Sunday, August 29, 2021

Reviewing "Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies Through Critical Race Theory"

I’ve been working with the Visible Minority Librarians Network of Canada (ViMLoC) in creating a journal club that highlights pieces in the BIPOC/diversity LIS literature. There are some books that I hold tightly both physically and intellectually long after reading, and Knowledge Justice: Disrupting Library and Information Studies through Critical Race Theory is one of those titles that I had to read, re-read, and reference in my research. 

 Knowledge Justice features some of the strongest voices of BIPOC writers who are both academic scholars and library practitioners, composed of fourteen chapters that each draw from critical race theory (CRT) in countering foundational principles, values, and assumptions of objectivity and neutrality, long-cherished in Library and Information Science and Studies (LIS) teaching and practices. While it’s no surprise to anyone that LIS is a predominantly white profession, the systemic inequities that historically marginalized groups face are often concealed behind colour-blind policies. 

 With a focus on the counterstory, the book deconstructs the comfortable and clean history of the library and archival collections, scholarly communication, hierarchies of power, epistemic supremacy, children's librarianship, teaching and learning, digital humanities, and the education system, Knowledge Justice challenges LIS to reimagine itself by throwing off the weight and legacy of white supremacy and reaching for racial justice. They propel CRT to center stage in LIS, to push the profession to understand and reckon with how white supremacy affects practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies.  I'm deeply moved by the stories shared in this book.   They're poignant, emotional, and at times, and impassioned.   If there's a title that I would recommend for 2021: this is it.  

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

It's Time To #DecolonizeLIS

I was invited to take part in a panel as part of the Canadian Academic Research Libraries (CARL) Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion webinar series.   It was an exhilarating panel discussion and rewarded me with a lot of deep reflection over my years as a racialized librarian.   In my preparation to the talk, I had re-read Dorothy Kim's article piece, “How to DecolonizeDH: Actionable Steps for an Antifascist DH” is one of the best I’ve come across addressing the historic white supremacy in DH and what some DH scholars have proposed to initiatives and issues with openness, race, disability, LGBTQ, feminist, and other kinds of non-normative bodies in the field.    Dorothy is a professor of English, and is one of my favourite DH’ers.   In this article, she outlines a set of practical steps to #decolonizedh, to make it less white, to begin working on an antifascist DH.   I thought it would be interesting to adapt her proposal to LIS.  What if we were to integrate her ideas from one very white field to another?   How do we de-whiten LIS?   Here's what I came up with, with inspiration from Dorothy.

“If you build it, they will come” is a myth - LIS needs to be more intentional in recruiting and retaining scholars of colour and scholars working by incentivizing their presence.

LIS needs to stop being defensive about its whiteness - Instead of insisting on compiling a list of “projects” about communities of colour, LIS needs to protect those at the margins who are being attacked. It’s necessary to be proactive and digging in to help, fight back, and do the work against white supremacy.

LIS must stop ignoring critical race theory and postcolonial/ decolonial theory - LIS needs to ask how to dismantle and decolonize its standard histories, epistemologies, and methodologies. It needs to question its stance on science, which neutralizes the intersectionalities. Scholars have challenged the neutrality of ‘science’ in LIS and one even has suggested that LIS education itself has become “technocentric, male-dominated and out of touch with the needs of practitioners”.

LIS must have separate funds for inclusive projects - LIS needs to earmark separate money for projects related to and run by communities of color, graduate students, faculty and researchers of colour. It must be separate and specifically geared to expand this range of work, give credit, give funding, give resource help.

LIS must stop writing narratives that ignore other entire fields - LIS has often had difficulty defining itself, and within these identity crises, it’s had a tendency to subsume topics, methodologies and scholarship and pass them off as LIS’ interdisciplinarity.

LIS must stop excessively citing white men - It's time to stop creating conference and panel structures that replicate white genealogies.  From its inception, LIS has glorified the likes of Melvil Dewey, Eugene Garfield, John Cotton Dana.

LIS must decolonize its conferences and panels - LIS must decolonize its biggest conferences in the field and start to apportion out panels and presence by a different standard of inclusiveness. Organizing committees must find participants and panelists that represent the larger populations of their worlds.

LIS methods must not be only about tools - LIS classes must stop being just about technology. They must include a balance of discussing critical issues like race, gender, disability, multimodality, sexuality, etc.

LIS must fund developing scholars of colour - LIS training needs to directly give scholarships and particularly try to assemble groups to help potential scholars of colour to learn new skills but also these groups can allow people to talk to each other about some of the issues they see at stake and potentially find other collaborators.

LIS and the Rooney Rule - First started in the NFL as a requirement that at least 1 minority must be interviewed for every senior position. Some companies have begun using this hiring rubric, but LIS needs to institute the Rooney Rule for every position, every major grant, every major conference keynote and panel.    Some disciplines, such as Communications and Sociology, is currently tackling this problem of perpetuating citational segregation and the ghettoization of research.   LIS must address this as well.


Monday, June 07, 2021

Outreach and Programming: A Three-Pronged Model to Community Engagement

There's much in the research literature about community engagement and outreach for libraries, some of it interesting case studies of partnerships, others are interesting programming stories with some tips and tricks for best practices.   But one of the more interesting pieces that I came across recently is from the Oakland University Beaumont School of Medicine which reviewed the last seven years documents its outreach program's initiatives targeting both members of the university as well as the local community.  What's interesting is the thoughtful approach by its library in the form of a three-pronged outreach model that it suggests could be adopted by other libraries.   The authors of Community Engagement at an Emerging AcademicMedical Library: A Three-Pronged Outreach Model share a very useful and practical three model:

Integrate - Library services and information resources are shared between existing institutional activities.  

Partner - Between relevant stakeholders and groups to co-develop and host outreach activities.  

Create - These are library-driven initiatives, where the library is the primary driver of an outreach project or activity.  This puts the greatest strains on library time, staff, and resources but provides the library with the greatest degree of control and the least difficulty with issues such as coordinating schedules.  


But as good as models can be, the authors suggest two areas of best practice that should be considered when developing a community engagement plan, which I find to be truly appreciate and can find useful for my own work in this area:

Assessment - The methods and quality of assessment used by libraries in outreach activities vary drastically.   While metrics could include things such as participant attendance, money raised, student application of information literacy skills, how does one measure success in engagement?  

Long-term planning - Succession planning is difficult with staffing and leadership changes.  While the literature points to long-term goals early, initiatives do sometimes just naturally fade away.  

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Making Non-Western Knowledge Digitally Accessible through Community Engagement


Karim Tharani's Shifting Established Mindsets and Praxis in Libraries: Five Insights for Making Non-Western Knowledge Digitally Accessible through Community Engagement in the Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship is an interesting piece of scholarship about library engagement.   Tharani is the IT Librarian at the University of Saskatchewan who helped develop the Ginan Central digital collection.   As an initiative to digitally curate an oral tradition, the project shows how librarians can improve discoverability of non-Western knowledge materials in libraries.  In the context of the Ismaili Muslim community, the term ginan is used for the community’s collection of oral tradition of gnostic and devotional hymns.
Canada, as in most Western societies, the primary medium to codify knowledge continues to be written text, whether in print or electronic format.  Consequently, bibliographic standards and practices in academic libraries have evolved to be very efficient in managing textual knowledge materials and making them accessible.  This specialized operational efficiency, however, comes at the cost of marginalizing non-textual, and by extension non-Western, knowledge carriers, including oral traditions.  
1. Value Relationships Over Tasks - Establishing trust with community elders, leaders, and youth is vital in uncovering and understanding the needs and challenges of the community.   As this may be counter to the efficient workflows and tasks of academic institutions used to one-off projects that have predetermined timelines, librarians need to sustain relationships that are forged as part of these projects.

2.  Accept Community Engagement as a Continuum - Communities are like families and consists of individuals with different personalities, experiences, and perspectives.  Though a community may share a common history, their opinions, preferences, decisions, are not monolithic.   Librarians need to be appreciative and sensitive to these varying sentiments in order to be productive and successful in their work with communities.  

3.  Learn to Appreciate Rather than Appropriate Materials - The history of colonization is embedded in appropriation, including the practice of physically relocating materials for processing which can be a culturally traumatic process.   Librarians need to demonstrate an appreciative mindset by exercising flexibility in processing community collections, which again counters a typical operational workflow of libraries in which materials are selected, acquired, and described before being made available through discovery systems and catalogues.    For true collaboration to happen, librarians need to shift their mindset from physically gathering collections in libraries to one that prioritizes work to happen off-campus locations in the community.  

4.  Consider Oral Sources to Be As Important as Textual Ones - Libraries are used to working with tangible, text-based knowledge carriers grounded in physical convenience that is contrary to the value of orality of knowledge based on traditions that are alive and current.   Librarians need to shift their thinking that Indigenous knowledge as 'static' to one that is as continuing.  

5.  Accept Community Materials as Credible Knowledge Resources -  As Western scholarship tends to reduce oral traditions to textual renditions for research, such as prioritizing ancient manuscripts, this questionable practice is inconsistent with how communities prefer to render oral traditions to text and other media to complement rather than replace their traditional ways of transmitting oral knowledge.  Librarians need to be cognizant and respectful of these traditions when working with their communities and integrating these communal materials into scholarly discourses.

I value Karim Tharani's contribution to this area of scholarship and appreciate the best practices he's laid out when working with communities.  As I move into the deep and enriching work of library engagement with our diverse communities in British Columbia and Canada, this will be a strong reminder of the continuing evolution of programs and services and how they fit in the paradigm of community engagement.   "Outreach" is an outdated terminology that activates and transmits knowledge in a very surface-level contact with a community, community engagement continues to evolve not as a   'model' so much as by a framework of guiding principles, strategies, and approaches, one based on principles that respect the right of all community members to be informed, consulted, involved and empowered.   Things move quickly; certainly, my research and scholarship in this area has changed so much that many of my earlier thoughts as a librarian need to be updated.


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Broken Publishing Gone Wild - Time for a Change

The recent shock on Wall Street amateur investors used Reddit to challenge the investment establishment, stocks in GameStop rose suddenly from about $18 dollars a share to $347 dollars within hours.   When the dust finally settles, scores of business and history books will emerge about the saga.  GameStop will forever be remembered as a 'meme stock,' a reminder that the power of social media can challenge big money corporations.  While some deny it is nothing more than a symptom of the 'infodemic' of conspiracy theories and false claims, I instead argue that this is an evolution of the deep distrust of 'elitist' capitalism.   The argument has been that these too-big-to-fail institutions have taken advantage of investors, often bilking them of fees and talking down to the so-called 'uneducated' everyday investor while reaping profits at their expense.   The GameStop incident is the 'wisdom of the crowds', and I think the financial industry is undergoing a tectonic shift, and long before GameStop happened, discount brokerages have already given autonomy to individual retail investors.    But it's not the only industry that is about to be shaken.

Currently, the current academic publishing industry is dominated by monopolies.  Academic libraries have cut subscriptions over the past two decades with journals often consuming sometimes more than half of their budgets.  While other industries, such as the news, tend to pay their staff and writers for the content they sell, academic publishers don't even need to do that and, instead, getting their articles, their peer reviewing, and even much of their editing for free.  Something doesn't quite look right with this model.  Content funded by the government and student tuition goes directly to these publishers while universities are locked into buying their products. Academic journals are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their research areas. 

Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent because different journals can't publish the same material. In many cases, the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all.   They refer to this as journal bundling, and no one really knows who is paying what.  The monopoly of for-profit publishers Routledge, Elsevier, Springer, Elsevier, Emerald, Sage, and Wiley-Blackwell have a dominant grip on even the open-access market, as Shaun Khoo's piece in Liber Quarterly argues that article processing charges (APC) have opened up huge opportunities for big publishers by "going gold OA" to grow their revenue base even more.    This is unsustainable, but faculty and researchers are complicit as they need the publishing houses to secure tenure and promotion.   Academic libraries are on their own for the most part to resolving this, and it's happening one way or another.    The publishers know timing is running out, but they're prolonging the inevitable fall of this vicious cycle as long as possible.  

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Critical Race Theory and Academic Libraries - Opening the Pandora's Box of Bureaucracy


Kudos to the Canadian Journal of Academic Libraries for its most recent issue Special Focus on Academic Libraries and the Irrational (Volume 6, 2020) -- it's in my view a top journal in LIS.   This article is one of the best I've come across about critical race theory (CRT) in regard to academic libraries.  Do you find these points chillingly on par at your bureaucratic institution?  Let me know if this resonates with you.  

Here are some highlights:
  • "when it comes to many common practices in academia such as meetings and structured group work . . . these meetings are “ritual performances in which explicit rules are enacted through tacit knowledge . . . and formal transparency is intertwined with relational and informational withholding” [and] is applicable to academic libraries where meetings manifest as part of what [is] a culture of conformance . . ."
  • "Although supposedly meetings are used to ensure that “all voices are heard,” they are often the venues in which conformance is visibly displayed through the tracking of performance targets and regular progress reports."
  • "Strategic decisions are already made by administrators, but absurdly (or perversely), middle managers are forced to convene working groups and committees to give the appearance of democratic decision-making, which can be demoralizing for all actors involved in the process. Library administrators and/or managers promise that if library workers will just participate in these meetings, then the library mission will be accomplished, but often the participation in bureaucracy becomes the product itself and the mission is never fulfilled."
  • "adoption of bureaucratic practices is supposed to be a way towards equity and efficiency, it is in fact a tool to maintain power structures . . . Sometimes, these groups are formed to hide fait accompli, top-down decisions under the guise of group decisionmaking and stakeholder consultation "
  • "bureaucracy within academic libraries functions to provide the appearance of work being accomplished while simultaneously keeping library workers occupied, without enabling the actual accomplishment of work that might upset existing and historically oppressive power structures."
  • "In academic libraries, Eurocentric collegial and teaching practices (e.g., using Robert’s rules in meetings, centering quantitative assessment practices) sustain norms of assumed neutrality, objectivity, and meritocracy, while simultaneously delegitimizing the epistemologies and cultural capital of communities of colour"
  • “Bureaucracy has invented the concept of the ‘official secret’ which means the information can be gathered and exact commands transmitted in a secretive way . . . a way of gatekeeping, where information is used to dominate marginalized groups. . .”
  • "Historically, LIS co-opted technical and managerial language to overemphasize pragmatic administrative concerns while failing to cast a critical eye on how these bureaucratic systems marginalize a good number of library workers . . . BIPOC lack the agency to reject roles or responsibilities that are considered absurd"
  • "Libraries maintain an outward appearance of “inherent goodness” and egalitarianism . . . while enacting bureaucratic processes that undermine such aims. "
  • "BIPOC must absorb meeting expectations, figure out to whom one should direct questions or delegate tasks, and also adopt white academic jargon"
  • "the professional performance of BIPOC vis-à-vis visual representation and intellectual contributions to the group are informed by and judged against white norms . . . performing whiteness requires invested time and wealth; it’s an involved enterprise ranging from hair styling to attire to eliminating accents, and so on, that conceals marginalized librarians’ authentic selves"
  • "To survive and thrive in librarianship, BIPOC must remove, or at the very least downplay, all markers of intersectional identities in order to embrace a paradigm of whiteness. These actions are part of what Kaetrena Davis Kendrick (2018) terms deauthentication, where BIPOC preempt microaggressions in order to navigate and be accepted into primarily white workplaces."
  • "racial microaggressions are acts of everyday, subtle racism (e.g., questioning phenotype and/or immigration status) that serve to remind BIPOC of their marginalized status in a society where whiteness is the default."
  • "microaggressions, CRT argues, repudiates the belief that “racism only manifests in egregious and blatant acts of exclusion . . . [rather it] is instead shrouded in discourses of merit, fairness, and personal responsibility”
  • "This toll is exacerbated when BIPOC workers attempt to identify and name absurd practices within the white supremacist culture that they are expected to navigate, and voicing these concerns out loud may not be in their best interests. Indeed, BIPOC may be perceived as unprofessional and ignorant if they state that something is absurd"
  • "BIPOC risk being cast aside, picked on, terminated, and even chastised publicly and on a wide scale when directly challenging administration or the dominant culture. They are meant to look down or away."
  • "the most ‘rational’ type of domination is found in the bureaucracy simply because it aims to do nothing more than calculate the most precise and efficient means for the resolution of problems by ordering them under universal and abstract regulations.”


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Congratulations on 25 Years, Ricepaper!

It's been a delight as the Executive Editor of Ricepaper Magazine for the past five years and before I knew it, the magazine celebrated its twenty-fifth year anniversary.  In 2016, Ricepaper ceased its print-run and transitioned as a digital webzine.    It is a constant juggling act for a non-profit to balance the costs of printing, staff, rent, distribution, and writers’ fees, so Ricepaper’s decision to go digital was years in the making already considering most print-based publications have experienced cut in arts funding.  With the eventual shortfall of available funding, it was not possible for us to continue publishing in print.  Twenty years as a print magazine is an eternity in the publishing world. Ultimately, we wanted to move to the new online magazine to continue publishing original fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry with a particular focus on Asian Canadian writers.   There simply is no alternative in Canada at the time for publications that promoted works by writers of Asian heritage in Canada.   We felt that we didn’t need a print magazine to still accomplish our mandate.   So that’s why we decided to continue.

The move away from the previous print model challenged us and forced us to reconsider how we published our content.  Transitioning to a digital format actually afforded Ricepaper new opportunities with using technology such as podcasting, videos, and social media to enhance the magazine’s artistic content. In fact, the digital format has become quite liberating in some ways as Ricepaper is not restricted to a number of pages.   In the past, we had to turn away quality writing because we simply could not fit them all into one issue.  Strong submissions were either turned away or put away in the slush pile and since Ricepaper is published quarterly, there’s only so much content that we could accept.  In an online environment, however, we publish on merit and not on page limitations. Certainly, there’s nothing like the prestige of having one’s magazine on stands in bookstores and retail stores.  Print magazines carry a certain status in the publishing world and it is difficult to not have that anymore.   

After all, a print magazine or book is an ephemeral piece of art.  On the other hand, Ricepaper printed only a few thousand issues a year.   When those magazines are unsold in stores, they are sent back to us (at a cost, of course) and we need to buy extra storage space to hold them.  All of these back issues were collecting dust for years.    Interestingly, since the digital transition we’ve been able to include some of the best writing from our webzine into a print anthology so that instead of a quarterly cycle, we’ve been able to produce these print books that we can get into the hands of readers.  We have produced two anthologies so far and currently working on our third.   So producing a compilation of the best writing from the digital magazine has been able to give us the best of both worlds. We already see a number of established anthologies (and even authors) use this format in publishing their online content into print anthologies, so there’s a precedent to work with here.   

While we did have the website and social media, we were foremost concerned and focused on the print production side and thus never really explored what new technologies we could use and integrate with the print content.  But with the webzine, we not only continued our focus of publishing Asian Canadian writers and artists, but we also shared more content through podcasting, YouTube videos, and social media.   We found it was more effective to have our readership “carrying” the magazine’s content with them on their phone, tablet, and other such handheld devices.

The transition to digital-only was probably more difficult psychologically than it was actually doing it as the workflow had not changed very much after the transition since we all worked on the magazine remotely from home and most of our workflow was already done digitally.  We still meet in person in person at the office, but more for fellowship and team-building than actually producing the magazine.   In fact, without the stress of layout, printing, and distribution deadlines, we focused solely on providing great writing and engaging our audiences virtually and physically.   In fact, we have even participated in organizing a literary festival called LiterASIAN – the only Asian Canadian writers festival in Canada.

In comparison to many literary journals, the subscription base of Ricepaper was not very large, and part of this is simply the nature of our audiences and our mandate.  With such a niche, our readership would never be too high, though it is well-known in the literary and academic scholars, as it's really one of a kind in Canada (and by extension, the world).   By the time we ended our print version, we had a very loyal and dedicated few hundred print subscribers which included educational institutions and libraries. 

With digital, however, enabled us to reach a more global audience -- one that we probably could not have done with the print edition.   Almost immediately, we began receiving submissions from writers from other parts of the world and this was indicative of the changes we made.  In the end, our goal is still the spotlight on Asian Canadian arts and culture, so whether it’s in print or in digital, we want to ensure it continues and flourishes.   If we are reaching beyond Canada, then it’s a real bonus.   With our web analytics, we know exactly how many readers we have, how long they stay on our site, and especially which pieces are accessed the most.   Compared to the print magazine, this was simply impossible.

The publishing industry is encountering transformative forces unseen since the Gutenberg press and this is due to the Internet.   Advertising and subscriptions have always been central to the revenue of magazines and literary journals and with the Internet, websites have replaced print as the primary provider of advertising spaces and audiences. But we need to know that grant funding is often the third source so when one of those is gone, then it’s extremely difficult for the operations to continue.   Non-profit arts and literary magazines simply cannot compete with these transformative forces without adequate government funding. Look at trade magazines. Even without government support, stalwarts like Reader’s Digest, Gourmet, PC Magazine, Men’s GQ, and Canadian Business Magazine have ceased their publishing in print.   These were not government-funded publications, and in their heyday were model operations in their own industries.   

My work as an academic librarian has informed my thinking as well.   While literary journals and magazines are facing immense challenges, the same tectonic shift is happening with academic journals -- just look at the many that have struggled and folded.  Not only are academic libraries increasingly shifting their subscriptions increasingly to digital, but most look to free open access journals as the alternative route to paid subscriptions.   The paid model in print media is feeling the squeeze. The role of the publisher has fundamentally shifted, and this has been hastened in the last ten years by the speed of content delivery platforms from the web.  In academic publishing, the Big Four publishers dominate the industry -- Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Informa -- while in trade publishing the "Big 5" of Penguin Random House, Hachette Livre, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, and Simon & Schuster - monopolize the industry.   Newspapers are trending to consolidation, too.  Where does the world of magazines fit?   Is it too far-fetched?   For the time being, Ricepaper is content to continue humming along.  Here's to the next 25 years.