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.  

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."  

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Using Palladio and Gephi as Data Visualization Tools

Much has been published about data visualization tools.  Miriam Posner has written in this area which I often use as a reference.   Some have even commented on the variations and differences of Gephi and Palladio

Over the last year, I've been using Palladio to examine datasets of the Chinese headtax project, which makes it easy to create bivariate network graphs to illustrate relationships between two dimensions. By default, Palladio creates a force-directed layout, which is different from Gephi.   Palladio, at the same time, is only limited to this layout. The platform has no way of doing computational or algorithmic analysis of your graphs; you will need a more powerful program like Gephi to do that work.  The most powerful method for creating networks come from programming languages such as R, Python, and Javascript. These languages allow you to control various algorithmic and aesthetic aspects of network visualizations.  Any dimension of the data can be used as the source and target of a graph.

Regardless, I still find that knowing a bit of each of the data visualization tools would be helpful for any researcher, in any phase of their research process and lifecycle.   The following video tutorials is what helps me keep myself informed about not only how to use the tools, but also weighing the strengths and weaknesses of a particular approach to playing around with the data.  I'd be interested in hearing how you approach your data.  How do you learn the tools of your trade and then decide which would be the best for your own analyses? 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Was Shakespeare Really Shakespeare? "Shakespeare has now fully entered the era of Big Data."

Is Shakespeare really Shakespeare?  This is a question I pose whenever I'm asked about what is digital humanities.  In Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, two chapters are devoted to application of stylometry to Shakespeare's works and goes into much detail.   "Authorship and the evidence of stylometrics" by MacDonald Jackson and "What does textual evidence reveal about the author?" by James Mardock and Eric Rasmussen discuss an interesting aspect of these studies is that computer models using different algorithms come to similar conclusions as scholars from the "analog" era.

In 2013, The New Oxford Shakespeare made ripples in the literary world credited Christopher Marlowe as a co-author of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI,” Parts 1, 2, and 3.  Now, I've along with many throughout our literary studies have been told that there's an inevitable Marlowe-Shakespeare connection, but it isn't until more recently that scholars using distant reading techniques have used computer-aided analysis of linguistic patterns across databases to further this argument, and as Gary Taylor proposes that "Shakespeare has now fully entered the era of Big Data."   Daniel Pellock-Pelzner points out that writing a play in the sixteenth century was a bit like writing a screenplay today, with many hands revising a company’s product.   The difference is that scholars from the New Oxford Shakespeare reduces the long-held hypothesis since the Victorian era that algorithms can truly tease out the work of individual hands. 

I'm really fascinated to continue exploring this facet of literary studies, and I'm just at the beginning of my own journey.  I'm currently working on data in the sense of using R programming (which is also used in stylometry) to study the early Chinese migrants coming to Canada, and studying the data to discern patterns of migration and kinship networks.   Certainly, dipping into the literary and the historical analysis is very much in the spirit of DH. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mining Register of Headtax Records using R and Palladio

In 2009, I began working with researchers and librarians UBC Library and SFU Library on a project that sought to collect and digitize materials from Chinese Canadian organizations across Canada.   That project ended in 2012 when funding from the federal government was completed.   Recently, Sarah Zhang and I began examining the 97,123 migrants who arrived in Canada between 1886 to 1949 that was painstakingly transformed to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet but has been largely untouched for the most part by researchers other than a few research papers.

Between 1885 and 1923, the Canadian government imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants entering Canada in order to restrict immigration. While a print register was created to keep track of the influx of migrants, these detailed recordings have actually provided researchers and historians with years of demographic information about the immigrants and have become a rich source of data for researchers. Thanks to two scholars, Peter Ward and Henry Yu, and their teams at the History Department of the University of British Columbia, the Register of Chinese Immigrants to Canada (1886-1949) has been transformed to a digital spreadsheet, openly accessible from UBC Open Collection, and a searchable database accessible from Library and Archives Canada.

The main challenge of this headtax project from its inception is that as an impressively large-scale dataset, the records are for the most part incoherent as they show idiosyncratic dialects of the immigrants which result in variations of place names and titles. The inconsistencies in place names, unfortunately, lead to difficulties for anyone who wishes to exercise any analysis associated with the immigrants’ origins. In other words, while there is a treasure trove of data to use, it may be unusable for most unless there can be data manipulation that can unlock a better understanding of the missing gaps.  In other words, not much sense could be made of the data even though it was readily available.

To address these inconsistencies, in 2008 Eleanor Yuen from the UBC Asian Library initiated a project to normalize various transliterations of the immigrants’ origins and had laid the groundwork for more in-depth research for future researchers. The immigrants’ origins are represented at two hierarchical levels: county and villages/towns; there are eight counties and numerous villages in the registry. Of the eight counties, the names of villages/towns in three counties have been mapped: Sun Woy (now knownas Xinhui), Zhongshan, and Taishan. Although just a snippet of the records, this normalized data offers a true glimpse into the full impact of what is available in the research.

Since the completion of the digitization work, scholarship has drawn on the digital records from the project, manifesting differing methods and research findings. W. Peter Ward’s publication in 2013focused on the changes on the wellbeing of Chinese headtax immigrants, particularly analyzing the immigrants’ stature, a statistical indicator for wellbeing. He contrasted mean height by age of different age cohorts (one decade apart), and found a rising trend in stature over time: “a slow but significant increase in stature within the immigrant population from the middle of the 19th century to the early years of the Sino-Japanese War."  This increase in height, Ward speculated, can be attributed to the migration process itself.

In terms of methodology, Sarah and I felt that the previous studies discussed above haven’t yet demonstrated the potential of a great variety of computational tools, such as R, a statistical computational language, and Palladio, a network analysis tool developed by the Humanities + Design Lab at Stanford University.   We decided to continue with the research by building some datasets and opening up our discoveries in the Open Science Framework with intentions that our study can demonstrate and share the untapped potential of the head tax data while also providing testimony for new modes that librarians help shape digital scholarship and create promising new research questions for researchers.   Stay tuned for more!  In the meantime, please download the data and try it out!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Our Canadian Libraries - Reflections From The Last Decade

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.