Leaning International: Recipes from the Field at ALA Annual 2015 – A Review

Leaning International: Recipes from the Field at ALA Annual 2015 – A Review
By Raymond Pun, California State University, Fresno (Formerly NYU Shanghai)
Photo at conference with the following people left to right: Ray Pun, Elly Shodell, Jennifer Nardine, Muzhgan Nazarova, Catherine Shreve, Rebecca Miller and Jim Agee. Photo Credits: John Hickok
Left to Right: Ray Pun, Elly Shodell, Jennifer Nardine, Muzhgan Nazarova, Catherine Shreve, Rebecca Miller and Jim Agee. Photo Credits: John Hickok
I was fortunate to be invited as a panelist for this interesting discussion on library careers abroad. Organized by Muzhgan Nazarova and Jennifer Nardine, the program was held in ALA Annual 2015 and sponsored by the ALA International Relations Round Table (IRRT). We had five speakers answering questions about life working abroad, career developments, future plans, and interesting perspectives about our positions. 
Catherine Shreve from Duke discussed her role as a librarian in the Semester at Sea Program, Elly Shodell talked about her experience as a Fulbright Specialist in Mozambique, Jim Agee talked about his experiences as a library director and manager in Cambodia and Kazakhstan, Rebecca Miller talked about her experiences working in the American University of Afghanistan and I spoke about my role as a reference librarian in NYU Shanghai, NYU’s newest portal campus in the People’s Republic of China. 
We had over 100 attendees listening very carefully about our career choices and paths. We also devoted thirty minutes for Q&A, which was the highlight of the program. Here I’ll highlight some of the takeaways for new members interested in working abroad. 
First, see the {program site http://alaac15.ala.org/node/29015} where slides were stored from some of the speakers.
Second, always check out sites such as INALJ.com, ALA Joblist, IREX, {The Traveling Librarian Blog https://sarahpgibson.wordpress.com} to get an idea about the current positions and requirements out there. Often times, many library-related jobs might not require an MLS/MLIS degree. You can still work abroad as a librarian but without the full title. Obviously, pay and benefits will be greatly different from the U.S. standards. Aside from the cultural shocks and language barriers, you definitely have to present yourself as a curious, adventurous, enthusiastic and passionate candidate because you are going to be competing with many candidates with similar backgrounds – and what set you apart is your personality and interview. 
All of the speakers came from different backgrounds, but mostly academic ones – the academic libraries in different countries tend to be recruiting people more so than public or special libraries.
We recommend getting involved in the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) – next year it will be held in Columbus, Ohio and that will be a great opportunity to network and meet with other librarians from abroad. We also suggest getting active in ALA’s IRRT, which is an excellent start to networking and obtaining additional resources. I never thought I would have worked abroad, but I did because of my connections and interests in international librarianship. 
There are tons of resources out there to prepare for your Skype interviews, which are often scheduled for international positions. You will want to stay current in the geographic location that you want to go to. Visit the U.S. State Department’s site on these specific countries before you commit to the job. Also, you may want to read about the history of librarianship in the countries that you are interested in working in. We also find that health is a major concern when taking any position abroad. Are you ready to get “sick?” Most of us have but it’s all part of the experience.
Overall, we were able to give many advice and ideas to the attendees. Many asked how could they really get that job abroad? We recommend taking a short study abroad program if you can afford the time and money to do so. Many library schools these days are offer these international library programs for students and professionals to learn more about the libraries happening in specific countries such as China, India, Russia, etc. I participated in three international library programs and thought it was valuable to reinforce that I did want to work abroad. It’s worth a shot and you may realize that you may not want to work abroad after experiencing it first hand! Working abroad is challenging but a great learning opportunity. It also isn’t for everyone as we all stressed. 
If you missed this year’s program, don’t worry! Next year, IRRT will organize another program on library careers abroad in ALA Annual 2016 in Orlando.