Thursday, December 31, 2020

Farewell to 2020, Let's Move On

Hindsight is 2020 and that’s what this year will go down in history, one that is transformative in not only the way we live but conduct work. While the information profession will be reshaped in the post-Covid world, changes were underway well before 2020.

One of these changes to stay is videoconferencing. It’s critical to see the rise of Zoom as it has become almost ubiquitous in our daily, particularly working, lives. Information and “white-collar” professionals will likely continue to concentrate on digital engagement with not only their users and customers but also colleagues in lieu of the physical office and meeting spaces. Whether Zoom will last beyond the next few years is irrelevant, however, but what will endure is the way we approach communicating with one another across using digital services, and especially learning which will be reshaped forever. I’ve often thought that it made no sense for ten minutes meetings to require everyone to be in the same space; it’s inefficient and unsafe.

As such Zoomification has now become a term that highlights the radical shift in the way we now communicate with colleagues. Instant messaging and video conferencing aren’t particularly novel or groundbreaking, but how we communicated using technologies this year is ineed transformative. It’s amazing to see how quickly information industries have adapted.

Many organizations vanished due to Covid, but many more reinvented themselves to not only survive but thrive in the chaos.  I find Disney as a uniquely successful example: by restructuring and focusing on streaming its shows and films, digital technology shifted to became the most important facet of the company’s business and moving away from the bricks and mortar company that it’s so used from the past century (although Disneyland will continue to become an important part nevertheless).

Libraries, in the same vein, will likely forever change as well - and I hope for the better. We’ll be meeting our patrons online, our reference services will happen in a hybrid of digital and physical spaces, and our collections will increasingly be streamed and available online, born-digital ebooks and journals, and analog materials increasingly digitized for on-demand access. 

But change is nothing new for libraries.  I recently came across a paper that traces the use of technology in health care settings as far back as the American Civil War era and librarians have been instrumental in transitioning to the information age.   

It is known that the telegraph was used during the Civil War to transmit casualty lists and order medical supplies. By 1900, the telephone was in use, and physicians were among the first to adopt it. The telephone was the mainstay of medical communications for fifty years and remains a major force. About the time of World War I, radio communication was established, and, by 1930, it was used in remote areas such as Alaska and Australia to transfer medical information. By the time of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, radio communication was used regularly to dispatch medical teams and helicopters.

So while I don't look necessarily look forward to Zoom fatigue, I'm heartened that as an information professional, that I get to support our faculty and students, and be a part of history.  So we move forward, and hindsight will be 2020. See you on the other side and Happy New Year.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Master of Switching In An Age of Information

In an age of surveillance, propaganda, and fake news, I'm currently re-reading a 2010 title, The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.  A decade ago, the Web 2.0-era appeared as if it were paving a way to a better humanity of collaboration, free expression and economic innovation.  Tim Wu's argument that information occurs in long "cycles" whereby open information systems become consolidated and closed over time seemed like a vague theory at the time.  A mere warning.   In 2010, I couldn't quite fathom how the internet belonged to a chronological continuum that included the rise of the Bell AT&T telephone monopoly, the founding of the Hollywood entertainment industry, broadcast, and cable television industries.   Many (including myself) were swept up in rewriteable and perpetual beta, and even conducted research, publishing, and all that of the glory of participatory and democratization of information.  Indeed, the optimism for the future of the web seemed infinite.  

While Wu warned us that it's companies like Apple that would eventually become a more closed system, and that the internet industry would follow the historical cycle of the rise of information empires, it didn't seem possible at the time.  The iPhone brought so many possibilities, and coupled with social media, enabled social movements across the world.   The future of the longtail was based on disruptive technologies meant to bring equality.   In 2006, You was Time's Person of the Year.  

But how times have changed.  The current dispute over TikTok reminds us that it's a microcosm of just how complicated the internet has become.  The vision of “open web” as a means to build a just and thriving society not only looks like a hazy reality, but the information empires formed from the geopolitical web of business has far from ensured us technological neutrality for human rights, privacy or even free expression.   How times have changed.     

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Anti-Racism Titles for a Better, More Informed World

Photo by Cyrus Gomez
I compiled a shortlist of titles after being asked by a colleague for some recommendations.  There are far too many compelling titles out there to list.  These are just personal recommendations that I can recall on the whim.   Deeply disturbing hate crimes against Asian Americans and Asian Canadians across North America, both physical and verbal assaults, have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.   The world is rising up to the occasion place these past few months to injustice and intensified with the Black Lives Matter protests.  Anti-Asian hate crimes are currently being investigated in the police everywhere. Incidents have included hate-filled rants, racial slurs, threats, and intimidation, as well as spitting and coughing on victims and violent physical assaults in public settings.  What can we do as a society to do our part in countering intolerance?   The first thing we can do is being informed, of tracing the history of racism.  

Yellow Peril!: An archive of anti-Asian fear
The Yellow Peril is a catalogue of more than 150-year anti-Asian writings, illustrations, propaganda, and pop culture. The recent spate of anti-Asian hate crimes stemming from COVID-19 would sadly fit right in at the end of this book, but offers a stark reminder that xenophobia is still deeply ingrained and much work remains to be done to combat it.

Asian American Librarians and Library Services Activism, Collaborations, and Strategies
What are the library services and resources that Asian Canadian and Asian Americans need? In a profession that is predominantly white and steeped in Western colonial traditions, what does it mean to be an Asian librarian in the 21st century? Library professionals and scholars share reflections, best practices, and strategies, and convey the critical need for diversity in the LIS field, library programming, and resources.

Days of Distraction
As the heroine narrates her romantic life, she finds herself in the process of facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. It is a story of her family’s immigration, the history of interracial relationships in America, and stereotypes of Asian American women in the Western world

Double Melancholy: art, beauty, and the making of a brown queer man
C. E. Gatchalian's Double Melancholy charts the memoirs of queer Canadian man of Filipinx descent who attempts to tease out the complexities of his identification with white and Western ‘high culture.’

Set in Canada, Obasan focuses on the memories and experiences of Naomi Nakane, whose brief stay with her aunt ‘Obasan’ helps Naomi revisit and reconstruct in memory her painful experiences as a child during and after World War II, and the lives of Japanese-Canadians who were uprooted and sent to internment camps during the war. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

ACRL Academic Library Services for Graduate Students Interest Group - Online Library Services to Graduate Students

ACRL Academic Library Services for Graduate Students Interest Group next Tuesday afternoon for a panel discussion about online services for graduate students, including changes folks have made during recent building closures and other services changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bulk of the time in this session will be planned for taking audience questions for discussion among the panelists.

Panel: Online Library Services to Graduate Students
When: Tuesday, June 2, 3pm CDT

  • Allan Cho, Research Commons Librarian, University of British Columbia
  • Nancy Garmer, Assistant Dean of User Experience, Florida Institute of Technology
  • Mandy Havert, Graduate Outreach and Digital Research Librarian, University of Notre Dame
  • Anne Melville, Education Librarian, George Mason University
  • Matt Ogborn, Graduate Outreach and Instruction Librarian, Arizona State University
  • Mark Lenker, Convener, ACRL Academic Library Services for Graduate Students Interest Group
  • Geoff Johnson, Incoming Convener, ACRL Academic Library Services for Graduate Students Interest Group

Monday, May 18, 2020

Response to the World of Covid-19

Racial diversity in librarianship is important because libraries and archives are responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the historical and cultural records of society as a whole -- not just one group.   It is essential that the fundamental organizations responsible for the creation, selection, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge that reflects the diversity of the society that they seek to serve.  Unfortunately, the reality in North America is that minority librarians face challenges in the profession, and a recently retracted editorial by a Dean of Libraries really hit home when his racist-laden rant was somehow published in a (now less) reputable journal.

Although I'm a librarian of diversity, my professional expertise was not set on diversity in libraries.  I didn't start off my career with it as part of my professional agenda.  I was interested in issues related to social justice, but it wasn't until I started my career in this field that I realized I needed to be involved.  A profession that doesn't reflect its users is not healthy, especially one that serves the public.  I'm afraid while most in our profession recognize this homogeneity, its colonial history is unlikely to change in our lifetime.  This presentation speaks to me as a BIPOC.  In my own reflection, I will add three main themes that visible minority librarians and workers face in the profession:

(1) Isolation – There’s certain isolation when it comes to discussing topics such as race and discrimination. Rhonda Fowler has discussed her experiences of isolation. “I felt that most of my colleagues wanted a pleasant working environment, and really didn’t understand what I was talking about because it had not happened to them.” According to Peggy Johnson, “libraries do hire diverse librarians but they want you to conform to the dominant culture. If you don’t conform to the culture, then you might have experienced that they don’t understand.”

(2) Implicit Bias - The importance of reducing implicit bias in the workplace cannot be overstated. Implicit intergroup bias has far-reaching negative effects in many organizational domains, including, but not limited to, selection, retention (including compensation and promotion issues), teams-related issues, general work environment, and worker self-esteem and well-being. “Micro-invalidations” as it’s labeled – the act of dismissing what is actually experienced by the minority individual.  “Oh, you’re too sensitive” or “That’s not what I meant” comments are rarely helpful, and often and deliberately sidesteps the uncomfortable discussion.

(3) Exclusion – Minority librarians also have vulnerabilities when it comes to collaboration.   Rhonda Fowler laments how in her twenty-five-year career as an academic librarian only one non-minority librarian approached her for collaboration on scholarship.   This experience of exclusion is well-documented in academic research, and discrimination has revealed that members of different social groups tend to mostly collaborate with in-group members which diminish the diversity of social networks.

Maya Angelou's quote "When you know better, you do better" is so apt in our times.   I'm afraid there are no easy answers (or any at all) to what can be done.  I don't want to navel-gaze at the problem, it's too complex to solve on paper like a mathematical formula, but I wonder if the reason why librarianship languishes in identity crises (on topics such as the MLIS degree, titles, accreditation) is really a result of this colonial framework of groupthink.   Included are some resources below that can better inform us and for further reading.


“2018 Census of Canadian Academic Librarians” by CAPAL – Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians [Link]

 “Aboriginal and Visible Minority Librarians: Oral Histories from Canada” a book edited by Maha Kumaran and Deborah Lee [Link]

 “Identifying the visible minority librarians in Canada: A national survey” by Maha Kumaran and Heather Cai [Link]

Mary Kandiuk – Librarian at York University – “Promoting Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Canadian Academic Librarians” [Link]

United States

 “Where Are All the Librarians of Colour?”  book by Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Juarez [Link]

"Asian American Librarians and Library Services" edited by Janet Clarke, Raymond Pun, and Monnee Tong [Link]

"Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: But Who Are We Leaving Behind? – In the Library with the Lead Pipe" by April Hathcock – [Link]

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Understanding the Evolution of the Academic Library Research Commons

Photo by Henry Be
I have been Research Commons Librarian for two-years now, and it's been a wonderful time learning this role and new service in an academic library.   There are only a handful of Research Commons Librarians in the world and as a new functional position that mostly specializes in supporting the research needs of graduate students, faculty, and researchers, every moment feels as if it's an evolutionary process, small steps that took leaps and bounds looking back.   One of the more interesting parts of the role is articulating the role of the Research Commons and how it fits into the existing services of the Library. “Research Commons” may mean different things to different people, but Elliot Felix has argued that if we take it as the umbrella term, we can see seven distinct roles or functions of a Research Commons:
  • Club
  • Service hub
  • Studio
  • Lab
  • Incubator
  • Connector
  • Showcase
Research Commons has even entered the moniker of public libraries as evidenced in this update in Russia.   My research over the past two years has been examining the rise of the Research Commons and its evolution on the spectrum of the 'commons'.   Is it just space or a service?   In my view, it's really a careful and thoughtful blend of the two.   Here are some Research Commons around the world.  

UBC's Research Commons

“a multidisciplinary hub supporting research endeavours, partnerships, and education. We are a community space that embraces both new and traditional exploratory scholarship and provides access to services and expertise for the advancement of research”

SFU's Research Commons

"Supports the research endeavours of the University community, with particular focus on graduate students during all stages of the research lifecycle - ideas, partners, proposal writing, research process, and publication - and provides easy access to both physical and virtual research resources."

McGill's Innovation Commons

"A technology-enhanced, collaborative space that brings together services and resources to support researchers. The Commons includes spaces, support, and equipment for integrating technology and research."

Duke University's The Edge: The Ruppert Commons for Research, Technology, and Collaboration

"The Edge extends Duke University Libraries’ mission by providing a collaborative space for interdisciplinary, data-driven, digitally reliant or team-based research."

University of Washington's Research Commons
  • A place to collaborate and connect with fellow students and faculty on research projects
  • A hub of support for graduate student research
  • A venue for workshop and presentation opportunities
UCLA's Research Commons

"The center for the Research Library's flexible, technology-enabled spaces in which students and faculty can utilize library resources, conduct research, and collaborate with one another."

The Ohio State University's Research Commons

"Leverages campus partnerships to provide support services at each stage of the research lifecycle. It enhances the Libraries’ mission by providing a hub for collaborative, interdisciplinary research that is both expertise and technology enabled."

University of Illinois’ Scholarly Commons

"Is a technology enriched space for faculty, researchers, and graduate students to pursue research and receive expert copyright, data, digital humanities, digitization, scholarly communications, and usability consultation services. Scholarly Commons services are supported by experts in the Scholarly Commons, subject specialists at the University Library, and partners throughout campus."

Chinese University of Hong Kong Research Commons

"Innovatively-designed and specifically-zoned to meet the research needs of postgraduate students, researchers and faculty."

University of Maryland’s Research Commons

"Including the GIS and Spatial Data Center and the Media Lab, it expands the boundaries of the traditional library through support in core areas such as research organization, statistical and geospatial analysis, data visualization, and media production."

University of New Brunswick’s Research Commons

"A modern, interdisciplinary, research-driven learning environment to further innovation, scholarship, and research at UNB."

New York University's Research Commons

"comprises quiet and collaborative spaces on Floor 5. The staff, technology, equipment, and furnishings you’ll find in the Research Commons ensure that users can work with maximum productivity."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

COVID-19 and the Residue It Leaves Us as a Society

COVID-19, the disease that causes a respiratory illness with flu-like symptoms, has forever changed and reshaped the way the society has comfortably settled in for the past century of the industrial and information era.    Unless if one is in a remote part of the world untied to society, everyone has been affected by the political, economic, and social consequences.

Zoom - If it weren't popular already for companies using videoconferencing for telecommuting, the Zoom app has shot up to ubiquity for most who are now working from home, with one media outlet christening it as the "darling of remote workers."   It's quickly becoming a verb for those who need to community digitally over the web and sits atop as of the most popular free apps in dozens of countries.   It speaks the future of working for those who don't need an office or an organization that doesn't necessarily need to spare physical spaces for its workforce, particularly as workers become disposable upon projects.  It's an eerie

Amazon - "Coronavirus Is Speeding Up the Amazonification of the Planet" as one article puts it, and as restaurants, bars, and local shops close down, Amazon is quickly swooping to fill the void of customers and jobs.  Amazon is taking advantage of the gap by welcoming these unemployed staffers "until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back" - which of course may take a while -- or never -- depending on the economic damage of Covid-19. The consumer shift to online retailers from physical storefronts has been happening already, and this may be the tipping point in accelerating the takeover over the retail market.   I can't blame Amazon.  I simply can purchase more items instantaneously with a click of a button and forget about it until it arrives at my front door.

Netflix - In this age of the pandemic, who isn't streaming from an online service during those quiet quarantine hours into the night?   It seems like what entertained you yesterday evening on Netflix has become watercooler talk.   Aside from its entertainment, Netflix has really driven home the ubiquity of streaming collections and digital platforms that consumers now rely on more so than ever along with broadband internet.  Of course, it's not just Netflix, but other services such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO GO, and Xfinity.   While on the one hand this divergence away from the cable networks and big Hollywood may appear to disrupt traditional media platforms, has it really changed anything? It seems that much of the same monolithic and cultural hegemony continues albeit in another technology.    The question remains, what's really changed after this is all over?

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Text Analysis: A Hermeneutical Exercise

I'll be teaching a short intro workshop on text analysis using Voyant, an open-source, web-based application.   Geoffrey Rockwell (Professor of Philosophy and Humanities Computing at the University of Alberta, Canada) and Stéfan Sinclair (Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at McGill University) developed the application to support scholarly reading and interpretation of texts or corpus, particularly by scholars in the digital humanities.   I've been reading their text, Hermeneutica: Computer-Assisted Interpretation in the Humanities, to brush up on my knowledge in the teaching of the session to get to teach Using Voyant and the NLTK for Text Analysis.

 This video is part of the #dariahTeach platform (, an open-source, community-driven platform for teaching and training materials for the digital arts and humanities.  As part of the course Introduction to Digital Humanities and the series Digital Humanities in Practice, this video discusses text visualization in Digital Humanities, emphasising that visualisation is not the end product but an intellectual process of thinking and interpreting text.

In their book in Hermeneutica, Rockwell and Sinclair suggest:
"In the slippage between our literary notion of a text and the computer's literal processing lie the disappointment and the possibility of text analysis.  Computers cannot understand a text for us.  They can, however, do things that may surprise us."