Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Dreaded Golden Handcuffs of Academia

“Not All Staying is the Same: Unpacking Retention and Turnover in Academic Libraries” by Samantha Guss, Sojourna Cunningham and Jennifer Stout is a fascinating piece that explores some of what the golden handcuff by delving into the intricate dynamics of why academic librarians choose to stay in their positions despite being dissatisfied or unhappy.

The authors extend beyond the conventional exploration of reasons for job satisfaction and fulfillment, dissecting the complexities of what drives individuals to remain in roles where their needs are not met or where they experience toxicity or discontent.

Part of the conundrum is that the academic librarian job market is challenging to navigate, characterized by job scarcity and fierce competition for positions. Additionally, geographical constraints and familial responsibilities often limit the mobility of librarians, making it difficult to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Career advancement within the academic library sphere may necessitate relocating or changing organizations, posing further challenges, especially for dual-career couples.

The concept of "job lock" highlights how employees often feel constrained to remain in their current roles due to various factors, including non-portable benefits, limited job availability, and emotional connections to their workplace and colleagues. Vocational awe and passion for the profession also contribute to librarians' reluctance to leave, despite facing exploitation or dissatisfaction.

Often, the triggers that prompt librarians to consider leaving their jobs come down to toxic work environments, bullying, and low morale. Toxic leadership and organizational culture are identified as significant factors driving turnover in academic libraries. While many studies focus on reasons for leaving, this research investigates the transition from voluntary to involuntary staying, where librarians remain in their roles despite experiencing discontent or toxicity.

Through qualitative interviews with academic librarians, the authors uncover the journey from voluntary to involuntary staying, shedding light on the coping mechanisms employed by individuals to navigate challenging work environments. Functional coping strategies, such as seeking validation and setting boundaries, are contrasted with dysfunctional strategies, including disengagement and resentment. The nuanced interplay between individual and organizational perspectives on coping mechanisms is explored, emphasizing the complex nature of retention and turnover in academic libraries.

This piece provides valuable insights into the factors influencing academic librarians' decisions to stay in their positions, despite facing challenges or dissatisfaction. This piece certainly resonates with me. An academic librarian colleague once raised his wrists showing his imaginary shackles and said he was wearing the golden handcuffs, explaining the discord of the job but too comfortable with the stability to quit their tenured position. As I grapple with how I am doing in my own career, I don’t see the shackles as heavy anymore. I enjoy the work tremendously, and I’ve learned to grow with the position and the institution. Things change all the time, and if we don’t change as well, we stay stagnant and hence the “job lock” becomes more unbearable.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

In Search for an Opaque Past

As I search for my family’s past, I've run into many hurdles.  Genealogy is difficult work, particularly for racialized and historically marginalized people. There is an array of special identity documents – called C.I. certificates – that were issued by the Canadian Government exclusively to its Chinese residents. Files were kept of foreign-born Chinese in Vancouver, Victoria and Ottawa. These pieces of paper that were intended to control, contain, monitor and even intimidate this one community continue to be mysteriously hard to access.

Ironically, the very documents that were used to control was somehow forgotten, closed to the descendents who looked for them. About a decade or more ago, I started to research my great-grandfather and his brothers at Vancouver Public Library which has microfiche of C.I.9 records.

A Chinese Immigration Certificate no. 9 (C.I.9) was a Canadian reentry permit for Chinese immigrants, issued between 1910 and 1953. Every C.I.9 had to be returned when the traveler arrived back in Canada. Héritage Canadiana has released digitized records of nearly 5700 C.I.9 certificates from the Port of Vancouver (1928-1930).

These records show Chinese immigrants' travels and provide biographical details like names, occupations, physical descriptions, and departure/return dates. The release sheds light on migration patterns amidst immigration laws and political changes. The documents also offer insights into the photographers and references involved in the application process, reflecting the social dynamics of the time.

But searching for my great-grandfather’s C.I.9 was no easy task. The scholar Lily Cho has argued that while C.I.9 certificates served as passports for noncitizens in Canada, they also highlighted the ambiguity of granting a citizenship right to noncitizens. Despite their detailed records, the system often failed to accurately identify migrants. The certificates, though meticulously archived, revealed the challenges of accessing historical information due to issues like name Anglicization and dialect differences. If it weren’t for knowing the nuances of his village, I would likely never have found his record as his anglicized surname is “Choo” which is different from his gravestone recorded as “Chow.”

The system's reliance on human agents and photographic technology led to vulnerabilities and errors. Agre's concept of "grammars of action" elucidates how systems like the C.I.9 relied on standardized procedures for identification. While the C.I.9s captured vast amounts of information, the distinction between memory and storage underscores their limitations in processing and effectively utilizing this data. Overall, the C.I.9 system exemplifies the complexities and failures of mass information capture in immigration control.