to pay attention to the US standard job-hunting sites, but to also target specific countries and universities you might want to work at and look at their employment listings on university web pages directly. If you find a job that seems amazing to you, but is not currently open, keep checking back with that organization periodically. Many overseas positions have relatively high turnover, with people coming and going within 3-4 years, so your dream job may be 6 months out from falling vacant.
My biggest tip for international job hunters is the same as for local job hunting. Apply for a job that interests you even if you only meet 70% of the position requirements. Address all of the requirements and desired qualifications directly in your cover letter, even if you don’t have that experience. You can indicate that a requirement is an area you are interested in moving into, or one that you have had coursework in but not yet had professional experience. You never know who your competition is, and I think librarians tend to assume that everyone else in the pool will be perfectly qualified, so they shouldn’t apply unless they are too. But my experience trying to hire overseas is that a relatively small group of qualified applicants apply, and many searches fail because none of the qualified applicants stay in the pool all the way through the process.
Kate Holvoet: BA Studio Art University of Utah and MLIS University of Utah
Overseas work experience: Conversational English instructor in Japan, 1994-1997
Learning Commons Supervisor/Electronic Resources Librarian Zayed University, United Arab Emirates 2013-2017
Currently at San Diego State University, where she is the Electronic Resources Librarian and the Assistant Head of Content Organization and Management.
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.