Alternative Voices: Raymond Pun

The Alternative Voices Feature is brought to you by the NMRT’s Membership, Diversity, Promotion, and Recruitment committee. It is meant to give a platform to the voices of librarians from underrepresented communities in the library field. The format of the feature is a journalistic question and answer format. It provides information that the librarian wants people to know about them, plus their thoughts on the current state of the field of librarianship.

Raymond Pun

Ray Pun in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China (2014)

Name – Raymond Pun

City & State – San Francisco Bay Area, California

Position Title – Instruction and Research Librarian

Length of time in the library field – 13 years

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell us about your position and what you do? What is your definition of diversity, or equity or inclusion?

Thanks for this opportunity! I am originally from Queens, New York City and attended college at St. John’s University, majoring in history. I remember almost changing my major to accounting because a lot of my friends were majoring in that field and I was always interested in bankruptcy law as well. I had thought of going to law school to specialize in that area but things immediately changed when I started diving into my history seminars. I ended up getting my MLS and M.A. in East Asian Studies later and found my second M.A. to be very helpful in the jobs I’ve had include working as a subject/reference librarian at New York Public Library (NYPL) – Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and at New York University (NYU) Shanghai, a new startup-like joint venture university between NYU and East China Normal University. The skills prepared me to write, think and present clearly and effectively. They also strengthened my research interests in interdisciplinary fields. At one point I was also pursuing an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies to explore the cultural exchanges between East Asia and the Middle East and to study the Islamic communities in East Asia, particularly in China. I hope to get back to these research areas again in the future.

Currently, I am at the Alder Graduate School of Education, a very unique graduate school focused on preparing students to be public school teachers. I was hired as the librarian to help build the library’s collections, policies, and services immediately. I strongly believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential core values in our profession and in life. This is a fact: they make our profession, institutions and learning environments much more welcoming, accommodating and inclusive. Our communities and their needs are changing, and we need to recognize this and think of ways to support one another. We learn and grow more together when we focus on diversity, equity and inclusion work. There’s a lot of work and opportunity ahead and it takes a collaborative effort to make it happen.

What drew you to a career as a librarian and what is your current role?

I remember seeing this question on Twitter posted by @wawoodworth earlier this year, and I responded that I was an undergraduate research intern in NYPL’s Dorot Jewish Division and processed Holocaust survivors’ oral history archives. That experience encouraged me to pursue this kind of work to provide access to such information for preservation and learning purposes. I saw this as human rights advocacy to a certain extent and felt compelled to be more involved. Of course, after a decade, a lot of things has changed.

In my current role, it is about providing support and access to resources for our students who are going to be amazing public school teachers, educators, and advocates. It’s been a great learning experience to talk to different vendors, learn about K-12 Open Education Resources content, and identifying collaborators and opportunities to support distance-learning education.

Before you became a librarian, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?

I thought of a number of things actually. I thought of being a lawyer first and then a historian. Getting a doctorate in history was actually another path I was working on but life changes. To a certain extent, librarianship blended those areas from my perspective. I could choose to be an academic liaison librarian to history/humanities subjects, a law librarian or an archivist.

During library school, I was planning a career to be an archivist. I interned at the Museum of American Finance in New York during the height of the 2008 global recession, because I wanted to learn more about U.S. financial history and the crash and develop archival processing experiences. It was a great opportunity processing different cultural artifacts such as German stock certificates from the Weimar Republic or early receipts and notes from the Gilded Age America but I felt more drawn to public service librarianship work so I switched and focused more on public services work as a librarian instead. If you get a chance to visit NYC, I would recommend checking out MOAF!

How was the initial job search process for you?

This is an interesting question. I was told by many professionals and mentors to seek jobs outside of New York City. At the time, I was a library assistant at NYPL’s Periodicals Division and was encouraged to pursue work outside of the research libraries after I received my MLS. It was actually very difficult to transition to academic library work because the positions were competitive, I was coming from a public library and the recession really challenged the job market. I found out later that it is indeed a good advice but not everyone can pursue this option because of various personal reasons. In the beginning, it was a bit challenging because I didn’t know about the organizational structures of academic libraries.

However, now being involved in ACRL, having published co-edited volumes and attending conferences and gaining work experiences in a couple of academic libraries, I am very aware of how academic libraries are organized. It’s a matter of choice now. I would say that applicants should apply strategically, there are more jobs today than before from what I am seeing, and I think it’s important to think about the factors such as geography and living costs too. The jobs for academic (public services) librarian tend to focus on functional skills such as assessment, instructional design or digital services in addition to the core skills such as collection development, subject work, and reference/instruction.

How are you becoming or staying in involved with the wider profession?

For one thing, I am often serving on various committees, groups or organizing activities (online or in-person) in the library community. I think it’s important to stay connected and be productive with sharing information or engaging with folks in the profession from different organizations. I am always learning new things because of such interactions and I am always seeking new groups to join because my professional interests are always growing and expanding. For example, did you know that there is a group called Archivists and Librarians in the History of the Health Sciences? It’s a very interesting organization that I am learning a lot from and hoping to spend more time working on my new research project relating to the “history of medicine in the colonial archives.”

What groups or Round Tables are you involved in with ALA?

I am currently wearing many hats in ALA including being on ALA Council. In addition, I am a member of all the ethnic affiliates: American Indian Library Association (AILA), Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking because I believe and value in solidarity, allyship and collaboration. I am also involved in ACRL’s Student Learning and Information Literacy Committee (SLILC) where I am in teams co-managing various digital resources including the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox and the ACRL Framework Toolkit. Having worked abroad previously, I am also involved in international work. I am a member of the International Relations Round Table (IRRT) and contribute to the newsletter and connection/programming initiatives. Outside of ALA, I have had opportunities to participate in the Special Libraries Association (SLA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) too.

Do you have any advice for new graduates applying to jobs?

I’d apply to jobs strategically. If you are interested in the position, make sure you double check that library’s digital presence and footprint: social media channels, website, news/information about the library and its reputation, and do a “collection-audit”. See if they have important books by PoC authors in their collection. If not, that’s something you can bring up as an interest and also this serves as a caution that they may not be actively collecting these books for a variety of reasons.

For academic libraries, explore the organizational charts, their latest strategic plans (outdated ones can also tell you a lot too!), and the university’s mission/strategic priorities. For public libraries, take a look at the community including local newspapers and demographics and identify potential collaborators in the community. It all depends on the job’s contexts and how you prepare for your job search so you can share that information with the search committee.

What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were just beginning your job hunt?

I wish I had been more active in the profession early on. I was an “inactive” ALA member where I paid the membership dues but I couldn’t go to conferences and I didn’t volunteer for committee services. It didn’t make sense to me at the time to “volunteer to do more work?” Now I recognize that association work can bring new values and opportunities in the long run. I also realize that I enjoy connecting with folks and identifying ways to partner and strengthen each other’s work. For example, on a typical day, I would get a text message or an email from colleagues on the other side of the world. Throughout the day, they can be from South Korea to South Africa to Colombia to Germany to talk about their work or to ask a library-related question. Our world is truly interconnected because of technology and such engagements and I would have connected with folks in the beginning of my career, but it is never too late!

What advice would you give to new librarians from underrepresented groups?

My advice for new librarians from underrepresented groups would be to find mentors! They do not necessarily have to be from your workplace nor in the library profession. It doesn’t have to be in a formal mentorship program or process either. Some of my mentors were academics, legal counsels, and managers from other departments where I have met for coffee to seek advice, bounce ideas and discuss potential collaborative projects. If you prefer something more formal, you can consider the ethnic affiliates’ mentorship programs like APALA’s mentoring program or CALA’s mentoring program which are a great way to connect you to experienced folks who can serve as a sounding board. Of course, it is definitely encouraging to speak to someone who shares common experiences or backgrounds so I recommend folks to explore these opportunities, join the affiliates and make connections when you can.

What trends are most impacting the field right now?

So many trends these days. In one trend, I see the role of shadow libraries impacting the field further. A book called Shadow Libraries Access to Knowledge in Global Higher Education (available in OA) came out recently to cover this area and how it disrupts the information access landscape. It’s going to be really interesting to see if these shadow libraries will sustain over time too.

What is your favorite genre?

I am a major fan of “big history” or “microhistory” – these topics are fascinating because they provide a trajectory view of a single subject and its global and interconnected influences. Most recently, I’ve read Historian Jill Lepore’s These Truths, but of course, there are issues in this lengthy book documenting America’s political history. However, I still find it fascinating when Lepore covers the intellectual history of evidence in the United States because it relates to the political discourse that we are currently discussing: news media, information access, source-credibility, fact-checking, data analysis, etc.

Is there anything else you might have wanted to mention or something I should have asked?

What’s my favorite library that I have visited so far? I really like the Stockholm Central Public Library. I recently had a chance to visit Stockholm, Sweden and visited the library in December 2018. A librarian friend Salomon whom I met at an IFLA WLIC conference in 2018 showed me around. It was really amazing to see the collections, spaces and services/programs that they have! You should definitely check it out if you have a chance!


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