The International Librarian

Hello, HLS readers! I’m Kait, and I’m excited to present to you my first post on international librarianship.

This is a subject that HLS has tackled before, but I want to go a bit deeper into it. With the library job market in North America growing tighter by the day (or maybe it just seems to be that way to me, a soon-to-be job-hunter), I’m certain a lot of us are considering looking for work abroad. Moving to a new country is a big deal, and can definitely seem intimidating, but it’s also an amazing opportunity!

This 2012 HLS article provides a fantastic summary of what your MLIS is worth overseas. If you’ve got your heart set on living in a certain country (England, right? It’s always England), it’s a good first step to browse through this list, and take a look at the local library association to find out if your degree is valid. An ALA-accredited degree appears to be worth its weight in gold, valid in practically every English-speaking countryand others too! But that doesn’t mean you can’t study elsewhere. International schools regularly recruit teacher-librarians, and if you speak another language, you’re in luck; your degree is probably valid there too.

Remember, though: having an equivalent degree might not be enough. Below is a list of things to keep in mind when applying to jobs out-of-country…

Visa Requirements

This, sadly, will be the death of many a work-abroad dream. While short-term visas are relatively easy to get, and fantastic if your goal is to simply experience living in another country, it can be much more difficult to land a permanent, right-to-settle working visa. As highly educated migrants, librarians often appear on the “exception” list; in the UK, for example, librarians can technically be sponsored by potential employers, allowing them to remain indefinitely in the United Kingdom. However, before they can sponsor you, these employers have to prove that they could not find a candidate already eligible to work in the country. At present, that means that not a single person in all of the EU can do that job. This may change with Brexit—perhaps it will be easier for those of us outside the EU to land these jobs? We’ll have to wait and see!

These restrictions are changing constantly. Just ten or twenty years ago, citizens of Canada, Australia and New Zealand could move to the UK fairly easily, but not anymore. As of 2018, current global trends are leaning more towards tightening up borders, rather than encouraging international hires. Even Australia, renowned for being one of the most open countries in the world, is decreasing the number of visas available— though “librarian” still falls on the Short-Term Skilled Occupation List, so if you want to escape the snow and head for the outback, it’s a possibility! In North America, meanwhile, it is very easy for librarians to gain the NAFTA Professional/TN visa, a highly-skilled visa which allows citizens of Canada, Mexico and the United States to work in libraries or information organisations across the continent. However, as the name implies, this visa scheme is part of the NAFTA agreement. With it all up in the air, the TN visa may be a little less certain.

That’s not to say securing a visawherever you might want to liveis impossible! There’s never any harm in applying for an international job, even if a visa seems unlikely; maybe you really will be the only qualified candidate. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take! Just make sure your resume and cover letter are perfect. You’re not a convenient choice, so make sure you’re the best one!

And of course, as I mentioned above, short-term visas are always an option. I lived in the UK for two years on a Youth Mobility visa, and spent most of that time working as a library assistant in a diverse inner-city public library. I had the opportunity to develop my skills in the field, and I learned so much about why libraries are so vital to the community. It was a wonderful experience, even if I wasn’t able to remain in the country.

Libraries Abroad

Are libraries valued in the city/state/country you’re looking at moving to? Are budgets stable, recovering, or being slashed every year? Are libraries closing or are new branches being built? This varies greatly even within a country; in Canada, for instance, Newfoundland’s libraries are fighting to stay open, while in Ontario, public libraries are receiving substantial funding for the first time in twenty years*. Libraries are important everywhere, I’m sure we can all agree, and they are arguably even more important in communities that are facing cuts. But that doesn’t change the fact that it can be demoralizing.

* All this being said, levels of funding can change remarkably quickly; since first drafting this post, Ontario has elected a premiere who has previously said he’d close libraries “in a heartbeat.” A library system that seemed stable might be faced with cuts just as you are hired, or maybe the struggling branch you’ve just started at will land an impressive grant. So, while you should definitely consider the future of libraries in your new-home-of-choice, you probably shouldn’t rule anything out based just on this!

What is the job market like? Are there plenty of jobs in the city/state/etc. you’re looking at, or hardly any? Will there be opportunities for advancement, or are all the jobs entry-level? There’s a lot to consider, but these are things to look into when applying for any job, not just international ones!

Living Abroad

Would you be happy living there? Obviously, those of us approaching graduation want a jobany job. But do you really want to live there? Because you’ll be there for a while. Job hunting is stressful, and you don’t want to have to do it again in a hurry if you find yourself in the wrong position! If you’re going somewhere completely unfamiliar, be prepared for cultural differences, from workplace culture and different workplace expectations, to simply not getting the local sense of humour!

That being said, often, you’ll never know how you feel about living somewhere until you try it. You might absolutely love your new home! Even if you don’t, trying something new and experiencing a different way of life is never a bad thing. Moving somewhere completely new can be stressful, but also incredibly exciting, and the new experiences you’ll gain are worth the risk.

Featured image by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash

Kait is an MLIS student at Western University in Ontario, a graduate assistant for her faculty’s library, and an avid traveller. Currently, she is trying to determine whether or not moving to Australia would be worth the risk of spiders. Connect with her on LinkedIn, or visit her website.

2 replies

  1. Thanks for posting this! As a former expat and ESL teacher (plus current MLS student), I appreciate the look at international positions. Getting a visa always seems like the most difficult part of the process. Living abroad is an eye-opening experience and develops your librarian skill set and understanding of ESL and immigrant patron needs.


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