How to Buy a Tent (and Used Things in General)

Tents are really expensive here. The cheapest one I could find was at Limpopo for 25,000 tenge ($165 CAD). And it’s bright orange, which doesn’t work for the purposes of stealth/wild camping. I’d be open to investing in a good tent but I’ll be ditching this one at the end of the summer.

Thus, I turned to Slando, the Russian equivalent of Craigslist. Searching can only be done in Russian, though they make it easy to find ads with picture categories. I did all the messaging with the seller of my tent in Russian, since my written skills are decent, and then asked my co-worker/friend, Madina, to phone for me once I decided to make a purchase. Though I’m making person to person progress, a phone call is beyond my expertise.

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Welcome to KZ! In Ust-Kamenogorsk

The tents in Astana were still expensive so I also checked listings for Ust-Kamenogorsk because I knew I’d be there the beginning of May. I found a tent (only 10,000 tenge!) and told the seller the dates I’d be in town and he said that was A-okay. He was actually busy working every day I was in Ust and so I gave the cash to Madina, who was staying longer so she could pick it up.

It turns out this guy didn’t just have one tent to sell – he runs a tent business on the side and he had temporarily run out. He proposed meeting with Madina to get the cash and then as soon as some tents came in, he’d put one on a bus to Astana. Then I’d meet with the bus driver at the station and give him 500 tenge for his troubles. I gave it all the go-ahead because, it’s Kazakhstan.

The seller let Madina know on Saturday that he’d put the tent on the bus and I left my house at 6am on Sunday morning to bike to the station to meet the bus driver, who was scheduled to arrive some time between 7-8am.

When I got to the bus station, I texted with the driver alright but when he phoned me, I told him, “Sorry, I don’t understand very much,” so he thought he had the wrong number. So when he phoned again I tried a different tactic of saying, “Sorry, I’m an American lady but I want the tent!” And then he understood and all was well.

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Now I have a tent.

And here are some photos from Ust-Kamenogorsk. It’s Madina’s hometown, super east in Kazakhstan, close to Russia and China. Lots of trees, mountains, and a nice river. I’ve heard mountain treks in that region are pretty amazing, though I think you have to go by tour which is a bit $.

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Our apartment fell through but then Madina phoned 3 other people to get a new one

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I love staying in Kazakh apartments for the crazy wallpaper

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Ust has a park with old airplanes, a series of progressively bigger Lenin statues, a laneway of houses – one from each ethnic group that lives in Ust (which was really cool), and other random things

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Madina used to work at the local library and it was totally amazing. They do a lot of work with the community. They’re the only public library in Kazakhstan with wifi and their shelves became open access three years ago (the library I work at was the first in KZ to have open shelves but we’re on a closed campus….).

All in all, a very nice city! More ethnically/culturally/landscape-y diverse than Astana. Because of the distance, I’d probably only recommend going there if you’re here long-term – it’s a good getaway for 3 or more days. If only everyone who went could also experience the best manti I’ve had in KZ, made by Madina’s mom (not pictured because I was too busy eating).

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How to Go to a Conference

As a librarian, you should go to a conference every year or so. It’s like spending Easter with your family. You may not totally get the point or really want to go and it’s okay to skip it every once in a while. But you get to eat a lot, take a break from your regular work, and in the end, you’re generally left feeling like you’re glad you went. It’s just plain good to do.

How to choose a conference

If it’s your first time going to a conference, it’s practical to start with the standard conference in your region (ie. the British Columbia Library Association conference, if you’re in British Columbia), or a conference that’s subject-specific to your library (ie. the Canadian Association of Law Libraries conference, if you work at a law library). Conferences can be really hit-or-miss and picking one that’s well-established will show you what a good conference should look like.

Ask your co-workers which conferences they’ve attended. If your organization has sent staff to a conference previously, they’ll be more likely to send you to that same conference.

Think beyond libraries, as well. If you’re a law librarian, go to something like the Law via the Internet conference, or go to the Joint Conference on Digital Libraries no matter what your subject area is (I haven’t been to either of these!). A quick Google search will show you a slice of what’s out there.

How to pitch your workplace

Ask your boss in-person. If it’s the standard conference in your region or subject-area then it’s a no brainer and you won’t have to create much of a case for going.

Otherwise, before asking, look through the conference programme (if the programme’s not out yet, it’s too early to ask!). Pick out a few sessions that look highly relevant to your work and become familiar with the conference theme. I really wanted to go to a law conference in Australia a few years ago but looking through the sessions, I realized it didn’t have enough of value to justify going.

If you’ve never been to a conference before, that’s all the more reason to go! It’s an important part of professional development that any decent workplace will want to support.

Once your workplace has sent you on a conference, wait until your co-workers have had the opportunity to go before you ask again.

If you’re a student

Registration fees are generally cheaper and funding is often available specifically for students. Ask your program coordinator, check out the conference site, or talk with the affiliated association to find out more.

Like any travel, an out-of-town conference ends up costing quite a bit. Unless you already want to travel to a specific region, I would stick with local conferences, as a student.

If your workplace asks you to go to a conference

Just as anytime your boss asks you to do something – you’d have to have a really good reason to say “no.”

How to get funding

Your workplace may not be able to commit to an exact funding amount right away, but they should be able to give you a general idea. And definitely be clear about who’s paying for what before you go.

Often, you’ll have to front money yourself and then be reimbursed. Keep receipts for absolutely everything! And while it’s expected that you’ll socially drink, don’t submit a receipt for dinner with five drinks on it. Common sense!

If you’re in Kazakhstan, KEEP EVERY SCRAP OF PAPER. Even if it doesn’t seem important, it probably is. Seriously, tossing a boarding pass stub might mean a $2000 mistake.

Check around for external funding. For example, one year, I was fortunate enough to receive the Peter Bark Bursary, through the Vancouver Association of Law Libraries, to help go to CALL

How to choose sessions

Most of the research that librarians do is along the lines of, “We interviewed 5 people and here are all the vague and polite things they had to say on this topic,” which is why I was never interested in pursuing a PhD in this field. This feels like a horrible thing to say but please prove me wrong and send me some actually interesting library research.

I think librarianship is a very practical profession and for that reason, I like attending the super practical sessions best. For example, a former classmate of mine did a really great session: Enhancing Library Services with User Behaviour Data. And when I went to the CALL conference, a librarian discussed how to find translations of Quebec court cases, which I then turned into a post for my organization’s site because it was so helpful for our day-to-day work!

Don’t feel obligated to attend a session every hour of the day. I would say attend at least half a day’s worth of sessions/events and attend all the keynote sessions. It’s expected that you’ll take some time to yourself, especially if you get to travel to a different city.

Remember to take notes during sessions! It’s expected that you’ll report back on the conference either in the form of an intranet post, a presentation for your co-workers, an article for your organization’s website, etc.

How to network/make a good impression

Don’t think of it like networking. There will be a lot of social events and all you have to do is attend a good number of them. You’re not expected to go if any of the events charge extra fees. Most will be free and will offer food, which is a good incentive.

The most important thing is to know your workplace before you go. People will ask you questions out of curiousity and I’ll never forget how embarrassed I felt when another librarian asked if our libraries had print copies of British legislation and I stammered that I knew we had “the old stuff” but wasn’t so sure how current it was.

Make sure you check out the vendor booths, if only to say hi. Even if there’s no way your workplace will ever subscribe to that product – it’s good to know what’s out there and it’s also polite – both because many vendors are also sponsors of the conference, and I imagine it’s probably boring to have to stand around a booth all day. They also often have free swag, so hit that up.

Be aware of who is sponsoring the conference. Once, someone I had just met asked how I liked the lunch that day and I cracked a joke about the food. I was surprised when the friend I was with, who is normally so wry, was so polite! And then I realized that the woman who asked was part of the organization that had sponsored the lunch. Sigh.

I am actually very shy in professional situations and it was a bit hard for me to warm up during the first conference I attended (another argument for attending a local conference, either some of your co-workers or librarian friends will be there). Inadvertently, my biggest advantage was being really tall and then wearing a pair of loud heels that everyone liked. Though it sounds akin to the advice given out by a dating coach, they were the perfect icebreaker!

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I did not wear these rainboots during the conference in Malaysia.

How to Work in a Library in a Developing Country

Working in a developing country has many benefits: meeting new people from different cultures, gaining high-level experience, expanding your perspective and knowledge, improving your interpersonal and communication skills, being a part of an exciting time for a nation, making a difference, and other phrases about discovering yourself and becoming a better person and so on and so forth.

It’s also frustrating at times. Some days, you will be overwhelmed to the point that all you can do is be physically present at work until you go home and boil some manti (dumplings!) for dinner, put on The Bachelor, and ride it out until recharging your brain with sleep. This phase may even last for a few days at a time.

Overall, I’m glad that I made the decision to take this position. For anyone who would consider a similar career move, here are expanded thoughts on some of the challenges you can expect.

Challenges

1. Policies/Procedures

Most workplaces in a developing country are also developing. The creation of any sort of HR Guide, Employee Handbook, or Reference Manual is low priority when there is constant change in the workplace. With no baseline to refer to, it takes longer to learn the ropes.

For example, I’ve been here for almost two months and I still don’t know how someone can renew a book from their online library account.

2. Western-Based Library, Not Actually a Western Library

There are inevitably procedures unique to the needs of the region.

For example, here in Kazakhstan, post-secondary education is fully paid for, including textbooks, which the library is responsible for issuing. Because this process is unique to Kazakhstan, there is no precedent and there hasn’t been enough time to sort the kinks out. It’s a chaotic task that no one particularly enjoys.

3. The Language Barrier

This is an English-speaking university and my colleagues who work in reference and circulation all speak English very well. But staff in library departments that do not interact directly with patrons sometimes have very limited English, which of course leads to difficulties when trying to collaborate or communicate.

4. Bureaucracy

It takes so long to get things done when there are rules in place such as: official documents must only be signed in blue ink. As per #1, these rules are not written down anywhere easily accessible.

Solutions

This Skeletor Is Love entry is my workplace mantra:

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(http://skeletorislove.tumblr.com/)

So how can this be done for all of the above?

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Of course, first think about whether this is something you can figure out on your own using the resources available to you. A lot of questions are going to come up and while it’s best to be direct when you’re uncertain, it’s also just plain courteous to think before you ask for your colleagues’ time.

  • When you ask a question, have the person actually show and not just tell you how to do the process.
  • Write down the answer as soon as someone shows you how to do it. Immediately do the process once more on your own so that if you have any questions, you can ask the person right away. If it’s an online process, take screen shots to put in your recorded answer.
  • This may sound like a lot of work but it generally only takes a few minutes and prevents the risk of annoying your colleagues by asking the same questions over and over again.
  • Don’t go to the same person for all of your questions.

By the time you’ve gotten a handle on workplace procedures, you will have inadvertently written up a procedural guide. Processes may change at any time but you have a base to refer to that you can quickly update. You can also turn this into a resource for the entire workplace by pasting the information into something simple (and free!) like a Google Drive document and giving editing privileges to all staff. Any subsequent hires will likely be very appreciative.

You won’t be able to apply this to higher-level procedures or to anything going on outside your department but it will at least give you a handle on day-to-day work.

2. You were hired not only to use but also to share your knowledge and expertise with your colleagues. But before you swoop in and attempt to wave your western savior wand to improve processes or implement changes, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I given myself enough time to get a basic handle on how things work within this organization and area?
  • Who is involved?
  • Have there already been discussions about this?
  • How much of a priority is this?
  • Is this at an appropriate level for me to address?
  • Are there other factors I may be unaware of?

In a developing organization, there is a lot of functional dysfunction and what keeps me sane is focusing on the work that I have direct control over. If I can make a contribution to improving the textbook process while I’m here, great! But it’s a process that involves the entire university, at a very high-level, and has already undergone much discussion. I might muse on it every so often but then I move on to tasks like compiling research impact metrics of potential faculty candidates or drafting an FAQ page for our new open access repository; tasks ​that I have the means to accomplish.

3. It will serve you well to be direct. Wishywashy polite jargon thrives in the Pacific Northwest but complicates matters everywhere else and it’s best to keep the language as simple as possible. Even if I return to the workforce in my homeland, I will not return to my old ways of communication. You will no longer hear such phrases from me in the workplace:

  • I was wondering…..
  • I just wanted to know/ask….
  • Do you think you could….
  • Would it be possible…..
  • If it’s okay with/convenient for/works for you….
  • But if not, no worries!

If I’m really having a difficult time communicating, I ask one of my Kazakh colleagues in my department for help.

Though it’s an English speaking university, students are sometimes shy about using the language. It’s a foundation of the profession to always ask open-ended questions and it’s been repeatedly reinforced for me here. Most of the time when I ask a student a yes or no question, they will say, “yes” and within a minute it becomes clear that they didn’t actually understand what I said. By asking them an open-ended question, we must communicate more (which is a good thing!).

Also remember that directness works both ways. Don’t pretend to understand someone when you don’t. Tell them!

4. Know when to pick your battles and accept that you won’t always win. For example, I don’t fight over blue v. black ink but I do politely push back on issues that affect my well-being. To save time with this process, refer to the below chart, which is applicable to #2, as well:

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Thank you to the wonderful Brenda Rose for sending this to me.

 

Traits

Aside from the obvious interpersonal skills and adaptability, the expats that seem to be happiest here:

  • Are comfortable with change and uncertainty
  • Have the ability to handle mistakes well
  • Are able to be direct
  • Are self-motivated
  • Have no expectations
  • Have a great deal of patience (the one I find the most difficult)

And we also appreciate that the most random things happen all the time, like Rafa Nadal and JW Tsonga having a press conference a few metres from my desk last week:

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How I Got My Overseas Job

One of the first things people generally ask me is, “How did you get your job?”

My experience in finding an overseas job is akin to how I find vintage dresses. Primarily, it takes time and you shouldn’t force it. Seek out opportunities where/when you can but don’t let it consume your life, and know what works for you but try not to have too many preconditions.

I occasionally checked websites to see what was out there, subscribed to the UN’s career site using library and non-library terms, alike, and I made sure I knew what my preconditions were – the most important of which, was the type of work I’d potentially be doing. I noticed that a lot of international work comes up in records management and archives, cataloguing, and systems management, which are not areas I’m interested in at all. I focused on postings that involved the work I know I do like, which in general terms is working directly with people and researching, organizing and producing information tailored to specific user groups and formats.

Broken down, here are the different resources I used:

Library Friends/Network

Essentially, I found out about this particular job posting because my librarian friends knew that I’ve always wanted to work internationally. I never made a point of asking around or letting people know about this aspiration. It came up naturally in conversations, the same way that my friends found out that I love Taco Bell and that polyester dresses are my favourite thing to wear.

Because these things became common knowledge among my pals, a very thoughtful librarian friend who visited from New York last month gave me a perfect blue vintage polyester dress as a thank you gift for letting her stay with me. Another friend asked if I wanted to stop and eat in a town with a Taco Bell last week on our way home from a road trip (there are no Taco Bells in Vancouver!). And another library friend sent me the job posting she would have normally glossed over, while checking the listserv emails at work.

When these things happen, I joke that I’ve Secret-ed it ( à la The Secret, which I haven’t actually read but has somehow become an inside joke with friends who also haven’t read it) but there’s a truth to it. Be proactive and open without becoming obsessive and the things you envision will sometimes materialize.

Listservs

I’m not sure which listserv my librarian pal spotted the job posting on, but I’m sure a quick online search would reveal many options. Or maybe your workplace already has a listserv that you can look through. Mine does!

Websites/Twitter Feeds

Your school’s job board. I used my alma mater’s job board to recently do an internship by distance for the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. It didn’t lead to any international work/travel, but it led to me gaining experience in an area I’m interested in (research & policy institutions) and forming contacts that may be useful later.

Other job boards, school and non-school alike, such as SLIS jobs – which also had the Kazakhstan posting I applied to!

If there is a specific place you want to go to – search if the country has a library association and if the association’s website has a job board. Also, look for twitter accounts. For example, here are a couple for library jobs in the UK. Or there are twitter accounts that post library jobs from all over, including internationally.

Specific large, international organizations such as, the UN. I’m not really sure how one actually achieves getting a job with the UN – it was difficult enough for me to figure out how to apply for a UN job since they have their own quirky system. But there are a lot of resources out there. One librarian, who did the same library program as me a few years before I did, now works for the UN (every Vancouver librarian speaks of her in awed tones). She chalked it up to “right time, right place.” And the other piece of advice she gave me that I found helpful is that if you’ve only got a couple years’ experience, you’re not going to be above a P2 level.

Look Beyond the Term “Library”

Larger institutions’ job postings or postings in different regions sometimes use titles like, “Public Information Officer”, and may not require an MLIS, but fall into the realm of library/information experience. Dig around through the expansive list of postings to get ideas for search terms.

Miscellaneous

Unless you live in the place you want to work, or have citizenship or a visa already, it’s unlikely you’ll be hired at a public library, or for any smaller organization. Focus on universities, research & policy institutions, and larger international organizations.

Ask yourself if you would really like this lifestyle. Have you lived abroad before? Or have you lived in a place where you know absolutely no one? Even when you’re somewhere exciting, or a place that speaks the same language and won’t be as much of a culture shock – if you don’t know anyone, it can be difficult! Some organizations are also hesitant to hire candidates who haven’t spent more then a few months abroad. Doing an exchange year or a library practicum/internship somewhere internationally helps!

My last piece of advice is don’t take a job just for the sake of going somewhere different. Your job is such a large component of your daily life and happiness and I imagine it’s doubly so when you’re moving to a place where you don’t know anyone and will be experiencing the frustrations involved in culture shock.

 

How I will look this winter.

I’m Moving to Kazakhstan. Here’s Why.

A librarian friend sent me the job posting for a position at the Nazarbayev University Library in Astana, Kazakhstan, as a joke back in the spring. At first I thought, “Hmm, that seems too weird, even for me.” But after casually researching Kazakhstan for a couple of months, I decided to apply.

Initially, I knew absolutely nothing about the region but the more I read and talked with local staff, the more interested I became. Here’s what I know now:

  • Astana was only deemed the capital city 16 years ago and as such, is a city undergoing tremendous growth
  • When that occurred, a lot of young families moved to the city, which means there are not many teenagers, as of yet
  • If you took the futuristic buildings of Dubai and plonked them in the middle of Saskatchewan, that is what Astana looks like
  • Kazakhstan has a lot of oil and natural resources
  • And the highest per capita population of wolves
  • The national drink is fermented camel/goat milk. In The Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor described it as “slightly off natural yogurt that’s been carbonated”
  • CNN deemed Astana the world’s weirdest capital city
  • Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world

It was the “no teenagers” that won me over.

I’m not romanticizing this move. I’m fully aware that a very limited number of people will visit me. I will be lonely and question my choice, at times. But everyone questions even the most exciting and greatest choices of their lives! It’s like my long bike rides. That’s a good metaphor.

It’s going to be overwhelming, frustrating, exciting, and beautiful. I will have moments of growth and connection and moments where I can’t stop crying and all I want is a teen burger or a peanut buster parfait.

It’s going to be an adventure.