Librarianship around the world: A conversation with Linda Bréard

In December, Linda Bréard will be the final person to graduate McGill’s School of Information Studies with an MLIS. However, Bréard will not be new to the world of working as an information professional upon graduation: she has worked as a school librarian in international schools (in particular international baccalaureate, or IB, schools) in Mali, Morocco, China, and Vietnam since 2002. Last week Beyond the Shelf sat down with Bréard to talk about entering the field of international school librarianship, resources to find jobs, what the experience is like, other important things to know about international school librarianship, and the type of person who may do best as an international school librarian.

Entering the field
Even before becoming and international school librarian, Bréard knew a lot of teachers and had been interested in education, despite not having a background in it herself. She was also working on a BSc in Library and Information Technology from the University of Maine; in many international schools in Africa and Asia this is sufficient though in Europe you need an MLIS or equivalent.

Bréard emphasized that the schools looking to hire librarians are not the sort that take people on to teach English to local students, but are schools accredited by international bodies and one in their home country that offer a curriculum from their home country (most often the UK or US) and/or the IB curriculum.

While it is possible to be hired if you only speak English (generally at the British or American International schools), schools will ask what languages you speak and being multilingual is helpful in collection development and because the students at the school will often come from 40-60 countries, speak dozens of different first languages, and be learning multiple languages at school. You will often be given the chance to learn some of the local language.

Resources

Early in her career Bréard used The International Educator (TIE) to find and apply for positions. Most of the jobs advertised on TIE are not the top international schools, but they do hire new grads and those with little experience if you have enthusiasm. There is a US$39 fee for one year of online only access, which allows you to view job postings, put your resume online, and see articles.

Bréard now uses Search Associates, a recruiting firm that specializes in international schools. Search Associates is more expensive (US$225) for three years or until you sign a contract through them, whichever comes first), but provides more (including in-person job fairs), is targeted at professional staff with more experience, and hosts listings from top tier schools.

Other resources include International School Services-Schrole Advantage (US$75 for one year).

The Experience

In an international school you will often be the only librarian in a K to 12 school and professional development is hard as the chance to meet with other international school librarians from your region of the world only comes once a year for a few days. This is part of why Bréard chose to begin her MLIS in 2012: to get more recent information (such as implementing eBook collections) and get inspired in order to better support students.

Bréard says as an international school librarian you “work like crazy, but get a lot out of it”. You are expected to be at the school for extra-curricular activities and school events, may need to host an extra research class on a weekend, and will not only be in charge of but also do the collection development and cataloguing.

However, the community at the school from staff to students becomes like family when you work in an international school as people are often in the same situation of getting to know the country and moving often. You will also likely get a lot of time off for holidays as many schools give both local and home country holidays, which gives you a chance to travel.

Other Things to Know

Many of the positions will be listed as teacher-librarian positions, and while you don’t need to be a qualified teacher if you are a qualified librarian.

International schools have a hard time filling librarian positions (on par with chemistry and physics teachers)

The time to apply for jobs starting in August is NOW! You will need to provide police checks.

You may not want to come “home”.  Bréard has tried twice but found things to be more rewarding and exciting at international schools.

Who should you be?

Someone who wants to give everyone access to everything, but can deal with censorship based on local laws

Flexible and adaptable to change

Prepared to teach at least a research or information literacy course

Ready to deal with lots of bureaucracy

Have a really good sense of humour

 

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