Monday, January 31, 2022

"The Art of Fairness" - Simple, Fair Decency Should Rule the Workplace

A wise colleague once reminded me that as a manager, you inevitably need to sacrifice ideals in order to survive the bureaucracy. Perhaps that’s why many potential leaders prefer to stay as practitioners and avoid the spotlight of leadership. Those who don’t know their limits run into what Laurence Peter dubs, the “Peter Principle” – you are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent. And that’s where these managers stop becoming leaders and turn into paper pushers.  When threatened by insecurity, these individuals get in trouble and fuel toxic cultures. In this environment, organizations try to fix their problems by over-policing processes and doubling down on flawed policies.  

The Art of Fairness: The Power of Decency in a World Turned Mean is a collection of case studies that captivated me.  A page-turner of a book that made me keep coming back throughout a day to read, I took notes throughout as I realized how useful these anecdotes can apply for any individual or organization.  Through a collection of engaging stories of leaders who excelled despite challenging conditions, there were certain traits they all had.
  • Listeners - They listen without ego; and listen without fixation
  • Givers - Give, but audit; and give, by letting others give
  • Defenders - Defend, by not overdefending; and defend, by opening gateways.
David Bodanis believes that you succeed at work without being a manipulative tyrant or a selfless saint. It’s a continuum, and finding the sweet spot is key. I’ve worked in a number of library publishing, and non-profit companies, and I have seen those who thrive through using Machievellian tactics yet also those who succeed just fine through honesty and integrity.

The book delves into an interesting case study between Josef Goebbels and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Both dealt with their physical disabilities and tragedies very differently, leading to very different paths of leadership and their respective countries during the War.  Both faced crossroads when they hit low points in their lives, and both channeled their lifelong insecurity into willpower that propelled them into positions of power when an opportunity came calling.   While one chose the path of destruction and failed to listen to everyone who he deemed as inferior, the other chose the road of construction, listening, giving, and defending by being more inclusive and providing equitable conditions to the poor that exceeded his predecessors.   When managers rise into positions of power, they inevitably counter their crossroads.   How they view their positions in the hierarchy determines the legacy they leave their organizations.  

Managers during Covid have encountered difficulties in navigating authority during Covid times.  Those who lead by listening with empathy; giving the flexibility for hybrid work, and defending their staff's preferences while still balancing the needs of the organization.   No one is born better or worse than others, but I truly how one treats others will be rewarded multifold.  “Simple, fair decency” always prevails, Bodanis suggests.  

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Myth of Equity? A Book Review and a Further Discussion of the "Dirty Dozen"

The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities
is an important title about EDI in Canadian higher education. As an academic librarian, I see firsthand the challenges of racialized, Indigenous, and female colleagues struggle in the wastewater of discrimination and prejudice, often implicitly intended, but always explicitly impactful. The monograph has a strong assortment of scholarship, each chapter covering a critical area of EDI. One of the chapters that particularly speaks to me is the “A Dirty Dozen: Unconscious Race and Gender Biases in the Academy,” where the authors Smith, Gamarro, and Toor, list twelve forces of biases that are socialized and internalized forms of racism and sexism that underpin hidden race and gender social hierarchies in academia.  I've decided that the "dirty dozen" is a good place to start:

Biases before graduate school - It happens even before graduate admissions as racial and gender biases influence how important “informal pathways” are paved. As prospective faculty are gatekeepers to who is accepted or not, racialized minority and women applicants often received less favourable and frequent responses compared to White male students.

Biases in Letters of References - Race and gender stereotypes make their way into one of the most important documents of academics. Unconscious bias seeps its way into letters with negative and biased confidential references and anonymous reviews, undermining chances of success for candidates.

Biases about who gets to speak in classrooms - Unconscious biases are apparent in who speaks in the academy, in the classroom, at conferences, and at university decision-making. Significant research into race and gender biases finds evidence that the dynamic of “who speaks” is shaped by compositional diversity of both professors and students in the classroom.

Biases about who speaks at conferences - In numerous studies, it is primarily White men that are speaking while women faculty and students, listening; and in fact, men dominate 75% of conversations during conference gatherings. Conferences have marked contrast to racial/ethnic and gender homogeneity among speakers, resulting in the same social reproduction in which knowledge and its dissemination are programmed as almost exclusively male and White.

Biases in citation counts - The gender, racial, and regional biases that influence citations reinforce those biases into academic hierarchies. Studies indicate the tendency of male scholars to self-cite and cite primarily male scholars, while female scholars reproduce this citation bias citing male scholars and not their previous work, maintaining authoritative conceptions of canon, disciplines, and even the academy itself.

Biases in academic networks and social networks - As they are important for personal, professional, sponsorship, and mentorship, a lack of access to elite networks results in “old boys’ networks,” primarily White and male-dominated, fortifies the marginalization and invisibility, and exclusion racialized and women in many disciplines.

Biases in curriculum - As much of the modern disciplinary curriculum is White, Eurocentric, and colonial that continue to reflect the historical biases against women, Indigenous, and racialized scholars, scholarship from non-Western countries, diverse histories and intellectual heritages will continue to be invisible.

Affinity Bias - Unconscious biases often result in preferential hiring, with the replication by selecting new hires with similar backgrounds and demographic characteristics. “Cultural Cloning'' happens most often where there is a desire for sameness rather than diversity. As gender, race, age, and class status all matter so much, not all participants are ranked equitably; implicit bias and discrimination ultimately influence who gets hired. This propagation of homogeneity through the hiring process unfortunately prioritizes masculinity, whiteness, and European-ness.

Biases of Names and Accents - Unconscious bias towards unfamiliar names based on gender, place of origin, religion, or education from non-Western institutions, often result in discrimination. Racialized minorities sometimes need to adopt anglicized names when it could mean the difference between getting an interview or not. Accent bias has a significant impact on not only hiring, but also teaching evaluations, tenure and promotion assessments as students and professors alike have greater affinity for accents similar to their own. Studies reveal that prejudice against accented English can predetermine language proficiency.

Biases in Teaching Evaluations - Women and racialized instructors tend to receive lower teaching evaluations when compared to White men. This bias is even more apparent when studies show that White males receive higher evaluations even in online courses(!) What’s disturbing is racialized minorities receive negative feedback the most if they are teaching course content that students perceive as incongruent with their identity, such as in the humanities, while female instructors in the sciences and business, face the similarly biased negative evaluations.

Biases in Service work - Racialized, particularly racialized women, play a disproportionate role in service work, particularly mentoring racialized students. Though service is a part of promotion and tenure, it's often devalued and unrecognized. Plagued by this glass ceiling, these racialized colleagues are often stalled at the associate professor rank at their universities.

Biases in Leadership - Mid-level and senior leadership roles at universities are exclusively White and male; women and racialized scholars are mostly excluded from leadership positions. When women leaders do get hired, they are on a “glass cliff” where these leadership positions are unstable, precarious, and high-risk conditions.

It’s a sobering list. The Equity Myth is the type of scholarship that should propel change in higher education. Unfortunately, change is slow. This book first came to my attention when the Provost of my institution held up the book and conveyed that this was a must-read title. I was piqued by this, and glad that I had an opportunity to share this with you.  But the academic library world is, not any less or more complex, doesn't quite fit into some of the data and stories in The Equity Myth.   The intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality (to name just a few), merits further scholarship into this area, and there are a lot of excellent ones out there, but not so much in the Canadian context.  I hope to participate in a book project one day to explore this further.  I'd love to hear if you have any ideas or comments.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Book Review "Die With Zero" by Bill Perkins

Happy New Year and 2022. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution for reviewing more titles beginning this year. There have been some life-changing titles I’ve missed out on sharing on this blog, and due to time, work, and multitude of other excuses. One book that really enriched my life is Die With Zero by Bill Perkins.   Wistful of the pre-pandemic world, the book helped me foment new appreciation and bring awareness of my priorities.  Here are strategies that Perkins suggest:  

(1) Invest in Experiences - Please do this early. Don’t wait until you retire. Think of your final moments on earth and what means the most to you. It’s those amazing experiences, and not the bank account or the high investment returns in the bank.

(2) Aim to Die With Zero - Use all the tools you have at your disposal and think like an insurance agent: how much will you need to finance your finite amount of time? If you’re thinking of an inheritance for your offspring or favourite charities, perhaps giving away while you’re living is much more worthwhile than when you’re no longer around to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Here’s the spending curve tool that you can use, too, offered by the book.

(3) Don’t undersell time - Balance time, money, and health. Health is more important than money; and if we remember that, then everything will fall into place.  Exchange money for time, such as alleviating you from chores that that can instead allow you to enjoy your leisure time.   Delaying gratification to the point that is no longer serves you well is commonplace in our society, but it's also irreversible.  Time is precious.   Spend your your resources not for material goods but on once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  

(4) Time Bucket Your Life -
Create a calendar that “time buckets” rather than creating bucket lists with no timeline. If you have a piece of paper, then consider planning out milestones for the remaining decades of your life (e.g. 20’s to 80’s) and try to achieve those goals. You can even create your own time bucket here with the book’s online app.

(5) Know Your Peak - At some point, wealth accumulation needs to stop, as there’s a declining utility of money with age. The old adage that you can’t take it with you, is so true.   As we age, our scarcity of time is an inverse to the utility of money.  Take opportunities for risks while you’re still able to and (relative to your age) young. There’s no point in waiting for retirement to enjoy those moments. As Perkins reminds us, "In the end, "business of life is the acquisition of memories."

So there you go: it’s a title that I highly recommend and one that I read and absorbed with much reflection and resolve.  A 250-word review doesn't do justice to your own enjoyment of this book.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have.   Do you have a title you'd recommend me?   Please leave a comment below -- happy to connect!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Decolonizing the Academy

To decolonize is to challenge what is not working, how to challenge my practice. The history of higher education has been shaped by colonial impulses and the history of imperialism. While there has been work underway to decolonize collections, not enough emphasis has been put on decolonizing our traditions and process in academic libraries. While studying the lack of diversity in staffing or Library of Congress Subject Headings or exclusion in citation practices is important, decolonizing is simply not the same as antiracism.

As an individual in an academic institution, I'm aware of the long history of its colonial model.  In the United States, the 1830 Indian Removal Act, and the 1862 Homestead Act collectively solidified the colonial myth of terra nullius (uninhabited land) enabled the states to acquire and legitimize the taking of westward lands. The subsequent Morrill Land-Grant College Act in 1862 enabled the American states to collectively claim Native homelands in the name of “democratization” of education. Native Americans were subjugated in public policy, and made into caricatures in popular culture.   Canada too has its colonial past and some universities have direct connections to colonial figures, such as McGill University in Montréal.   It's named after James McGill, who was an owner himself of Black and Indigenous slaves. His death resulted in the founding of McGill after his wealth was donated on the condition a college was founded under his name.   While the history is often downplayed, colonial remnants are never really erased but rather continues through other traditions.  

Theresa Rocha Beardall’s “Settler Simultaneity and Anti-Indigenous Racism at Land-Grant” insightfully argues that such indigenous stereotypes at college and university sporting and student events demonstrate that anti-Indigenous racism is interwoven into the fabric of North American higher education. At McGill University, some argue that the history of the nickname ‘Redmen’ was originally written as two words (i.e. ‘Red Men’), in reference to the red school colours and red jerseys worn by McGill teams, but the problem with this argument is that McGill University used stereotyped Indigenous iconography for the Redmen for a full decade. Sports teams around the world have historically exploited offensive indigenous names. Even though it denied the original intentions of its moniker, ‘Redmen’ is widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries.

In fact, at my institution, UBC, the university wasn’t actually permitted to use the name Thunderbird until 1948. A term that symbolizes a significantly deep meaning in Indigenous cultures, the moniker Thunderbird was used for a decade and a half without any consultation or permission with Musqueam Indigenous communities until 1948. The community and Chief William Scow of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people gave the school permission to use the name with a traditional ceremony. The land grant universities that exist today could not be possible without this intentional violence. Historical subordination manifests and how racialized organizations profit from this violence.

Bonita Lawrence and Enakshi Dua have argued that the “failure of Canadian antiracism to make colonization foundational has meant that Aboriginal peoples’ histories, resistance, and current realities have been segregated from antiracism.” It’s critical to understand that the histories of racism and exclusion cannot be untied to the removal of indigenous from their land. There is a danger that the decolonizing process within universities is a branding process. We need to be sensitive, aware, and call out the marketing and branding of using EDI as a buzzword. This is a trap that academic libraries must be wary about. We need to discern between intentionality and moments of performative racial consciousness.

One recent piece of scholarship is Ashley Edward’s “Unsettling the Future by Uncovering the Past: Decolonizing Academic Libraries and Librarianship,” which argues that location is a barrier to many indigenous students. Whether to attend in-person programs or relocate for a job, leaving one’s community creates the sense of isolation, and can bring up trauma from the residential school and practices of separating families. Edwards poignantly points out that “moving away from your family and support can cause stress, in particular when entering the world of academia which continues to be modeled on Western European ideals.”

I still remember vividly in graduate school that professors and almost any practicing librarian would emphasize that “geographic flexibility” was critical for finding employment, for landing that penultimate first position. A sense of community is a universal feeling for BIPOC individuals from historically marginalized populations, and we forget the trauma of dislocation that happens in finding work. While decolonizing libraries and the library profession means that library services, collections, and classification systems need to be “sanitized” of colonial oppression, whatever we do, we need to critically integrate the elements of humanity.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Contested Space in Diversity

Audrey Lorde has said that “much of Western European history conditions us to see human differences in simplistic opposition to each other” and Canada has historically and socially influenced me as an individual working in the library, literary, and publishing fields.  Subsequently, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang assert the ease with which the language of decolonization has been superficially adopted. What I find disconcerting is that despite a lot of work in diversity, equity, and inclusion, much of the intentions are superficial and do not intend to undo deep systemic racism. One recent example is the CBC’s adaptation of “Son of a Trickster.” Another is curator cheyanne turions, who has been mired in controversy since she publicly acknowledged she was unable to substantiate her claims of Indigenous identity, and recently resigned from her position at SFU Galleries.

Yang and Tuck call this type of settler nativism, when “settlers locate or invent a long lost ancestor who is rumored to have had ‘Indian blood,’ and they use this claim to mark themselves as blameless in the attempted eradication of Indigenous peoples.” This obsession with “race-shifting” of course, most oftentimes benefits those who seek to profit from their supposed ancestry. In Distorted Descent: White Claims to Indigenous Identity, Darryl Leroux describes this “obsessive” search by some heretofore non-Indigenous Canadians for long-ago Indigenous ancestors who can justify them identifying as Métis by Canadian "white settlers" have redefined themselves as Métis over the past fifteen years is done within the absence of a verifiable Indigenous ancestor, and using gaps in ancient records, such as the unknown parentage of some early European women settlers.

I’d like to share a quote from Lee Maracle's First Wives Club who poignantly said, “I am not a partner in its construction, but neither am I its enemy. Canada has opened the door. Indigenous people are no longer ‘immigrants’ to be disenfranchised, forbidden, prohibited, outlawed, or precluded from the protective laws of this country.” Sadly, Maracle passed away this past month, and I’m pained to think of the challenges she faced as an indigenous author and scholar and the experiences of racism she faced in her journey throughout her life.

I’m fully aware of being a settler on this land and despite the struggles as a racialized person of colour, I am cognizant of the privileges of my intersectionality of identities. In my work, I collect, review, and purchase literature but now realizing the need to decolonize practices reinforces my need to be vigilant in acknowledging my own privileges and biases knowing that one can never shed their neutrality, but to show humility and continuous learning. The “supremacy of objectivity” that is embedded in Western thought and education is merely a wishful illusion.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Retention of Racialized Academic Librarians in the U.S. and Canada

This research team invites academic librarians that identify as racialized or members of the BIPOC community to participate in our survey related to retention. The purpose of this study is to identify organizational barriers that may impact the retention of racialized academic librarians in predominantly white institutions such as colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.

The study focuses on structures in the library organization that may impact the experiences of racialized or BIPOC librarians.

The study will focus on the experiences of racialized or BIPOC librarians working in academic libraries as well as former librarians that identify as racialized or BIPOC who have left the profession due to challenges with organizational practices listed above.


If you would like more information about the study, please feel free to contact us. This study has received a Research Ethics Board approval at the University of Toronto (RIS-41402) and the University of British Columbia (H21-02220). Your participation would be greatly appreciated in understanding organizational barriers in retaining racialized or BIPOC librarians.

  • Allan Cho, Community Engagement Librarian, University of British Columbia
  • Elaina Norlin, Professional Development/DEI Coordinator, Association of Southeastern Research Libraries
  • Silvia Vong, Head of Public Services, University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Equity and Inclusion at the BookNet Canada's Tech Forum


One of the outcomes of Covid has been the migration of in-person events to online.   I've enjoyed my fair share of conferences and workshops this past year.   I've been following the BookNet Canada's Tech Forum, which is one of the country's largest book industry conferences with a focus on technology, data, and collaboration.   In recent years, like many industries, it's focused a lot on EDI topics, and 2020 highlighted some excellent sessions, one which particularly caught my attention.

Cynthia Pong, Feminist Career Strategist & Founder at Embrace Change, is a lawyer turned career coach whose passion is helping women of colour realize their ambitious career goals.   Her webinar at the conference, "Be seen be heard: A workshop to help you reclaim power in your career," however, is for anyone who is a minority and wants "actionable, high-impact tools and strategies to empower themselves in their day-to-day" — and in their overall career trajectory.  A few strategies I found extremely useful: 

1)  Make room for yourself to interject and be heard
2)  Seize the moment or pause the agenda
3)  Use non-verbals
4)  Pre-meet and amplify each other
5)  Demonstrate your leadership 
6)  Make yourself visible to sponsors and champions
7)  Identify allies
8)  Sharpen your communication

There are some fabulous sessions on EDI that I'm sharing here with you from the Tech Forum.   It's heartening to see that there's a real sense of inclusion, which is an evolution from previous conferences.   As libraries, publishing, and creative writing are all intertwined, these webinars are all so relevant and important.  

Friday, September 17, 2021

Turning from "Being to Doing" Anti-Racism As Action at Work by Iones Damasco

I highly respect Ione T Damasco for the work she's done in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion.   Her talk urges us to view anti-racism as action, rather than using the word anti-racist as an identity.   While she questions whether we can change how we define organizational culture in library workplaces be an example of anti-racist action, she frames the challenge that certain hallmarks of white supremacist culture inform our notions of professionalism and workplace norms.  

There are many hurdles.  Quite likely, I won't see great change within my lifetime both within my profession and certainly in society.   I wish to be more optimistic, but based on the experience in my brief fifteen years in this profession and my volunteer work in the community, I've just seen it all and the tokenism and performativity.   One of Ione's message is that having mentorship and a supportive network is necessary to navigate the uncertainties and injustices that racialized and (in)visible minorities face in the workplace.   I've been part of a number of mentorship programs, offering my wisdom and support to graduate students and new information professionals.   I've been heartened at how I've been able to make a difference in their lives and how they've been able to use my advice and person experiences (gathered through years of trial by error).   From We Here, to ViMLoC, to the many ethnic caucuses, change will happen, though at a glacial pace.    

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.