Lunch with Librarians: Raymond Pun and Andrew Finegan


Raymond Pun and Andrew Finegan on library fashion and the perennial challenges of professional development

Edward Lim, our awardee of the LAS-WLIC Grant 2018, had lunch with a prominent Asian-American librarian and an Australian librarian working in digital innovation. Their meeting took place during the World Library and Information Congress, 84th IFLA General Conference and Assembly, 23–30 August 2018, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Note: This article was written in a format and style similar to that of Lunch with the FT, a long-running column (since April 1994) in the Financial Times. The column was conceived by Max Wilkinson, whose idea was to “rediscover the art of conversation in a convivial setting”. The formula comprises a conversation/interview over an agreeable lunch. The rules are straightforward: The guest or interviewee chooses the dining place, and FT foots the bill.

This article pays homage to a column that I have enjoyed tremendously over the years. Food, together with the act of having a meal together, is also an excellent way to break the ice and reveal an individual’s personality. I hope to continue this practice of interviewing librarians over a meal – perhaps with some sponsorship from our generous vendors?

We meet on Saturday, right after the opening ceremony. I am nervous, because it was announced that there were “over 3,500 delegates from more than 110 countries” at the official opening of the 84th IFLA General Conference and Assembly. We decide to meet at the Parkview Deck Café, located right next to the elevator on the same floor as the exit from the plenary hall. Amazingly, a table is available.

As well as being the recipient of many professional honours, Raymond Pun is currently the inaugural librarian for the Alder Graduate School of Education and a doctoral student in educational leadership in California. His participation in this conference reflects how busy he is: In addition to presenting three papers at this IFLA WLIC, he is also a corresponding member of the IFLA section for Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning (CPDWL).

Ray is indeed making full use of his time. I spot him at the entrance, having a conversation with a fellow conference attendee. He introduces me to Andrew Finegan, one of the four people who are chairing Session #142 – the one on librarian fashion. Ray is one of the presenters of the session, which will happen three days later. (His presentation would be fondly remembered, as his co-presenter, Jesús Lau gave him a haircut right on stage.) I learn that chairpersons of other sessions also meet up with presenters beforehand, the informal meet-ups enabling them to better facilitate the Q&A.

© Original photograph by Yeng Xiong.

The last (and first) time I spoke to Ray by telephone, he was visiting libraries in Central Asia. That was in 2017, and, yes, he has published a report about his research experiences in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Just a couple of months earlier, a colleague had introduced me to a recently published title on information literacy, The First-Year Experience Cookbook. Ray is a co-editor of the cookbook. Weeks before I left for Kuala Lumpur, Ray was on Choice’s The Authority Files podcast, in a segment focused on this first-year-experience cookbook. It felt as though Ray was everywhere.

In regarding Ray’s accomplishments, I could feel awfully inadequate as a librarian.

This is actually the first time I have met Ray in person. I recognize him immediately because of his black glasses. He doesn’t give off any vibe of busyness and is almost laid back as he settles into his chair.

As we continue with our introductions, I nod, listen and look at the limited menu. A waitress takes our order. I almost regret ordering the tomato meatball because I worry that I will make a mess.

Andrew is clearly buzzing and excited about being at the conference, having previously spent time in Singapore as well participating in the two-day IFLAcamp at Raja Tun Uda Library, a public library in Selangor. This was the sixth edition of IFLAcamp. I remember the excitement of taking part in the unconference organized by the New Professionals Special Interest Group in Singapore back in 2013 – that was the second edition of IFLAcamp.

Because IFLA’s president-elect is an Australian, like Andrew, we discuss the implications for Australian librarians. The last Australian to hold the position of IFLA president was Alex Byrne, between 2005 and 2007. This comports with Auckland, New Zealand’s being the probable host site of IFLA in 2020 (later confirmed) as well as with the inaugural Asia-Pacific Library and Information Conference (APLIC) that took place only several weeks earlier. We conclude this topic of conversation by discussing the sudden change of Australia’s prime minister.

© Original photograph by Andrew Finegan.

I ask about the professional development opportunities for librarians in Australia, having heard from an excited Singapore colleague who learnt about it while attending APLIC. The situation appears to be similar to Singapore’s, where organisations have a budget for providing professional development to their staff. The challenges of being supported by one’s organisation for professional development – especially attending overseas conferences – can be daunting from the personal perspective, and often it is up to the individual to pay. Employers baulk at spending limited funds on professional development.

We ponder further on the financial impositions of overseas attendance for those such as

Christine Mackenzie, IFLA’s president-elect. She was most recently the executive officer of Public Libraries Victoria Network, and, after a long career in public libraries, is now a freelance librarian. As if being IFLA’s president-elect is not demanding enough (we speculate aloud), she would certainly also need some level of organisational support. Thankfully, it appears that she has built a strong support network through her diverse career, through organisations such as the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), where she was president from 2002 to 2004. I silently wonder whether I will live to see a Singapore librarian becoming IFLA’s president, and how our library association could support such an individual.

Ray, ever upbeat and optimistic, suggests various ways of supporting one’s professional development indirectly. He mentions that he is funding this conference by tapping into his research funds (as a doctoral student), as he is presenting (not one, but three papers). He does not make a big deal of this: He is on the American Library Association (ALA) Council and heavily involved in much ALA committee work. He is also the chapter president of the Northern California chapter of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA) and serves on CALA’s board of directors.

What is left unsaid but weighs heavily on my mind is the amount of time spent giving back to the librarian community. Ray has reaped the benefits, having won a long list of accolades that I have difficulty listing chronologically. He was named a Mover and Shaker by The Library Journal in 2012 and an Emerging Leader by the ALA in 2014. He won the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Achievement in Academic Business Librarianship Award in 2015, the CALA President’s Recognition Award (2016), the Rising Star of the SLA (2016), an Emerald Research Grant (administered by the Business and Reference Services Section of the Reference and User Services Association) in 2017 and an ALA Achievement in Library Diversity Research Honor in 2018.

Our conversation veers to the recent controversy concerning meeting rooms and hate groups. The ALA had revised its interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights to note that library meeting rooms should be open to all kinds of organisations, and then the ALA Council voted to rescind that 2018 update. Andrew kindly offers to give Ray a small button badge that reads “Libraries are not neutral”.

Photo: “Libraries Are Not Neutral” Button sold by Zines by JC. All Rights reserved.

What’s new and significant in the library circle in Australia? The acronym GLAM, which stands for “galleries, libraries, archives and museums”. Apparently, the notion of being a “GLAM professional” has caught on within the industry in Australia. Andrew suggests that it is likely to become an expansive term for “information professional”. I later discover that there is a bot tweeting blog posts by GLAM professionals (a.k.a. GLAMs) in Australia (you can follow @AusGLAMBlogs).

We end our lunch rather abruptly, as the time is almost 1:30 and we all have sessions to attend in fifteen minutes’ time. I reassure them that I will pick up the tab so they can rush off to their next appointment. Andrew and Ray scoot off in different directions, having people they need to meet. I take a moment, and then make my way to the long queue to settle the bill.

 

Parkview Deck Café

Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre

 

Spaghetti Meatball  RM 24.09

Warm Sakura Chicken Panini, Toasted  RM 15.45

Aglio e Olio Peperoncino Spaghetti  RM 15.45

Carrot Fruit Juice  RM 12.00

English Breakfast Tea  RM 8.64

Japanese Green Tea  RM 8.57

 

Service Charge  RM 8.42

 

Total RM 92.60

 

Edward Lim is the recipient of the LAS-WLIC Grant 2018 and serves on the Training and Development committee of LAS. He is the Reference and Research Services Librarian for Business at New York University Shanghai. Follow @BarbarianEd on Twitter and ask him anything.