Outside the Lines
Luckily for the patrons of the New York Public Library (NYPL), a compelling undergraduate history class with a research component derailed Raymond Pun’s plans to become a bankruptcy attorney. A visit to the library’s oral history archives to read suffragist newspapers on microfilm placed him on a path from NYPL intern to periodicals librarian in five years.
In 2008, Pun approached Elaine Carey, the St. John’s University history professor who instigated his love of research, offering to teach undergraduates how to conduct research at NYPL and other cultural institutions. Besides conducting workshops for the students who are mainly first-generation Americans and the first in their families to go to college, “he mentors them for the entire semester,” says Carey, one of Pun’s three M&S nominators. The St. John’s program, which is now expanding to include archives and special collections, has been recognized by the Teagle Foundation and National History Center for encouraging undergraduates to conduct research in New York City cultural institutions. It is a mark of Pun’s success reaching students, says Carey, that students seek him out even after the semester is over.
As a child of immigrants who don’t speak English at home, Pun struggled in school at first, not catching up until he was a teenager. He credits the library, which he considered another home, with “providing reading materials that challenged my mind and improved my self-esteem.” Pun’s background also gives him an understanding of NYPL’s diverse clientele, including those who might be intimidated by its holdings.
The first public program Pun organized reflected his international perspective (he’s participated in two study-abroad library programs). It celebrated the centennial anniversary of The Book of Khalid, a novel by Arab American writer Ameen Rihani, a first edition of which is owned by NYPL. According to L. Mark (jewlicious.com), another nominator, Pun “goes out of his way to organize events that leverage library assets, even though they may be out of the scope of his specific job position.”