Thursday, February 29, 2024

Absurdities of the Juicero and Libraries

Juicero, circa 2013
Though Julia Glassman is no longer a librarian, her brilliant article, The Innovation Fetish and Slow Librarianship continues to influence the way I view the absurdity of academic libraries during my tenure in this profession.   The article deserves much more attention than I think it gets.   It uses the analogy of a now-defunct and short-lived fad by drawing parallels between the failed Juicero Inc., a Silicon Valley startup producing an expensive and impractical juicing machine, and the pressures faced by academic librarians to constantly innovate in their roles. 

The Juicero, initially marketed as an innovative internet-connected device, was later revealed to be unnecessary as users could achieve the same result by squeezing the juice bags with their hands. The author sees the Juicero as a symptom of late capitalism, emphasizing the pressure for constant innovation in a market saturated with gadgets.

The author relates this to the academic librarian's environment, where career advancement relies on showcasing innovation.  I've certainly experienced this myself, having been caught up in the euphoria of Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and the semantic web just a decade ago -- a sign of the obsession with innovation in academic librarianship, driven by a corporatized academia that prioritizes measurable achievements and publications.  The pressure to constantly innovate, often for its own sake, can lead to impractical projects that consume time and resources without addressing genuine needs.

Glassman recounts a scenario where MLIS students suggested changing a popular reading collection to be less "object-centric" without providing a clear vision for the alternative.  Thus, the rush for constant innovation can result in ideas that lack practicality and fail to meet the actual needs of patrons.   

The author reflects on personal experiences of succumbing to the pressure to innovate, even when existing methods were effective.  The obsession with innovation is deeply ingrained in the academic librarian profession, fueled by the need for immediate and tangible outcomes to justify investments.   I've witnessed this myself, playing a hand in accepting directives while secretly scratching my head at the logic of decisions.

I recall one instance of securing an iPad against the pillar in the middle of the library with no purpose other than it looked "innovative" to do so.   It was stolen the next day and quickly ended the innovative and expensive experiment.   Interestingly, the computer workstations adjacent to the iPad seemed to do just fine the decade before and the decade after the stolen iPad initiative. 

As a solution, the article proposes looking to the Slow Movement for guidance, advocating for a Slow Librarianship approach that prioritizes reflection and meaningful practices over a constant pursuit of impressive achievements. This alternative approach aims to provide deeper, more lasting, and more human services to patrons by rejecting the constant need for innovation and allowing for more thoughtful and responsive practices.  It's something that I'm still trying to integrate into my own work and approach to my life.   It's always a work in progress.   Thankfully, it's not considered innovative.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Trauma-Informed Librarianship for Survivors

As part of the Visible Minority Librarians of Canada Network (ViMLoC), I’ve participated in its mentorship program and have met many talented and eager early-career librarians over the years. I had recently caught up with a mentee who was going through a dark period in their life. We had lost touch over the years but the last time we had connected, they had found a dream job and were so ecstatic to begin their career at an academic library institution. I assumed they had been doing well and looking forward to meeting up for coffee. Until we met in person. I was sad to see this person share with me the experiences of microaggressions at the workplace and a toxic and dysfunctional relationship with superiors. As a racialized person, my mentee had faced racism since childhood and witnessed their parents facing discrimination and prejudice as new immigrants. They never thought that they would face this even into adulthood and at work.
 
Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

This colleague looked like a shadow of the cheerful, upbeat, once-optimistic librarian I had once known.A casualty of workplace bullying and harassment, the daily stress of fighting with their organization, followed by the gaslighting they endured, and the confrontations with their boss had finally worn down my mentee. They even brought their own cushion to the restaurant where we were eating and had to stand up every few minutes to adjust their seat to lessen the pain. Unfortunately, this has become more common now that I’ve entered mid-career in my profession and librarians of colour often seek me out for advice and oftentimes, a shoulder to cry on.

I have been researching EDI and anti-racism in libraries for more than a decade now. I’ve felt that I had hit a bit of a roadblock recently, particularly after I completed my sabbatical and put the final touches for publication. But it all feels rather hollow, especially recently. Instead of celebrating, I am dissatisfied. I feel like I have done very little to move forward in the profession. What have I exactly accomplished with this research anyways? Those of us who push for change look at removing systemic barriers and biases through EDI initiatives, but what about those individuals who have been harmed already? What can we do for them in the meantime?

I have listened to many heart-wrenching stories from survivors of toxic workplaces. Bullying. Gas lighting. The list goes on. My interviews became counselling sessions. These very personal and challenging stories were often accompanied by one medical absence or another. There were so many signs of burnout. I felt helpless to do anything but listen and capture a pattern that I was noticing among interviewees. I now realize that these experiences are trauma.

The research literature indicates that there is a large correlation between chronic stress and health challenges. The trauma expert Dr. Elizabeth Stanley has suggested that chronic stress and trauma should be viewed as part of a continuum; stress over time has the same biopsychosocial effects on individuals as acute trauma. It’s very hard for those who haven’t experienced trauma to truly understand it. An event that is stressful for one person may be traumatizing to another.

When people don’t recover from trauma, the suppressed pain may manifest itself through physical and mental illnesses, and chronic pain. There’s an emerging science of mind-body medicine that suggests that emotional pain often manifests itself physically through the body. Studies show that chronic pain and emotional pain emanate from the same part of the brain. There are some in the medical community, such as Gabor Mate (When the Body Says No) and Bessel van der Kolk (The Body Keeps the Score) who are part of a movement that explores the mind-body connection. People whose nervous systems are caused by ongoing stress become stuck in a flight-or-fight mode. But this neuroplastic pain is not imaginary: it’s real.

It goes without saying that seeking medical and counselling support is vital in the healing journey. But beyond that, what can we do to help others? What can we do if we are in these untenable situations ourselves? Karina Hagelin, who identifies as a chronically ill and disabled queer femme librarian believes each one of us can help by taking care of ourselves and others with self-compassion. Karina argues that self-care isn’t being selfish. Instead, it’s a cultural shift in how we approach our work to move towards healing — not just for our patrons, but for each other, and for ourselves. We are all survivors. I highly recommend everyone watch the webinar Trauma-Informed Librarianship: Building Communities of Care which shares ten concrete self-care strategies.

Healing is the best revenge” is the name of Karina’s podcast. It’s such a moving and powerful phrase. One that’s so optimistic and hopeful, which is exactly what we need to turn to in times of despair. Libraries do an excellent job in devoting their mission to serving their communities, but often that community does not include their own staff. I recently shared this podcast with my mentee who I think about every day. I hope they know that their healing journey won’t be a lonely one because I will be here by their side.


This post was previously published on Notes Between Us.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Five Labours of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-racism Work by Racialized Academic Librarians


I've been fortunate to collaborate with Silvia Vong (University of Toronto iSchool) and Elaina Norlin (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries) on a project about the retention and recruitment of academic librarians in the United States and Canada.  

One of our two articles was published in the International Journal of Information, Diversity, and Inclusion. We were able to draw a great deal from the interviews and we felt it was important to acknowledge the theme of invisible labour or the different forms of labour that may emerge in EDI and anti-racism work for racialized librarians in academia. Our hope is that this work be valued even more and resources be put towards supporting those that are engaged in the work so that it is more than just a few lines on a CV. 

EDI and anti-racism are important work that deserves support, acknowledgement, and resources. The second article (under review at another OA journal) will focus on institutional aspects such as salary, promotion, etc. Below is the link to the first piece:

The Five Labours of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-racism Work by Racialized Academic Librarians (Silvia Vong, Allan Cho, Elaina Norlin)

Friday, September 22, 2023

Care and Compassion: Why We Need to Learn about Trauma-informed Librarianship


I'm really trying to learn as much as I can about self-care and self-compassion which is integral to healing.   I've been focusing a lot of attention on challenging topics, particularly during my sabbatical, on discrimination, exclusion, gaslighting, bullying, the list goes on,  and much of the effects I witness (and personally experienced myself) is chronic stress of which the effects are only beginning to be understood in the medical world.  The trauma expert Dr. Elizabeth Stanley has suggested that chronic stress and trauma should be viewed as part of a continuum; stress over time has the same biopsychosocial effects on individuals as acute trauma.  As such, many of my colleagues in this profession who have faced the onslaught of chronic stress have either left the profession due to burnout or have suffered mental or chronic health issues.  

I'm seeing an emerging emphasis on Trauma-informed librarianship (TIL) in the library world nowadays, but it's still a rare topic at conference circuits.   I really enjoyed Karina Hagelin's session which I believe can help us open up conversations about taking care of ourselves and others for a better profession.  She is so raw and honest -- so deliberate in her messaging about TIL as a vital practice about creating cultural shifts in how we approach our work to move towards healing -- not just for our patrons, but for each other, and for ourselves.  This webinar introduces what is trauma and how it impacts both individuals and communities; the principles and goals of trauma-informed librarianship; how we can apply this lens to library services in actionable ways to better support survivors in our libraries, whether they are patrons or colleagues; and how we can take care of ourselves too, through 10 concrete self-care strategies.

Karina is such a courageous and engaging speaker, and being a chronically ill and disabled queer femme librarian, they have lived experiences and expertise to help us create better cultures in our libraries that center healing through radical empathy, collective care, and social justice work.  Karina is an Outreach and Instruction Librarian at Cornell University who has a very cool website where you can find more information about her work: http://www.karinakilljoy.com/ 
 
TIL is a reminder for us to take care of ourselves and to be compassionate to one another.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Living Well, Living Mindfully in a Post-Pandemic World

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise” – Victor Hugo
Since the pandemic, I had been living life as if everything was normal even though the world around me seemed to be falling apart. While externally I was fine, internally I was struggling. Early on, I inwardly beamed at a slower pace of life during 2020. But being locked away at home and socially isolated (Zoom actually made things worse) obviously chipped away at my mental wellness. I also hadn’t fully acknowledged life had changed the past few years – my first newborn, the death of a parent, and changing of job duties – just to name a few.

Depression and anxiety are often subtle and brew in the background for years before it ignites. For me, it began with simple insomnia. Then came body aches and pains. Then disrupted sleep. Dread, fear, sadness – all wore away at my psyche. Numerous physical examinations, blood tests and doctor’s visits equated to nothing. Counselling and medication helped for short periods of time.

My body was telling me to slow down my life and figure out what was going on. It was psychosomatic – my body was telling me something, and it probably saved my life. I want to share what helped me get back on my feet. 
  • Daily exercise – In my darkest moments, even simple walks were strenuous. But the exercise was necessary. Getting up and out of the house and breathing air from nature helped immensely. The saying “motion is lotion” is true; the human body requires it to stay grounded. 
  • Mindfulness – I used an app, Calm, for its guided meditation sessions but there are numerous others available. YouTube and podcasts are immensely useful, too. Deep breathing calmed my nervous system and mindfulness lifted me out of the noise and chatter that was actually the source of my angst. 
  •  Joy – To rediscover my hobbies in life – reading, writing, community – including new ones like yoga all enriched my life. It’s hard to do when in the doldrums of life, and might feel counterintuitive, but joy resurfacing became the light that led me out of my tunnel. 
  •  Community – I didn’t quite realize how isolated I was until it hit me hard emotionally. I felt I was ready to jump into the ocean if that meant I could reconnect. After a couple of years of isolation helped me appreciate that colleagues and friends are important reminders that life is more than work. I cherish time for relationships now, old and new.
As a librarian, I often turn to research for support, but surprisingly, the LIS literature is mostly barren on this topic, and much of it is about supporting services for patrons. LIS Interrupted: Intersections of Mental Illness and Library Work is one of the few books devoted to this topic by library workers. I hope there will be more soon. The lived experiences of the authors of each chapter bravely share how each faced their challenges. Mental wellness comes from feeling balanced, connected to others and ready to meet life’s challenges – things that a global pandemic helped me understand.

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This was published in Notes Between Us (NBU), a blog about conversations and topics of interest to writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Academic Freedom and Academic Failure


Naoko Shibusawa is a 20th-century U.S. cultural historian who studies U.S. imperialism and political culture with an interest in the ideas and ideologies that undergird the U.S. empire and foreign policy. I was surprised to see Asian American Studies scholar Naoko Shibusawa suspended from her faculty role. Certainly, with all the strange occurrences, Shibusawa's article, Notes on Solidarity From the Field is a must-read as it has sparked controversy within the academy. This is concerning considering the infringement of academic freedom. 

Just like many, I scratch my head wondering what atrocity from this piece led to the harsh impunity against Shibusawa.   Brown University came down hard on Shibusawa, but is this justified?   As one observer tells it:
 Certainly, while the essay (filled with anecdotes) is a reflection piece on the years of her personal frustration with the hurdles and anti-Asian racism in order to build Asian American studies, it doesn't take much imagination to believe that this was the last straw for a university administration that had enough of Shibusawa and was set on penalizing her and this seemingly innocuous article was just the smoking gun it needed. 

Shibusawa's ambiguity in identifying specific events and persons at Brown University makes it difficult if not impossible to disclose much about Brown University's internal politics and players to justify such punishment.    In fact, a number of her examples of bullying, pettiness, and microaggressions are pretty much a day at the office in the dirty business that is academia.  

As such, numerous organizations, such as the Journal of Asian American Studies, have issued public statements in support of Shibusawa.  The Ending the Korean War Teaching Collective has even proposed that Shibusawa's "ethos of solidarity and the tendency for institutional racism and sexism is actually entrenched under the guise of proceduralism of Brown University.   Some observers suggest that current and former students feel that Brown University's punishment is more a response to Shibusawa's record of campus advocacy, including her support of Palestinian rights, defence of staff of colour, and criticism of Charles Koch's donations to the university.  

Now, to be clear, Shibusawa's piece is a multifaceted and complex piece that requires debate and discussion, particularly around the issue of multiracial solidarity and the issues that arise with Asian American Studies and its relationship to other disciplines.   Rather, my concern as in unison with numerous others in the academy is the heavy-handed and unilateral sanctions that Brown University's administration has taken against Shibusawa.   The irony is sharp as Shibusawa illustrates in Notes on Solidarity From the Field the many transgressions that are gendered and ageist and takes forms that are not physically violent.   It sends a shiver down the spine of all academics who produce scholarship.  

Shibusawa leaves a few words of wisdom, foreshadowing perhaps a future in that she imagined she could again be punished for standing tall to remind us "to keep generating energy—to keep our eyes on the greater struggle, ongoing and ever more acute, that requires all the energy we can give."




Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Call for Book Chapters: Global Perspectives on Anti-Racism and Anti-Colonial Library Management Practices


Call for Book Chapters


Global Perspectives on Anti-Racism and Anti-Colonial Library Management Practices

Editors

  • Allan Cho, University of British Columbia (UBC) Library
  • Silvia Vong, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Libraries
Important Dates
  • Proposals due: July 28, 2023
  • Review period: August 2023
  • Notifications of Acceptance: August 25, 2023
  • The first draft of the chapters is due: on December 29, 2023
  • Review period/feedback: March 29, 2024
  • The second draft of the chapters is due: on July 1, 2024
  • Review period/minor revisions: August 1, 2024
  • Final Manuscript submission: September 1, 2024
  • Target publication date: six months after submission (by editors) of the final manuscript
Background

This book is signed with Facet Publishing and is based on the perspectives and experiences of different practicing librarians, researchers, and educators worldwide, who engage with anti-racist and anti-colonial practices in library and information science (LIS). The book draws on Dei’s meaning of anti-racism and anti-colonialism. Anti-racism moves away from the “preoccupation with individual prejudices and discriminatory actions to the examination of the ways in which racist ideas and individual actions are entrenched and unconsciously supported in institutional structures” (Dei, 1995, p. 13). Anti-colonialism is resistance and counters to dominant Western and Eurocentric thought and practice. George Dei (2006) writes, “Anti-colonial thought is about a ‘decolonizing of the mind’ working with resistant knowledge and claiming the power of local subjects’ intellectual agency” (p. 11). Both of these terms refer to some form of critical action. It is important to note that Sara Ahmed (2012) identifies in On Being Included that institutions and management are largely performative in addressing racism and whiteness in higher education. The editors recognize that management may have historical roots and connections in problematic ideologies and practices. However, rather than focus on talking about the problems, this book focuses on critiquing and offering redress for institutional policies, procedures, and practices that reinforce racist or colonial ideologies that impact underrepresented and/or equity-deserving groups. For that reason, the editors are seeking chapter proposals that move away from common performative practice (e.g., statement writing, document reporting, re-branding) and more towards practical action and changes in library settings.

Global perspectives mean that an effort to ensure a range of perspectives from different countries are included to examine issues of racism and colonialism and its impact on the library as a workplace. The intention is to ensure that different experiences are represented to avoid essentializing or assuming what anti-racism and/or anti-colonial practices look like in different contexts. Through a critical lens that may include postcolonial theory, Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Feminism, etc., Methods that the editors have experience reviewing are qualitative studies that include interviews, surveys, autoethnography, and case studies. In addition, some works may be a literature review, or conceptual. If submitting a proposal and chapter that uses autoethnography, please include details about research ethics, data, data collection, and writing approach.
  • Ahmed, S. (2012). On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. Duke University Press.
  • Sefa Dei, G. J., & Kempf, A. (2006). Anti-Colonialism and Education: The Politics of Resistance. Sense Publishers.
  • Dei, G. J. S. (1995). Integrative Anti-Racism: Intersection of Race, Class, and Gender. Race, Gender & Class, 2(3), 11–30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41674706
Objectives
  • Present perspectives and experiences of different practicing librarians, researchers, and educators across the world, who engage with anti-racist and/or anti-colonial leaders and/or management practices in LIS
  • Examine the dynamically shifting role between anti-racism and anti-colonialism and library institutions in the context of managing people, information, and collections
  • Bringing awareness and exploring actions managers can take to redress racist or colonial structures and practices.
Target Audience
  • Library practitioners, activists, managers, leaders, etc. interested in engaging in anti-racist and anti-colonial practices
  • The content should be aimed at librarians ready to learn and act to support anti-racism and anti-colonial efforts.
Potential Topics
  • Addressing Colonial Practices in Governance or Organizational Structures in Libraries
  • Decolonizing Leadership and Management
  • Truth and Redress of Colonial Histories/Connections in Institutions
  • Management through a Critical Race Theory or Postcolonial Theory lens
  • Decentering Whiteness in Libraries
  • Cultural Taxation in the Profession
  • Anti-racism in the Library Workplace
  • Laws, and Policies
We are also open to suggestions on topics about anti-racism or anti-colonial practices. Proposals should include references to academic sources.

Please send the following to Editors.GlobalPerspectives@gmail.com by July 28, 2023:
  • Name(s)
  • Job Title(s)
  • Institution(s)
  • Section of interest and a 500-word description of the proposed book chapter
  • Please indicate the topic, method, and main point(s) clearly
  • Research involving human participants, including autoethnographies should indicate whether a research ethics or institutional research board approval.
  • References list (APA style)
  • A 250-word bio of the author or authors
Facet Publishing is a leading publisher of books for the information, knowledge and heritage sectors. They publish for a wide range of readers including students, practitioners, educators and researchers, bringing cutting-edge research, practical tools and guidance and thought leadership to the global community.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Bamboo Ceiling Reframed: The Impact of Social Practices in Management on Asian Library Managers


It was such a pleasure to moderate a session featuring my friend and role model librarian, Silvia Vong.   Silvia and I are conducting a research project and it has been an eye-opening working with such a talented individual.   As the Associate Chief Librarian for Scholarly, Research and Creative Activities at Toronto Metropolitan University in Toronto, Silvia has worked in universities for over a decade.  She's completing her Ph.D. research which focuses on the impact of neoliberal conventions and managerialism on equity and anti-racism work in Canadian universities. Silvia draws on the works of Critical Race Theory scholars, Postcolonial Theory, and Bourdieu to examine issues in librarianship.   Her talk is based on a chapter that is published in Libraries as Dysfunctional Organizations and Workplaces.  

In 2005, Jane Hyun, a management consultant, wrote a book titled Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. Though the text was intended to “introduce” Asians to dominant management practices and workplace culture, the text was problematic in that it essentialized Asians, reiterated deficit narratives, and narratives of the “other.” In an effort to add another perspective to the issue of the lack of representation, Silvia's research was designed with a structuralist approach. Rather than blame or point to a group, the study focused on examining social and organizational barriers through a Bourdieusian and Critical Race Theory lens to identify how dominant structures exclude, reward assimilation, and build into a system, of invisible or taken-for-granted rules.   The talk's presentation slides on Bamboo Ceiling Reframed are here.  

Monday, April 24, 2023

Creating an Edge by Turning Adversity into Advantage

During my sabbatical, I’ve been conducting research on EDI initiatives, in addition to completing my certificate in the EDI Certificate program at UBC. It’s been rewarding, and I’m grateful for the opportunity, but it has been draining and what some call an emotional burden - to listen to, process, and reflect on the inequities of the workplace and the traumatic experiences of library workers who faced discrimination, prejudice, and racism.  I've listened to some truly heartwrenching stories.  

Harvard faculty Laura Huang researches interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace.  The wonderful aspect of this book is that it’s not limited to any particular subject domain or just the business stories of successful people.  Rather, it’s extraordinary stories of ordinary people who came from disadvantaged backgrounds infused with evidence-based research.  Huang calls this approach EDGE – enrich, delight, and guide – to make your effort go further. These concepts make up the core structure of succeeding within an imperfect system and success ultimately requires knowing who you are so that you can turn that knowledge into an advantage.  Here is Huang's approach to creating one's edge.


Enrich - The ability to provide value to and enrich those around you. The difference between those who truly enrich and bring value to others and those who don’t actually bring value. Those who have an edge demonstrate and communicate the value they bring, rather than leave it up to others to determine.
  • Hard work should be enough; oftentimes, it’s not.
  • Know your weaknesses will help you identify your circle of competence, or “basic goods.” You’ll know not only where you’re valuable, but where you’re invaluable.
  • To use your basic goods in distinct ways, go where others don’t.
  • Embrace constraints as they provide the most opportunities.
  • Trust your intuition and your experiences – your “gut”
Delight - It’s the element of surprise, the unexpected. Delight isn’t about charming, entertaining, or slick. Rather, delight is about violating perceptions, but in a benign way, unsettling and challenging beliefs about your context, grabbing the attention of gatekeepers, and making way for you to show how you enrich
  • Before people let you in, they need to be delighted.
  • Don’t over plan. Instead, aim for flexibility and opportunities to delight.
  • Stay authentic and embrace how delight occurs in situ.
Guide - Empowering ourselves to guide our own contexts. When you know how others see you, it gives you the capacity to guide and redirect that perception, so that you can influence how people grasp and appreciate the value you command.
  • "Being yourself” means guiding others to the best versions of your multiple identities.
  • Know how others see you, so you can redirect them to how they should see you.
  • Guide others to what is within you by recognizing what is around you.
  • Guide how others see your trajectory. It’s not where you’ve been; it’s where you’re going.
Effort - Effort and hard work reinforce the edge that you create for yourself. Gaining an edge requires hard work, plus. You need hard work, but when so many factors are driven by outside forces, you also need to know how to allocate effort.
  • Turn adversity into your edge.
Laura Huang proposes that rather than spinning our wheels and feeling sorry for ourselves for these injustices, we need to accept the reality of our disadvantages and do something about it.   It's an inspiring monograph for those who have faced discrimination and seem to hit a wall all the time.  As a person of colour who grew up in an immigrant household and was the first to have gone to university in my family, I've faced racism and microaggressions as many of my generation and background have.  This book offers some solace.      
“Your past is not something that you should lament; it should be another asset in how you gain your unique advantage. Let your past make you better, no bitter.”

Friday, April 07, 2023

Rest is Resistance as Liberation

I learned about this book from the EDI Scholar-in-Residence, Nneka Allen, who introduced the concept of rest to the audience.   What a lifechanging moment.   I couldn't put down Tricia Hersey's book once I picked it up.  Rest is not a luxury, but resistance against grind culture.  Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. But Tricia Hersey argues that resting is not intended for us to come back stronger and more productive for a capitalist system. 

As someone who has grown up and is born in this system and culture, the idea of rest is a novel concept to me.   Rest is a deep movement of deprogramming our minds to discard this false belief of striving for constant perfectionism. Because capitalism has captured most of us, we are under the spell of the hustle-and-grind culture that compels society to the “unreachable finish line of wealth.” Rest is not encouraged or modeled in such a culture.  Some of the key highlights I want to share here:


“Students are being trained to be workers who can follow orders, memorize facts, and be on time no mater what. Imagination and critical thinking skills are replaced with cookie-cutter learning and standardized testing"

“We have been socialized, manipulated, and indoctrinated by everything in culture to believe the lies of grind culture. In order for a capitalist system to thrive, our false beliefs in productivity and labor must remain"

“We center rest as a means for healing and liberation. We believe sleep deprivation is a racial and social justice issue"

“Rest is resistance because it is a counternarrative to the script of capitalism and white supremacy for all people"

“Unlike white feminism, womanism holds space for race, class, and gender and understands the family and community of Black woman are collaborators in the struggle for liberation” 

“We can . . . begin to honor our bodies and trust our ability to learn new ways of being. We don’t have to be burned out, sleep-deprived, painfully exhausted, or disconnected from our selves and each other"

“I name academia as one of the main sites of grind culture. The headquarters of pushing through exhaustion, competition, expectations, and a lack of balance. people live in the library never once leaving, bringing sleeping bags to lay under tables and in between bookshelves. . ."

“The stress, anxiety, overloaded curriculum, and pressure we normalize in public schools and higher education are toxic and dangerous for everyone involved, but particularly toxic for young children and young adults who are still developing a sense of self . . . we seek external validation from a violent system void of love"

“. . . resting is a connection and a path back to our true nature. We are stripped down to who we really were before the terror of capitalism and white supremacy"

“The system has been lying and guiding us all blindly to urgent and unsustainable fantasies. We have replaced our inherent self-esteem with toxic productivity"

“You don’t have to always be creating, doing, and contributing to the world. Your birth grants you rest and leisure as well"

Naps are about a “deep journey toward decolonizing and returning to our natural state before the terror and the lies were given to us"

“We are going up against such violent systems in our attempt to disrupt and push back: white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, patriarchy, classism, anti-Blackness, homophobia, etc"

“Go to your beds. Go to your couches. Find a hammock. Go into the portal of naps. Go there often. You don’t have to wait on permission from the dominant culture"

Tricia Hersey suggests a 30-day sabbath, a quarantine and liberation from our grind culture, and focusing instead on rest. It means not only detoxing from technology and social media but announcing and making it clear as possible to everyone in your spheres that you will not be available during this time. Without a model from our culture for what it looks like to stop and pause, a sabbath is an opportunity for “intense imagination work and collaboration with Spirit” even if it’s for ten minutes, a weekend, or a month.” Whatever it is, this rest should be unique to us and only us.  

Monday, April 03, 2023

Future Horizons: Canadian Digital Humanities

It's been a few years of hard work and many fruitful research discussions with my research partner, Sarah Zhang, and the fruits of our labour are out with our chapter in Future Horizons: Canadian Digital Humanities.   When we first started out together on this project, we worked on with the historical dataset of the Chinese headtax registers (the records of migrants as they stepped off the ship and onto Canadian soil).  In 2019, we were asked to present at Paul Barrett's graduate studies seminar where we talked about the migrants' head tax, GIS, and digital humanities.  From there, we worked on presenting it at conferences.   In 2021, we were asked to submit a chapter to a book that Sarah Roger and Paul Barrett were thinking about putting together.  And in April 2023, it was finally published.  
Across more than twenty chapters, Future Horizons explores the past, present, and future of digital humanities research, teaching, and experimentation in Canada. Bringing together work by established and emerging scholars, this collection presents contemporary initiatives in digital humanities alongside a reassessment of the field’s legacy to date and conversations about its future potential. It also offers a historical view of the important, yet largely unknown, digital projects in Canada. 
Future Horizons offers deep dives into projects that enlist a diverse range of approaches—from digital games to makerspaces, sound archives to born-digital poetry, visual arts to digital textual analysis—and that work with both historical and contemporary Canadian materials. The essays demonstrate how these diverse approaches challenge disciplinary knowledge by enabling humanities researchers to ask new questions.

The collection challenges the idea that there is either a single definition of digital humanities or a collective national identity. By looking to digital engagements with race, Indigeneity, gender, and sexuality—not to mention history, poetry, and nationhood—this volume expands what it means to work at the intersection of digital humanities and humanities in Canada today.

Introduction
1. Digital Canadas? Transforming the Nation — Sarah Roger and Paul Barrett

Part 1. Situating and Disrupting Digital Scholarship
2. Where Is the Nation in Digital Humanities, Revisited — Roopika Risam
3. Rerouting Digital (Humanities) Scholarship in Canada — Andrea Zeffiro
4. Closed, Open, Stopped: Indigenous Sovereignty and the Possibility of Decolonial DH — David Gaertner
5. “This Game Needs to be Made”: Playable Theories ⇌ Virtual Worlds — Jon Saklfoske
6. Reimagining Representational Codes in Data Visualization: What Contemporary Digital Humanities Might Learn from Visual Arts-Based Disciplines — Julia Polyck-O’Neill
7. Making, Conversation: An Experiment in Public Digital Humanities — Kim Martin and Rashmeet Kaur

Part 2. Digital Poetics
8. Canadian Poetry and the Computational Concordance: Sandra Djwa and the Early History of Canadian Humanities Computing — Sarah Roger, Paul Barrett, and Kiera Obbard
9. Canadian Poetry and the Computer — Sandra Djwa
10. “saga uv th relees uv human spirit from compuewterr funckshuns”: Space Conquest, IBM, and the Anti-digital Anxiety of Early Canadian Digital Poetics (1960–1968) — Gregory Betts
11. From the Digits to the Digital: Bodies in the Machines of Canadian Concrete Poetics — Eric Schmaltz
12. Nations of Touch: The Politics of Electronic Literature as Digital Humanities — Dani Spinosa
13. STOP WORDS — Klara du Plessis

Part 3. Digital Canadian Archives
14. Wages Due Both Then and Now — Pascale Dangoisse, Constance Crompton, and Michelle Schwartz
15. Analog Thrills, Digital Spills: On the Fred Wah Digital Archive version 2.0 — Deanna Fong and Ryan Fitzpatrick
16. Humanizing the Archive: The potential of Hip-Hop archives in the digital humanities — Mark Campbell
17. Sounding Digital Humanities — Katherine McLeod
18. Unsettling Colonial Mapping: Sonic-Spatial Representations of amiskwaciw√Ęskahikan — Kendra Cowley
19. Beyond “Mere Digitization”: Introducing the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project — Graham H. Jensen
20. “A Legacy of Race and Data: Mining the History of Exclusion” — Allan Cho and Sarah Zhang

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Remembering Jim Wong-Chu: Happy 74th Birthday


Today is Jim Wong-Chu’s birthday and he would’ve been 74 years old. It’s been five years since the passing of my friend and I dearly miss his presence and mentorship.  Jim was a “writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, community organizer and activist, editor, and literary and cultural engineer,” but to me, most of all, he was a role model for young people finding their way in this world. He was a polymath of ideas and very inspiring and had a moral compass. Jim was born in 1949 in Hong Kong. In 1953, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Canada as a "paper son", a term which referred to the practice of children who immigrated to Canada by using real or falsified identification papers of relatives living in Canada.  

 

Though his formal education was never completed, Jim inspired me that formal education never ends, and learning is lifelong. He wanted to learn more about the publishing business, so he also worked as an associate editor for Douglas and McIntyre and as an associate editor for Arsenal Pulp Press. Jim attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) with a focus on photography and design from 1975-1981. He also attended the University of British Columbia for creative writing from 1985-1987, all the while working as a letter carrier at Canada Post. He was a founding member of various community and cultural organizations including:
  •  Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW)
  • Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society 
  • the Pender Guy Radio Program, Asia Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR)
  • Go for Broke Festival
  • B.C. Sinfonetta Society
  • Federation of British Columbia Writers
  • The Chinese Community Library Association
  • B.C. Heritage Trust
  • Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver
Jim was also an author and editor of: 
  • Chinatown Ghosts
  • Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Fiction
  • Many-Mouthed Birds: Contemporary Writing by Chinese Canadians;  
  • Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry
I'm heartened that Jim's work and legacy live on at the UBC Library's Rare Books and Special Collections.  In a way, it's comforting to know that I sit above his archival fonds each day, knowing that the many late-night conversations, early-morning deadlines, and everything in-between, continue as a lasting resource to many researchers and academics.    In 2021, for example, a graduate student Brandon Leung, writes about how Jim's life and insights influenced and shaped the way he researched and thought about Asian Canadian studies.   Here is a fantastic Finding Aid of the Jim Wong-Chu fonds (RBSC-ARC-1710) available online.   Jim, thank you for the memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

C.I. certificates -- A Key to Unlocking The Past

There once existed a dizzying array of special identity documents – called C.I. certificates – that were issued by the Canadian Government exclusively to its Chinese residents. These pieces of paper were intended to control, contain, monitor and even intimidate this one community.
Scholars such as Catherine Clement is soon launching The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act exhibition and all of the scans all the scans of all the C.I. Certificates will be housed in a public archive at UBC.   2023 is an important but unfortunate anniversary as it's the 100th year since the passing of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act in Canada (more commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Act) that set the stage for Chinese being barred from entry into Canada based solely on their country of origin.

If there are family members who were in Canada in 1923, they would have been required to register when the Chinese Exclusion Act passed.  The C.I.44 was issued to certify that an individual had registered under Section 18 of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Registration was required for every person of Chinese origin in Canada. The certificate recorded detailed identifying information and bore a photo and related file numbers.  Files were kept of foreign-born Chinese in Vancouver, Victoria, and Ottawa.

However, the Chinese Immigration records currently stored at the LAC are somewhat messy.  According to my colleague June Chow, who is a highly respected activist and organizer in the community, the C.I9s do not appear to be complete. There are microfilm reels that are scattered, as the records were separated by port (Vancouver or Victoria) and by foreign-born versus native-born Chinese. Some reels are digitized while some are not; some records are indexed and some are not.  "It's quite a quagmire."

With the newly released CI.44 record set, the hope is that they can lead to finding other existing record sets.  This CI.44 record set documents the mass registration required of all Chinese living in Canada when the 1923 Exclusion amendment passed.   I have submitted an ATIP request to LAC to open those records.  I'm hopeful that my search for my ancestry can continue.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

In Search of My Genealogical Roots - The Records Remain a Mystery


From the mid-to-late nineteenth century, more than 15,000 labourers from China arrived in Canada to conduct construction work on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).   Many faced discrimination, such as being paid only paid a third less than their co-workers while given the most dangerous assignments in harsh conditions.   As part of the anti-immigration sentiment in British Columbia at the time, the federal parliament passed in 1885, the Chinese Immigration Act, which stipulated that all Chinese entering Canada must first pay a $50-dollar fee, later referred to as a head tax. This was amended in 1887, 1892, and 1901, with the fee increasing to its maximum of $500 in 1903.

My great-grandfather, Choo Hang Wai, great-grandfather, Chow Bing Fai, and many ancestors, were among the more than 97,000 migrants who had to pay a headtax for the entry into Canada.  Between 1885 and 1923, the Government of Canada collects about 33 million dollars ($544 million in 2022 dollars), from about 97,000 Chinese headtax payers. The headtax system also had the effect of constraining Chinese immigration; it discouraged Chinese women and children from joining their men, so the Chinese community in Canada became a "bachelor society".

For the past 15 years, this journey to rediscover this lost part of history has been both rewarding and frustrating. My colleague at SFU Library, Sarah Zhang, and I are working on a project that ‘hacks” the historical dataset of the Chinese headtax registers (the records of migrants as they stepped off the ship and onto Canadian soil). Both a professional to personal endeavour, there have been twists and turns to how much the archives that my country is holding onto and how much it wants to release.

During the pandemic, the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) quietly rehauled their website earlier this Fall, to reflect new guidelines for Government of Canada websites. I was perturbed that this happened and worried that everything had been wiped clean. Thank you to my friend and colleague June Chow pointing me in the right direction.

Go to LAC

https://library-archives.canada.ca

- Select English or French

- At mid-page, select Most requested > Collection > "Search the collections"
- Select "Collection Search"
- Select "Advanced Search"
- Select from the Database: "Immigrants from China, 1885 to 1952"
- You can leave Type of record as "All" or Select from:
(a) "General Registers of Chinese Immigration" for records of arrival/entry; or
(b) the various C.I.9 certificate series, based on Vancouver/Victoria issued and/or people born in/outside of Canada

 

I've been disturbed by this level of difficulty for a simple search.   I had a challenging time, but I do this for a living.  How can we expect the public to use this tool for finding anything?  I really hope that this is a temporary measure by the LAC!


Saturday, November 05, 2022

Practicing Anti-Racism in Information Spaces: Notes From the Field


I was pleased to present to the School of Information's graduate studies course LIBR 508 -Information Practices in Contemporary Society.   Taught by Dr. Hannah Turner, LIBR 508 is a course that prepares students from diverse scholarly and professional backgrounds to investigate, analyze and critique the social, political, and cultural tensions surrounding contemporary information practices.  When I was asked to present to the class, I immediately wanted to share with these future practitioners not only my research into the area of EDI and libraries but also how my personal experiences as a racialized male librarian inform my practice as an academic librarian.   Here are the three themes I shared in this presentation:
  • Explore the concept of diversity and intersectionality of identities
  • Examining how power and privilege shaped libraries 
  • Understanding microaggressions/subtle acts of exclusion in the workplace