Thoughts on Working Abroad as a Librarian, Part III: An American Librarian in China

By Ray Pun, New York University Shanghai

To celebrate the Creative Commons launch of The Global Librarian, we're sharing stories and advice from five librarians who have lived and worked in countries around the world. This series is co-edited by Ray Pun, Research and Reference Services Librarian at New York University Shanghai. Ray's article Working Abroad As a Librarian: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead is currently featured on 

ray1.jpgAs you have been following this series on librarians who have experienced life abroad, you may have noticed some patterns as they shared their stories: a strong passion for learning global cultures, as well as developing professionally and personally while living abroad.

I am on a similar path. Working as a librarian abroad has been life-altering to say the least. In the beginning, I had three challenges: transitioning into a new job, shifting from public to academic librarianship, and moving and living abroad. These “obstacles” were quashed because I felt comfortable to handle the changes and “mindfully” expected bumps along the way. Working abroad can test your patience and character but you also learn a lot about yourself throughout the process.

I work in a university that just opened last fall. New York University Shanghai is the first Sino-U.S. higher education joint venture university in China, and it is the newest global portal campus of New York University (just like New York University Abu Dhabi, as mentioned by Beth Daniel Lindsay).

In my position, I offer instructional, research, and reference services to students, faculty, and staff. Since there are about 600 students, I enjoy the fact that I get to work in a smaller community compared to my previous job. These students come from everywhere around the globe; thus, we learn a lot about their cultures, too. I also get to experiment on designing new programs and services like social media outreach and library social events for faculty. It’s a challenging and rewarding position that allows me to learn a lot about academic librarianship and startup culture while living abroad.

Currently, I live in Shanghai, China and, according to Wikipedia, it is the number one most populated city in the world. 24 million people live in this city. Compare this to New York, home to about 8 million people. Like any other city, it is a very busy one -- full of amazing sites that are both modern and pre-modern. I’ve been to Shanghai a few years ago but the city has changed tremendously over the years.

Ray2.jpgWhen you live in a totally foreign country, the main challenges may include culture shock, language barriers, limited technological resources (including Internet access), and many other factors. These thngs are all part of the experiences and you’ll learn to adjust and deal with them as they come.

Here are some helpful tips to start the process in thinking about working abroad as a librarian:

  • The one professional association that might be of an interest to anyone curious about international librarianship is the International Federation of Library Association (IFLA). It is a huge library association and they have conferences in different countries. Membership might be expensive, but if you think it’ll be helpful then it might be worth joining. The association recently chose Columbus, Ohio to hold their 2016 conference. This might be a great opportunity to network and meet many librarians from around the world and hear about their work!
  • There are also national library associations in respective countries like the China Society for Library Science, but you do need to speak the language to participate sometimes. The conferences and associations may also be organized differently from what you are used to. ALA, ACRL, and SLA tend to center their conferences in North America so it can be difficult to travel these conferences from time to time.

  • If you do work abroad, you may want to watch webinars to keep up with new trends in the library world. There’s METRO! Tons of archived webinars and trainings as well. They also released their book, The Global Librarian, to the Creative Commons, which is pretty impressive and worth checking out.

  • Today there are many online learning opportunities. Recently I started a MOOC course on stoichiometry from Carnegie Mellon University through their Open Learning Initiative. All for free. I chose stoichiometry specifically, because I wanted to brush up on my sciences to support our students and faculty in those fields.

  • Library Journal recently published an interesting piece about professional development beyond conference attendance. You can always read their articles about the latest trends in academic, public, or digital librarianship while you work abroad!

  • The INALJ site (“I Need a Library Job” founded by Naomi House) also contains LIS job postings from around the world. What is particularly useful is that they also feature articles on all kinds of library-related topics from acing an interview to working overseas.

Working/living abroad can be an adventure, a challenge, a reward, an experience, an opportunity but most of all, it’s professional and personal growth! 

About Ray
Raymond Pun is currently a reference and research services librarian in New York University Shanghai, China. He provides reference and instructional services, and outreach support. He has been working in NYU Shanghai since September 2013. He is nominated as an ALA 2014 Emerging Leader. Previously he was a research librarian in the New York Public Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building where he was nominated as a Library Journal’s Mover and Shaker in 2012. You can tweet him anything at @oboro85.  Discover his travels here: