Life as an E-Resources Librarian in an International Graduate Research University based in Saudi Arabia

Disclaimer: The following is my own personal account as a Singaporean Expat living in Saudi and may be different for others (usually based on their country’s passport *wink*).  I have been working in the library field for close to 20 years.

Before proceeding further, I’d like to thank my wife for sharing this journey with me and being my pillar of strength when the going gets tough.  Moving from a first world country,  you will need to have the crucial qualities such as patience, perseveranceresilience and a Can-Do / Never Say Die spirit.  Why those traits?  From my experience here, I’ve encountered many challenges and obstacles along the way that if you don’t possess at least one of those, you’ll probably just let everything go and leave.  You need to have an open mind.  Turn challenges into opportunities.  Like Denzel Washington said “Fall Forward“.  Understanding and respecting local cultures and communication norms would be very advantageous as well.

It began with Access and Digital Services Specialist which later turned out to be Electronic Resources Specialist.  The ride was initially bumpy filled with sweat, tears of joy/sadness against a backdrop of a dynamic work landscape.  Fast forward 7 years later, I won’t trade the valuable experience for anything less.  Life is full of tests and tribulations but in it, are lessons that money can’t buy.

I moved from Singapore to join a newly established Graduate Research university library based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia way back in late 2009.  I remembered the first time I stepped into the library; and bumped into the then library director, Joe Branin.  He was a warm, cordial and knowledgeable man; full of advice.  He made me feel at ‘home’ in my new surroundings. The very first Uni Librarian has since passed on. RIP Joe. You made every obstacle into an opportunity as reflected in the saying “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”   Richard Bach, (Illusions)

Being the Electronic Resources guy, I had the chance to work with various equipment: the main ones are: iMac, MacBook and my trusty iPhone – all provided by the university.  I ‘expanded’ that equipment to include IoS and Android devices.  Such is the support that I got over here.  One of the reasons why I got all those stuff is that I need to ensure that our e-resources work / behave well on all computers as well as mobile devices whether Windows, Mac, iOs and Android.  I get ‘fan-mail’ every once in a while when one of the e-resource titles don’t perform to expectation.

One of the things that you need to understand is to learn about the norms and work culture over here especially when locals are involved.  Working in a multi-cultural team is sometimes perplexing and needs adjustments at many levels in terms of expectations and understanding the knowledge and expertise of each team members.  Sometimes, a staff may be at a disadvantage due to his/her ‘indispensable’ status in a department especially  when he /she is so used to multi-tasking in their country of origin.

For example,  a staff who is good at his or her work may be held back in the trenches.  The Boss may feel that by having this individual around would be useful in getting the job done and done well where other staff fail(s) to deliver.  On top of that, the individual may be asked to ‘mentor’ other group members as they are not apt in their area of work.  This may be good for the Boss but not for that individual who will have to put in ‘double or triple shifts’.

Like most universities, this place is a flat organization.  Perhaps, any dissatisfaction with regards to promotions is quelled by trips abroad for conferences,  international paper presentations and of course not to mention the most important deciding factor is the remuneration perks.

To excel as an E-Resources Librarian, you need the key professional competencies as outlined by NASIG:

Life cycle of electronic resources:
(Pesch, 2009)

You need to have knowledge on this.  I picked it up on the go over here.  Because of my background in Reference work and Web usability, the learning curve was gradual. Being in the electronic resources field also meant that I need to keep abreast of any technology changes.  I also have to be alert and stay on top of things (work-wise) so that they don’t fall thru the cracks.  In terms of “sharpening the saw”, I was fortunate that the library is supportive in my trainings which included attending a number of overseas conference(s). On top of that, I immersed myself in the numerous literature available on the subject matter.  Till today, I am still learning and would continue to learn.  At times, you will need to learn, unlearn and relearn.  You have to be honest with yourself.  It’s OK to admit not knowing some stuff on electronic resources management.  Take steps to address this by attending webinars, asking peers, read some books on the subject matter and so forth.

Last but not least, you sincerely want to make the organization that you work in to be successful and not just mediocre when compared to international standards. To achieve this reality and not just a mere figment of our imagination, everybody’s efforts and contribution counts regardless whether they are locals or expats.  After all, most of us are motivated to work and aim to ensure that the workplace would be successful and stand shoulder to shoulder with our peer universities.  However, the practice of promoting duds; those who do not have the RELEVANT expertise or experience should be stopped as such negativity would only slow down or worse impede , the vision of any university and bring down the morale of those who are passionate and good in their work.