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Adventure Awaits: Working Internationally as a Librarian

by Karen Holt

One of the many great advantages to a library career is that we have the opportunity to work not only in many different locations in our own country, but also in many different countries around the world. In the 11 years since I finished library school, I have worked at a university library in Qatar, a startup in Germany, and a research library at an international organization in Belgium. In this article I will share with you information about working abroad, including where to find international positions, questions to ask as you consider accepting the position and what to expect when working in an international environment.

Living abroad offers exciting possibilities for travel, learning a new language, and gaining exposure to other cultures and different ways of thinking. It also requires an open mind and flexibility as you learn how to interact and successfully communicate with people from different backgrounds. Some days will be incredibly difficult and frustrating as you navigate the quirks of living in a different country, but overall I found these days to be far and few between. For me living and working abroad was a life-changing experience that has permanently altered the course of both my life and my career. If you enjoy learning new things, experiencing other cultures, and doing things that take you out of your comfort zone, then pursuing an international career could be for you.

Living abroad can be a wonderful experience for both you and your family. Children have the possibility to have experiences they would not have in their home countries. My daughter was three when we moved to Qatar and she adjusted to her new environment very quickly. Her English-speaking pre-school offered classes in French, Spanish, and Arabic and she had classmates from Egypt, Sudan, and France as well as other countries throughout the world. When I worked in Brussels, she attended a summer program at my organization, which meant that I could take her to work with me every day and she made friends with other children from a variety of countries whom she still keeps in touch with today.

Depending on the position and the organization, positions abroad can offer greater financial rewards than you might have in your home country. These include a generous salary plus moving costs, a housing allowance, a car allowance, tuition assistance for your children, and flights back to your home country as well as 6 to 8 weeks of vacation time.

How to Find a Position Abroad

Librarian positions abroad are available in many different kinds of environments, including international schools, universities, military bases, and international organizations. Some great places to start your job search are ALA JobLIST, The Chronicle of Higher Education,, USAjobs, and International Educator. Those interested in working in an international school should also look into the opportunities listed by Search Associates, an international school placement firm.

With today’s job search engines, it is easy to find library positions abroad. Indeed has many country-specific sites, such as for Germany and for the United Arab Emirates, and you can set alerts to receive emails whenever relevant positions are posted on the site. There are also region-specific sites like Gulf Talent, which features jobs in the Middle East. I recommend not only searching for jobs on these sites, but also uploading your resume as a job seeker. I was invited to interview for a position as the Digital Archivist for the 2022 World Cup because a recruiter saw the resume I had uploaded on Gulf Talent, and I never once saw that position advertised.

Expanding your job search to include other roles for information professionals will increase your chances of finding work abroad. Because we catalog information and make it accessible for our users as well as conduct user training, our work is closely related to the work done by other information professionals, such as information and records managers. Information professionals are in demand at international organizations and the private sector. Seeking out a diversity of roles with a shared skillset offers a greater possibility of finding an international position. The blog Going International in Archives is a great resource for finding positions in these areas and you can subscribe to an alert which notifies you each time a new job is posted. This blog was how I found my position at an international organization.

I got the job offer, now what?

Congratulations! The interview went well and now you find yourself in the enviable position of having a job offer. Your life abroad will be tied to your work visa, so you definitely want to make sure that the role and the organizational culture are a good fit for you before accepting the position. It is important to do all the research you possibly can, so that you don’t have any nasty surprises waiting for you when you arrive. If you interviewed for the job over Skype and did not have the opportunity to meet other people at the organization during the job interview, ask your potential new employer to put you in touch with other people there. Seek out the person who previously held the role you are being offered and ask them to chat with you about the position. If they aren’t willing to chat with you, this could be a bad sign.

The following are great questions to ask prior to accepting the role. Not only will the answers to these questions be important, but the way that your potential employer answers them will also tell you a lot about what it’s like to work there.

  • Will I be assigned a mentor who will help with the initial challenges of moving and living abroad?
  • Are there any restrictions on the work visa? (At the time I lived in Qatar, there were some positions which required permission from your employer to leave the country. Luckily, my position did not have these restrictions.)
  • Will you have a definite or an indefinite contract?
  • If you have a definite contract, is there a possibility to get an indefinite contract? What is required to get an indefinite contract?
  • If housing is part of your package and you haven’t seen where you will be living yet, ask to see pictures or a video of your accommodation before accepting the position.
  • If you have to find housing on your own, what kind of support is available for finding accommodation?
  • If you don’t speak the local language, do they have someone who can help you with translating legal documents, like a rental contract?
  • Do they have someone who can help you with setting up the things you’ll need for
  • everyday life, such as a bank account?
  • Do they offer an installation allowance or a relocation bonus which will help you buy  things for your new home?
  • If they cover moving expenses, is there a weight limit for how much you are allowed to move abroad?
  • What kind of health insurance will you have? Will you have access to private doctors as well as the public health system?

What is Working Abroad Like?

The first year is always the hardest. The beginning will be amazing. You’ll be entranced by how charming and wonderfully different everything is. You will be thrilled when you can communicate something in a new language. Your free time is spent excitedly planning weekend getaways.

Next come the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracy and the difficulty in interpreting the unwritten rules of your new country and your workplace culture. There may be conflict as you seek to understand how to work with people from other countries. You’ll miss friends and family and how easy it is to communicate in your native language with people who get your sense of humor.

In the next stage, you will find balance and contentment in your new life. The frustrations will still be there, but they’ll occur less and less frequently as you start to feel settled, make friends, and adjust to your new environment.

Working abroad is an incredibly rewarding experience. You will go through intense highs and lows and in the end you will learn new things about yourself and grow as both a person and a professional. Working in an international setting offers a diversity that few other environments do. I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities we have to work abroad. It is an experience that you will provide you with an opportunity to see the world, to accomplish things that are unparalleled in other settings, and to make friends and create wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.

Copyright 2020 by Karen Holt.

About the Author: Karen Holt currently works as the Director of the Bruce A. Garrett Library at the Baptist School of Health Professions in San Antonio, Texas. Previously, she was the Head of Information Support at NATO in Brussels, Belgium. She has also worked as a Community Manager for Adblock Plus in Cologne, Germany and as the Technical Services Librarian at Northwestern University in Qatar.