2/3/15 – Throughout my travels and writing about traveling librarians I have met a number of really interesting people and, as one of the goals of this blog is to connect people as well as share information, I am today introducing an interview feature. I hope this will prove to be both helpful and interesting.
Meet International Librarian Ray Pun…
Raymond Pun is currently a reference and research services librarian at New York University Shanghai where he provides research, instructional and digital services and support to the NYU Shanghai and NYU global community. Previously he was a librarian at the New York Public Library providing research support in the humanities, social sciences and East Asian studies. His research interests include digital scholarship and G.I.S services, virtual cultures and global librarianship. Along with Scott Collard and Justin Parrott, he is the co-editor of the volume entitled, The Future of U.S. Academic Libraries Abroad: Creating Vision and Strategy For Building Global Campus Libraries to be published by ACRL Publications (Forthcoming, Fall 2015).You can see his blog here for more of his travels: raypun101.tumblr.com
Why and how did you decide to try living and working overseas?
I’ve always wanted to work abroad for various reasons. I grew up in New York City so I have been exposed to many cultures and ideas but wondered what life is/was like for my friends/relatives back in their home countries. When this position opened up, I was encouraged to apply by many people because they knew about my interest to work abroad and my skills and experiences that I can bring to this role. It was also a very hard decision at the same time because I was deeply engaged with the projects at the New York Public Library (my former employer) but I knew that this opportunity was really once in a life time. I took this position knowing that I would be facing incredible challenges that would test my comfort zone and allow me to better understand my profession as a librarian and my life. It has been a very unique and rewarding experience working in a start-up culture abroad and I have so many stories, experiences and adventures to share as a result!
What have been your biggest challenges so far, both personally and professionally?
There are so many challenges when you work abroad. Initially, I thought I would have a very difficult time gaining professional development opportunities but in fact it has been quite the opposite. Working in Shanghai has allowed me to attend conferences in Asia and also be more proactive in building those networks. I have also taken advantage of the various library-related webinars and free MOOC programs such as Coursera offered in various disciplines from GIS to Intro to Psychology and this has allowed me to stay on top of my PD. But for those who aren’t familiar with these tools, it can be difficult to develop professionally. I recommend people to plan on building their skill sets carefully because that can make your work abroad much more meaningful and for your next transition, much more helpful! Personally, it has been difficult to not be able to see my friends and family members and to be missing important weddings, engagements, and celebrations but that’s the challenge when you live/work on the other side of the world.
What advice would you offer a librarian who wished to try working overseas?
Most of the libraries in other countries are still developing their digital programs: they might have a lot of “books” or “technology equipment” but these resources aren’t updated, sophisticated or heavily used as I’ve noticed. I think for someone from the U.S. who is interested in working abroad, it’s important to stay top of the trend, scholarship and technology. You might want to read articles from the Library Journal, INALJ, METRO or ACRL sites to stay on top of that. It also depends on what kind of library you are interested in working in: school media, academic, public or special? Those positions are all very different and adding the foreign culture layer to it makes it more challenging. I would say someone with a strong background in teaching, in emerging technology and in organizational management may find these opportunities to be interesting and rewarding. You just have to really stay connected with your networks because it might be difficult later to transition back home. I would take advantage of your new culture and learn and see as many things as you can!
Can you share an anecdote or lesson learned through travel and/or working overseas?I never realized so many librarians from abroad attend the ALA Annual conference. It’s a nice way to meet them there and in their hometowns. I would take advantage of the International Relations Round Table programs and sessions offered in the conferences where you can network and meet with other librarians from elsewhere. One of the great thing is that once you visit their countries, they can invite you personally to see their libraries or invite you to speak as well. It has worked out for me and I really enjoy having a larger network outside of the U.S.!
Do you ever have any fear or worry about working and traveling overseas? That’s a good question. I think it depends on where you are going for work and for leisure. For work, China (particularly Shanghai) is a safe city all around, and there might be some occasionally theft if you aren’t careful but that’s everywhere in the world. I would strong recommend people to register with the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (if you are from the U.S.) – you’ll get updates and alerts on what’s going on in where. It’s also a good idea to find out where your embassy is located and so you can easily get assistance from there if needed. For personal purposes, I think a lot about where I am going and whether it is a good idea or not, but I am pretty conservative in my travels: only major cities or areas where I have contacts living in. I wouldn’t venture off to areas that I know no one and it isn’t a big city. But I know people who often do that kind of travel and they have no problem at all!
Where would you like to go next? Do you see this as a career or just an experience?
Great question! I’m not sure but I am ready to take on new challenges and opportunities. At the moment I am enjoying my position and really learning on how to develop new services, projects and programs in our university. I find the experience enriching and helpful if I decide to pursue other opportunities in the future but somewhere between U.S. or China would be nice!
How important, in your opinion, are libraries and librarians in the worldwide arena? Are we the new diplomats or still considered on the edge of what is important?
Librarians in the worldwide arena are important! It’s important to educate people into thinking differently about society, culture and life. Libraries play a big role in literacy, programming and human development; when there are more libraries around, people will read more and be exposed to other ideas, cultures and values. We help bridge the digital divide, and allow others to gain equal access to resources through digital or technological means; I also believe in a global context, libraries can really shape the future generation of leaders into making better and sensible decisions for global society.