I recently presented at the Saskatchewan Libraries Association (SLA) 2019 with my colleagues Maha Kumaran and Jian Wang. It was a self-reflective exercise, to distill a decade's worth of professional work as an academic librarian. Perhaps Miu Chung Yan, a social work scholar puts it best when he asserts that a profession such as social work has its roots deeply embedded in colonialist origins, with a history steeped in British methodologies and history. Librarianship offers similar comparisons as it is deeply influenced by British and Anglo-American thinkers and practitioners. As far back as 1946, Sidney Ditzion had already proposed that since America drew much of its cultural influence from the European continent, it is not surprising that librarianship should be one of them. To understand the bridge between librarianship and cultural diversity, one also needs to understand that the phenomenon is intrinsically tied to society as much as the profession. ALA leaders constituted an elite corps of Western Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) – mostly male, middle-class professionals immersed in the disciplinary and literary canons of the dominant culture and had shared a common ideology. However, when a profession lacks diversity, it, unfortunately, loses relevance for many of its users. Libraries are a microcosm of society, and if libraries are not a reflection of our society, then there is a real cause for concern.
As a librarian earning his stripes in a profession steeped in tradition and unwritten rules, it feels overwhelming at times. But I survived, and although still on my journey as a visible minority librarian, I have found some strategies that have worked for me in coping and performing at a high level as a professional librarian. Not only is being connected to fellow colleagues critical, but one must have commitment to his own professional and personal development at all times. Keeping abreast of technical knowledge and other developments in the field of librarianship is important, but equally vital is the soft skills such as interpersonal relations, confidence, and a positive mindset. As the oft-quoted screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg puts it, “It doesn't matter if you're the smartest person in the room: If you're not someone who people want to be around, you won't get far.”I've written and published some of these strategies in Aboriginal and Visible Minority Librarians: Oral Histories From Canada, and shared some of these thoughts and reflections at SLA 2019. I've been a part of VIMLOC for a number of years now, and I'm encouraged and proud to see how far it's come, but also how much more it needs to go to truly make an impact in Canadian libraries (and beyond). Is it enough? What do we need more to help us do more? I encourage us all as librarians to think more broadly about our place in not only the profession but also in society: how we do help shape the future that is so highly influenced from the past? How do we instill change, even though we are powerless in our own ways? I challenge each and every one of you to start making a positive contribution by changing our perceptions of the status quo.