@theREALwikiman asked if I could give some advice to librarians wanting to work abroad for a couple of queries from LIS New Professionals Network. Overnight I was mulling it over and decided that it might make a useful blog post. (Although my links to training are getting more and more tenuous!) I thought that it would follow on nicely from my Library Routes blog where I spoke about working at Dubai Women’s College in Dubai. (I’ve also lived in Paris and Barcelona but this was whilst I was at university.)

Where I’ve mentioned websites,  I’ve added them as a list at the end.

So people on LIS-NPN have been asking, ‘Where do you start?’ It might seem startlingly obvious, but I’d start by thinking about where you want to go first. Just practically – it’s a lot easier to research and make links in one country/region than it is to start trying to do all of them at once.

Whilst you’re deciding this – see what your answers are to the following questions. They might help you to make up your mind.

What languages do you speak? (Remember French also boosts your employability in Canada, not just in France and Africa) this can expand or narrow where you can work. (again this is obvious, I know) If you don’t speak any languages, are you interested in learning a new one?

Do you want to volunteer? Then look at the VSO website.

What kind of lifestyle are you looking for? Do you want to work in a developing country? What type of environment do you like to work in? Would you be happy working in a country where the laws on what you can do (by Western standards) are quite strict? Do you want to work in a library that has a healthy budget and lots of money for equipment? Would you prefer to work in Europe or the US?

I’d also see if you can find out about that countries work culture – what hours will you be expected to work – how many holidays are usual? You don’t want to get there and it be a nasty shock to the system.

Do you want to stay in the same sector as you work in now?

I think it’s a good idea, at least to start with. Especially as this is what you’ll be able to talk about at interview and sell yourself with. (Unless you are looking to change career direction or want to volunteer). Working abroad comes with its own challenges and being able to fall back on ‘what you know’ is really helpful.

Check out the FCO website and its pages on travel and living abroad, also look at CILIP’s International Library and Information Group and join it. Make it routine to search the Overseas section of lisjobnet.com. If you do this today you’ll see there are 4 jobs advertised in Saudi. (Although female colleagues – if they are accepting female candidates, I would think VERY hard about THAT kind of move.) Remember the job section in the THES, it has overseas posts in it and have a look at the British Council’s website. These are all things that can be done quite quickly.

Once you have decided on a country and a city/town – do your research – what are the emigration policies? Do you have to have a job to get in? Which comes first? (In Dubai, I got the job and then the college organised my work visa which allowed me to live in the country for the length of my 3 year contract.) What rules and regulations do you have to follow? What is the process of moving to that country? How do YOU get in? Obviously each country is different and it would be easier to relocate to Europe.

Do your research into your profession in that country. What libraries do they have? In my case – where are the universities and colleges? Do they have libraries? What language do they teach in? Lots of developing countries have colleges and universities that teach in English. E.g. UAE, Qatar, Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan etc. There are also quite a lot of American Universities of … Lebanon, Dubai, etc., where the teaching is done in English. Find the university/college websites and haunt their vacancy sections. Someone on LIS-NPN was asking about jobs in the Caribbean – I’ve seen posts advertised with good relocation packages in Bermuda and Barbados. There are also more outposts abroad of UK, US and Australian universities now – it might be interesting to check these out too.

If libraries are hiring from abroad – why? Is it because they are a developing country and need foreigners to help build the infrastructure? There are often jobs for enterprising librarians in countries like this. Do they have a relocation package? Countries that are hiring from abroad on purpose, often will. If so, will they pay for your flights, accommodation, health insurance? (very important in countries with no NHS) Will they pay for partners/family? Do you have to be married? The college I worked in Dubai, would not have paid for a boyfriend to come with me, as living with a man who is not a member of your family or your husband is against the laws of the UAE. Do they provide a re-location allowance? For you to buy furniture and such when you arrive.

Does the country have a library association? Can you start making links with librarians already out there, working where you want to work? In this age of Twitter, this is easier than ever.

The other couple of things I would advise and you will often find me screaming this at the TV during ‘A place in the sun’. Visit the country as much as you can. If you’re going somewhere far away, at least try to visit once. Remember though that these visits are holidays. When you live and work in a country, it’s not going to be the same a being on hols – you still have to get your gas bill paid, go grocery shopping and get the car fixed, and these things can be 10 times harder than they are in the UK depending on where you are. (I had a very painful experience getting my UAE driving licence involving me not being able to find the police station for ages, driving an unfamiliar hire car on roads where they appeared to be harbouring murderous feelings towards me and going round in circles a lot. Oh and when I did finally find it AND the entrance, it was closed. The policeman who informed me of this fact, thought this was very funny.)

If they do speak a different language – try and learn it! Particularly if you’re in Europe.  (I say this as a person who did a year of Arabic classes before going to Dubai and then didn’t speak Arabic once when I got there, apart from to wow my students with my knowledge of the Arab word for book. Prior to this I hadn’t really got the whole ‘the local population is only 4% of the total’ thing and that English was for the most part the lingua franca). It really is easier to get involved in the community though if you try to speak the language.

So after rambling for some time and my tales of caution at the end – I’ll say I hope this has helped and if you are interested in working abroad – go for it – it will change your life…and really what’s the worst that can happen? 🙂

VSO: http://www.vso.org.uk/index2.asp

FCO: travel and living abroad pages: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/

International Library and Information Group: http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/special-interest-groups/international/Pages/default.aspx

THES Jobs: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/jobs_home.asp?navCode=84

British Council: http://www.britishcouncil.org/new/about-us/working-for-us/

  1. Cecilia Bethencourt

    Thank you for that extremely helpful and matter-of-fact advice, there are lots of things that I hadn’t yet considered/hadn’t even occured to me! You’ve given me plenty of food for thought – I feel like I have a bit more of an idea of where and how to start looking. Many thanks.

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