My Journey as an Expat Librarian in the Middle-East

Working as an expat in the Middle East can be a rewarding and unique experience. I had the opportunity to work at an International Graduate Research University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for almost 10 years. During that time, I experienced great joy and satisfaction and faced challenges. This blog post will explore what it is like to work as a librarian in a multicultural setting and how families adapt to life overseas.

The Role of a Librarian in the Middle East

Libraries are an essential part of any educational institution, and this is especially true in the Middle East, where access to information and knowledge is highly valued. Librarians in this region have a crucial role in supporting students, faculty, and researchers. They are responsible for selecting, organizing, and managing collections of books, journals, and other resources and providing instruction on how to use these materials effectively.

One of the unique challenges of working as a librarian in the Middle East is the diversity of languages and cultures one encounters. Many universities in this region have many international students and faculty, meaning librarians must be able to work with individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. This can be both exciting and challenging, as librarians must be able to communicate effectively with people who may have very different expectations and needs.

Another challenge is navigating the cultural norms and expectations of the region. In some Middle Eastern countries, there may be restrictions on certain types of content, and librarians must be aware of these limitations and work within them. They must also be sensitive to cultural differences in privacy, gender, and religion.

Adapting to Life Overseas

For expat families, adapting to life overseas can be exciting and daunting. There are many new experiences to be had but also many challenges to navigate. Some of the most common challenges include:

Culture Shock: Moving to a new country can be overwhelming, and it can take time to adjust to the new culture, language, and customs. This can be particularly challenging for children, who may leave behind friends and familiar surroundings.

Language Barrier: Even in countries where English is widely spoken, there may be language barriers to overcome. Learning some basic phrases in the local language can be helpful, but hiring a language tutor or enrolling in language classes may also be necessary.

Finding Community: Expats often need help building a support network in a new country. Joining expat groups or clubs can be an excellent way to meet others in similar situations.

Homesickness: Even with all the new experiences and adventures, it’s normal to feel homesick occasionally. Keeping in touch with family and friends back home and maintaining familiar routines and activities can help alleviate these feelings.

Education: Finding a suitable school for children can be challenging, especially if the expat family has specific educational needs or preferences. Language barriers can also make it challenging to communicate with school staff, which can impact the child’s education.

Health Concerns: The climate and environmental conditions in the Middle East can be harsh, and expat families may need to take extra precautions to avoid heat stroke, dehydration, and other health problems. They may also need vaccinations or take other precautions to prevent illness.

Despite these challenges, many expat families find that the benefits of living overseas far outweigh the difficulties. Exposure to new cultures, languages, and experiences can broaden one’s perspective and lead to personal growth and development. Additionally, many expat families enjoy a higher standard of living and the opportunity to travel and explore new places.

Working as a librarian in the Middle East can be a challenging and rewarding experience. It requires an open mind, adaptability, and cultural sensitivity. Expat families also face challenges when moving overseas, but they can thrive in this unique environment with the proper support and attitude. Ultimately, the experience of living and working in the Middle East can be a life-changing adventure that broadens horizons, expands perspectives, and creates memories that will last a lifetime.


Ramadan – Kaust 2017

Alhamdulillah, today mark the first day (27 May 2017) of the blessed month of Ramadan.  This is the month where Muslims all over the world observe ‘fasting’ or ‘sawm.’  Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk.  Muslims also abstain from sexual activities.  “Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year.”  (, Accessed on 27 May 2017).  In addition to that, “avoiding immoral behavior (for example backbiting) and anger and showing compassion is part of the requirements of the fasting.”  (, Accessed on 27 May 2017).

Some useful sites on Ramadan:

Over here, there are some things to note:

  • Working hours are shortened for Muslim employees
  • Operating hours for shopping malls, banks, offices (some) and shops are changed; some would start around 2 pm; others would start around 5 pm.  All of them would be closed for prayer times, iftar (breaking of fast) and would open after isya and Taraweeh prayers ( around 1030pm) and would continue until the wee early morning hours (around 3 am) the next day.
  • Isya’ and Taraweeh prayers start 2 hours after the breaking fast.

Information about Ramadan is shared throughout our campus community.   For non-Muslim and first-timers experiencing Ramadan here, a number of talks, activities and information sessions are conducted to inform them about the meaning of Ramadan and what do Muslims do during this blessed month.  Community areas are open till early morning.  A whole range of activities is organized for the family and individuals living on campus.  Our community is also treated to a whole range of Ramadan treats and not forgetting the Arabic coffee.

We have spent close to 8 years over here.  There are many beautiful things that we have experienced during Ramadan.  The spirit of hospitality and generosity are prevalent.  During this time,  neighbors exchange food just before Iftar.  (Community spirit).  Being an international community,  we got to taste the different kind of food from all around the world.

It is also a time to increase our spiritual activities and to get closeness to God.  Our Grand Mosque on campus is always a hustle and bustle of activity during this month as congregational prayers plus the Qiyam (early morning prayers) are conducted.  Muslims would also spend time in the mosque reading the Holy Quran.  (especially during the last 10 days of Ramadan).  Muslims also visit the 2 holy cities of Makkah and Madinah during this time.

Even then, we still miss Ramadan back home in Singapore.  We miss going to the food bazaar to buy food for breaking fast,  miss breaking fast with family and Singaporean friends (though we occasionally meet with friends over here for Iftar) and the Taraweeh prayers at our local mosques (plus attending the nightly Ramadan sermons that constantly remind us of life as a true believer).






See how easy it is to keep track of things

In my line of work, there are just too many things to keep track.  Among them are meetings, project datelines, notes, troubleshooting issues, expiration dates of e-resources, renewal dates, license agreements, metadata issues, access questions, ebook/e-journal requests,   … the list keeps going on.

How do I keep track of all these?  One of the first methods that I used was noting down in a little notebook followed by pasting 3M post-its on my table, computer screens, coffee mugs … and anything else that I can use to stick those post-its.  I would not say that writing down and post-its are not productive/efficient.  They do. But as the list keeps growing at an alarming rate, I realized that I needed something more dynamic and robust to keep track the various projects, tasks routines as well as other miscellaneous stuff.

I tried to use different notebooks for various projects, daily routines and the like but it would be too troublesome and I could build a big library keeping all those notebooks. (I’d rather keep one journal to note down the daily happenings in my life).  I needed something that could allow me to see everything on one page at a single glance.   That’s when I discovered the following 3 cloud services while trawling the internet for answers.

  • Evernote

    How this tool has helped me:

    • Keep all my critical notes by different category.  I can easily organize all my notes under different headers.   For example, I could slot several notes on electronic resources such as important IP ranges, Proxy information, useful tips and so forth under Electronic Resources.
    • Organize all my ideas, thoughts and suggestions in a single place.  These items could be stuff to write about any potential conference(s), training topics, improving workflows/procedures or even paper for submission to journal(s).
    • Import any significant Outlook emails into Evernote for future references.  So instead of searching/browsing those emails in Outlook, I can extract them into Evernote and save them under different headings.
    • Keep interesting presentation slides and make side notes on them.
    • Clip interesting articles on the Internet and convert them into Evernote notes.  I can then read these articles at a later time.
    • More info can be found here.
  • Trello

    (I got to know this while on a study visit to Duke University. I met the Head of the Acquisitions team who showed me how easy it was to track their purchases using Trello).  How this tool has helped me:

    • Organize different tasks for separate projects under one roof.  I can create multiple ‘boards’ to store various functions.  I can then monitor the progress of each of these tasks.
    • Control tasks that I have delegated to other team members.  I can track and check if there is a backlog.
    • Attaching file from DropBox or other places to the task(s) that I have created.  In this way, I do not have to toggle the different apps while looking for some information.
    • Create checklists and due dates for various tasks.
    • Import Outlook emails and embed them into a task.
    • Check this site for a tour of Trello.
  • DropBox

    • Save my documents (pdf, ppt, doc, Xls and much more) in the cloud.  I can retrieve them later wherever I am (need Internet connection).
    • Save the space on my laptop/desktop
    • Access on different mobile devices.
    • Info on Dropbox.

What about you? What tool(s) work for you and what doesn’t?

From Millennium ERM to Proquest 360 Resource Manager: Our library’s Journey


I’ve just completed the slides for the Electronic Resources Management Systems ERMS project.  Highlighted the library’s journey to the new ERMS – Proquest 360 Resource Manager.  I recalled the 3 phases that the project went thru.  Each of them posed challenges and issues that the project team had to face head on.  Endured late but not sleepless nights.  Discussions, disagreements, and compromise.  Yes, it was hard work; at times it can be nerve-wracking but all in all, it was an enriching experience.

Do you have a Flowchart?

Lessons learned:

  • Awareness of the available ERMS in the open market. Products are constantly changing and companies merge. Staying on top of things are advantageous as the library can re-position itself in the case of any advancements/product / company mergers
  • Match the ERMS features against the team’s ERMS wish list. Before embarking on the ERMS project, conduct a study of the strengths and weaknesses of the present system. Identify what can be improved and what are the missing ‘pieces’ that should be evident in the new ERMS
  • Contact peers on their experience on using the ERMS products. Most if not all of
    E-Resources Librarians are willing to share information and knowledge. Compare notes. Sometimes, what works for them may NOT work for us.
  • Keep communication open. Ensure that library management and project team are updated on the project progress.
  • There may be hiccups/challenges along the way. Stay focus and keep calm.

Looking for more adventures on this road …..

Sundays are important …


Why? Well, the library gets the most number of questions via LibAnswers on Sundays especially between 9am- 12pm.  Most questions that the library received revolved around the electronic resources issues as well as circulation issues.

Drilling down further the e-resources issues: they are mostly related to access issues such as broken links, site maintenance, links that went to a different location altogether etc etc.

With all these data, what can the library do to improve their services:

I thought of the following:

  • Knowledge audit of library staff on Reference services. Assist those that need further help by sending them for courses/webinars/conferences.
  • Mentorship for new library staff to understand the importance of Reference work
  • Create more LibGuides to address the frequently asked questions
  • Implement other avenues of submitting questions such as social media: Twitter and Facebook

More can be found in my slides here.

Get a ticket, wait in line and we’ll resolve your E-Resources Issue

Just completed my first draft of my paper entitled: An Exploratory study on the use of LibAnswers to Resolve, Track and Monitor Electronic Resources Issues: The KAUST Library experience.  Researched on the most common questions related to E-Resources as well as making recommendations for service improvement in this area.


What I found:

  • 32% of the submitted questions are related to electronic resources issue
    • Access issues (17%)
    • Link issues (4%)
    • New e-resource title recommendations (3%)
  • Peak Months:  August – Oct as well as Jan – March
  • Most questions were asked on Sundays and Wednesdays
  • Daily Peak timings:  10am – 12pm and 2pm – 4pm.

Drill Down on Access Issues:

  • Denied access to e-resource
  • Setting up / Registration issues
  • Downloading e-journal articles / ebook chapters
  • Excessive Downloading
  • Broken Links

Turnaround time to resolve the e-resource questions:  Approx 12 hours

For further discussion(s)/suggestions:

  • To have a consistent / controlled vocabulary in tagging the questions
  • User Empowerment to resolve straightforward issues themselves.  We are creating a libguide to address this.
  • Social media integration
  • Implementing Libanswers’ Ref Analytics feature
  • Regular sharing sessions with library staff
  • Knowledge audit of library staff understanding of electronic resources

The article can be found here.

Relocation -to pack or not to pack

Flashback: 2009 (Before the move)

Preparing for the BIG move was quite a headache.  We are given  weight quotas for sea and air freight.  We had to decide the stuff that would be brought over from Singapore over to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I’m a sentimentalist; my other half more pragmatic.  In this situation, pragmatism won over the other one.  Only the ones that were needed most were shipped.  Before the packing day arrived, my wife had an idea to create a space where we would gather all the stuff for air / sea shipment.  This was done to reduce confusion.  The packers would just pack those in the ‘staging’ area.

So, the day finally came for the packing:

Shipment arrival in KAUST: 

Delivery day:  I requested the men to assist me in unloading and unpacking plus placing them in the rightful place: pots and pans in kitchen, clothes in the respective rooms and so forth.  I was thankful and grateful for all the prayer(s) and help for the smooth delivery of all our goods/stuff.  Wouldn’t have done it without my wife’s initial planning, coordination of the logistics departments in KAUST and the freight companies.