Sunday, March 27, 2022

Decentering Asian Canadian Studies in the Global Diaspora


At an event that promoted intercultural dialogue and celebrated fusion culture, I remember one out-of-town visitor asked what is the point of celebrating “Asian Canadian.” I was taken aback by the question, but upon years of reflection, perhaps the question is worthwhile to ponder. It’s unique to me as someone who’s familiar and identifies with “Asian Canadian,” but to another individual from a different part of the world, it might evoke different emotions. It took a number of years for us to figure this out, but the LiterASIAN Festival, a literary festival that celebrates and highlights Asian Canadian writers, decided for the first time to shine the spotlight outside of Canada on writers of Asian heritage from across the world.

As festival director, I explored this idea of “GlobalAsian: from Grassroots to Globalization” and thanks to a virtual setup, was able to feature authors and cultural activists. It leads to my reading of Chris Lee and Christine Kim’s ​​Inter-referencing Asian Canadian Studies: imagining diasporic possibility outside the (Canadian) nation as they ask critically, what would it mean if Asian Canadian Studies repositions itself towards Asia while decentring the West?
By shifting the poles of discussion from the overly abstract distinction between Asia and the West to linked spaces and societies such as Seoul and Singapore or Delhi and Bangkok, new forms of knowledge are generated as we investigate local problems and draw comparisons among them” (Lee & Kim, 305)
Asian Canadian Studies has always been a comparative project that looks “outwards and engages with other diasporas within and beyond the nation-state,” and I’m heartened that LiterASIAN has matured and evolved to explore the literary traditions of “Asian Canadian” writing to the shared experiences around the world. The anti-Asian racism and sentiments around the world these past three years is yet again a central theme of this year’s LiterASIAN festival and another stark reminder that racism, just like a global pandemic, is a global phenomenon not siloed and contained within the borders of any nation-state.   I hope to see you at the festival, where we will be finding our voices, telling our stories.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Open Scholarship and the Digital Humanities

I’ve been taking the Program for Open Scholarship and Education (POSE) , a flexible and blended MOOC created at UBC. One of the modules cover a key area of interest I have in open scholarship in the humanities, with the question of whether open scholarship methods were possible in the humanities. One of the readings, Rik Peels’ “Replicability and replication in the humanities'” argues why such replication in the humanities is not only possible but also desirable. I want to use the field of digital humanities to answer the question whether we should also pursue replication in the humanities and its positive impacts on open scholarship and research.

While there has been much debate about whether the humanities add value to scholarship and support preparation for students in their lifelong pursuits, it’s often been subjective, if not polemic, arguments are not necessarily supported by tangible or empirical evidence. I see the digital humanities (DH) as a field that is not only feasible for open research but provides new discoveries and interdisciplinary scholarship that benefits more than just intellectual outputs but also those students who study them.

Skeptics point to whether it is at all possible for “empirical studies in the humanities are often such that an independent repetition of it, using similar or different methods and conducted under similar circumstances, can be carried out” at all (Peels, 2019). Digital technologies have enabled researchers to use techniques that can help reproduce and replicate research findings, and that is a powerful approach to positioning the humanities to the scholarship that has been employed in the sciences.

Ted Underwood is a literary and digital humanities scholar that I follow and offers an insightful case of his impact on the humanities. Underwood often shares his research findings and links from his articles and books to his blog which shares links to data and code that support certain blog posts under a category of open data. For instance, Underwood and Jordan Sellers’ “The Emergence of Literary Diction” is an excellent example how the humanities can prioritize computational reproducibility, and practitioners can pass off all of the inputs (data, scripts, etc) of a project to empower other researchers to reproduce the findings for not only peer review but also enrich the research with additional new findings.

In their research, Underwood and Sellers ask the question of when did literary diction differentiate itself from nonfiction prose? He looks back to literature in the 18th and 19th centuries and through the use of textual analysis comes to the conclusion that literary fiction writers relied much more heavily on the older part of the lexicon. He does this by “counting” the number of words (the most common ten thousand) that entered English before 1150 and dividing it by the number of words that entered the language between 1150 and 1699.

What he finds is fascinating: by the end of the 19th century, a “new, sharply marked distinction between literary and nonliterary diction” in that novels used the older part of the lexicon at a rate almost double that of nonfiction prose. Prior to 1600, there was little distinction between poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. Underwood uses the programming language R and shares the scripts on GitHub.

What DH projects such as these is the possibility of computational replicability using the same workflow to be used by other researchers. One can conceivably use a different dataset of English texts (perhaps Project Gutenberg, just as an example) that could yield different but expected results using the same R scripts that Underwood provides. Most of the visualizations presented in the article are derived from a collection of 4,275 documents from the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) which is open data.

However, while Peel’s argument that carrying out replication studies in the humanities is not only desirable, we “should actually frequently carry out such independent repetitions of published studies,” we also need to consider the advantages of the resources of the Global North. The rise of digital humanities certainly looks very different from the “traditional” analogue techniques of earlier times, when a close reading of texts relies on hermeneutical methods, based on subjective qualitative interpretations. Researchers don’t need to rely on just the expertise of the written word, they can reproduce the same findings themselves. It also impels students to utilize those skills and tools used more commonly in literate programming (using R, Python, just to name a few) that can be both useful to research, but also knowledge used in life beyond academia.

Friday, March 18, 2022

"Out of the Office," But Entirely Engaged the Rest of the Time

I recall that during my early days I couldn’t make it to a Christmas social event at a senior manager’s invitation. Later it was circulated back to me that my managers felt that I didn’t show up to these events and they didn’t know me. As a new hire, I was completely perplexed and frightened. Would I be penalized for not being a team player? I was not tenured yet and thought that this was part of the performance evaluation and would be penalized.   Of course, in hindsight, it didn’t really make an iota of difference.

In some ways, the professional librarian work that I’ve performed as a librarian can be said to be performative.  It's a profession that is highly social, and with it comes the unwritten rules of the office place.  Charlie Wazel and Anne Helen Petersen’s Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home offers an insightful framework into the transition of working from home, particularly during the past two years of the pandemic.

Socializing outside of work as an expectation of our work is really problematic. In many ways, the pandemic has put a hold on this, and it might be an opportunity to disrupt the romantic notion that team building outside of the workplace can actually be forced rather than organically happen.

Some workplaces also go as far as calling themselves a “family,” which the authors assert is deeply misleading and even manipulative so as to skirt potential issues of behaviour that may be more acceptable in real families.  Then there is the notion of the “organization man” is a product of the post-war period when individuals (usually men) were loyal to the same company from the beginning to the end of their careers. This type of corporatism “live action role playing” (LARP) has led to burnout that centred on showing up as early and leaving as late as possible at the office as a torturous type of show performance “to be seen” even when there's no work to be done.

The authors believe the pandemic has helped reset and “level the office playing field” with remote work. Prior to the pandemic, it was said that it couldn’t be done. But my work has been as productive as before the pandemic. And I’m sure many others have appreciated the time saved not only from drivelous travel times stuck in traffic but also the work-life balance.   But I also return to the problem of FOMO - which can be detrimental in hybrid and remote work as well.   Just as the office was designed to benefit those who had little or no responsibilities, we must take care so that hybrid work doesn't actually deepen this divide in which:
Single parents, workers with elder family members, disabled employees, and those who simply don't want to live in proximity to the office risk being overshadowed by those who come in every day. . . proximity bias might emerge.  Ambitious, competive employees will sacrifice remote flexibility and work relentlessly in person, while remote employees, motivated by the anxiety of not seeming productive, will live in fear of managers and overcompensate with overwork.  Both sides end up driving the other to misery.

Just as hybrid work evolves and continues to shape the contours of work spaces, we need to take extra care in ensuring equity and inclusion remain pillars.

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Power of Identity Capitalism

I remember many years ago a candidate was giving a presentation as part of his interview for a senior leadership position. This candidate recounted a marvelous track record, and name-dropped some important EDI initiatives, along with some notable individuals. Of course, this was all performative as he clearly did none of what he had listed off, and in fact, had cared little about it during his tenure. It was a successful interview and he got the job. It was the first time I had encountered the positive publicity that EDI can bring to an organization, and it doesn’t even matter if you don’t support it as long as you talk about it glowingly.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was a form of identity capitalism.

Nancy Leong’s Identity Capitalists: The Powerful Insiders Who Exploit Diversity to Maintain Inequality is a powerful book that argues through a number of case studies that identity capitalism is a process in which an ingroup benefits from outgroup identity. In North America, as are well aware, the main ingroup is usually white, male, heterosexual, and wealthy.  Identity capitalism is also a business strategy. Just professing the value of diversity helps to exonerate a company’s image at a time of negative publicity.

A lot of institutions dishonestly use racial photoshopping to inflate diversity. Have you ever noticed the meticulousness of diversity when in reality the staff is completely homogenous? Leong reveals that campuses often photoshop Black students into group photos. Identity capitalism implies that social problems are easy to solve or have been solved already, yet in reality are only a superficial and performative gesture toward a solution.  The better diversity statement is an honest one: touting the company’s accomplishments but explaining there is more work to do within and beyond the company itself.  There is always a wonderful opportunity to be humble and grow.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Leadership Journey With Dr. Anthony Chow of the San Jose University iSchool

This is an inspiring video that I wanted to share after watching it.  Dr. Anthony Chow is the Director of  San Jose State University’s School of Information, appointed July 2021. Before his appointment at the iSchool, Anthony was an associate professor in the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.   His research focuses on systems thinking, technology integration, organizational management, and also information-seeking behaviour and usability in digital environments.

With an academic career that spans 21 years, he offered some really insightful experiences as a person of colour who has held leadership positions.   Anthony is an inspirational story, in a profession that is predominantly racially homogenous, and seeing how he has navigated the terrains of academia, which can be competitive and cutthroat, successfully is really a great story.    Here's some highlights that he shares with us that helped him throughout the years:  

Experience -- Age and experience helps.   After a while, Chow found that he was more comfortable as he spoke to peers on a personal level, he was around the same age and had earned his stripes.   I've found this insight to be really relatable in my own life.  If you hang in there, over time, your experience builds on itself and compounds exponentially over time.  Eventually, you will feel comfortable in your own skin, which goes a long way to how it builds confidence.  Patience is key and paying your dues.  

Get Involved -- Getting involved, whether it's emailing and making those phone calls to worthy causes.  "Prove it" to others that you care.   Eventually, they will find you and seek your leadership.

Be Kind -- Ultimately, being kind is so important.   Leadership means leading with a good heart.  Leading by an organizational chart hierarchy is called managerialism.   Leadership is something entirely different.  

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Matthew Effect and the Digital Fault Lines of Learning

I confess that I’ve started so many MOOCs, or massive open online courses, that I’ve forgotten how many I actually completed, which is likely to be very few.   2012 was once infamously dubbed the “Year of the MOOCs” but it didn’t actually revolutionize education, not at the university/college level nor at the K-12.  I still recall with a draught of nostalgia (and wincing) when higher education administrators scrambled to push for MOOCs to be established at their institutions. My particular university called it “flexible learning” and almost overnight everyone veered towards the technology lest they would be missing out on the next educational revolution. Coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier, the first MOOC to be very successful was the course "Artificial Intelligence" by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig at Stanford University in 2011, and left their positions to found Udacity. In 2012, MIT and Harvard University announced the birth of EdX. Then came Coursera. Predictions were suggested that MOOCs would spell the end of universities. Studies such as the one by Katy Jordan exposed that completion rates were dismal.

Justin Reich’s Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education reviews the post-hype MOOC world, arguing that technology cannot by itself disrupt education or provide shortcuts past the hard road of institutional change. The Matthew Effect is best summarized by the adage "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” and in the edtech world, it means that even new, free resources are mainly beneficial to already affluent learners with access to networked technology. Thus Reich’s three myths are really illuminating:

Myth #1 - Technology disrupts systems of inequality.

False. Technology actually reproduces the inequality embedded in systems. Poor, urban, and rural students were less likely to be exposed to higher-order uses than non-poor and suburban students. Rather than rearranging practices in schools, new technologies reinforce them.

Myth #2 - Free and open technologies promote equality.

False. Free things benefit those with the means to take advantage of them. Research shows that those who use MOOCs or sign-up for wikis tend to be from affluent neighbourhoods.

Myth #3 - Expanding access will bridge digital divides.

False. Social and cultural barriers are the chief obstacles to equitable participation. As they are often harder to discern, “digital divide” is too simple a metaphor to characterize educational inequity.   Because social and cultural barriers are harder to measure, it's often missed in the design of edtech.   
Reich suggests that students from less developed countries actually face an obstacle called “social identity threat” which can occur, for instance, when:
the elite branding of universities offering MOOCs, the predominantly white American and European faculty who offer these courses, the English language usernames in the forums, and other markers that feel excluding to minority participants. Feelings of social identity threat can lead to negative recursive cycles: when people start a class, they may feel like an outsider.
It's sobering for an individual like me who has been fortunate to work in a large educational institution in a developed economy.  Though the training I have had as an educator builds technology around connectivist and constructivist theories, I also realize much of what I do for my students is based on privileged assumptions.   Reich's book is such a thought-provoking exercise.  Would you have another title you'd recommend here?

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Racial Capitalism and the Inequity of Merit

Sylvia Vong’s Not a token! A discussion on racial capitalism and its impact on academic librarians and libraries is such an important piece in the LIS and CRT literature. This piece hits home for me what is racial capitalism: the commodification of the performance of one’s racialized identity in specific settings identified by the dominant group. Many years ago, I remember attending an interview when a candidate named dropped a bunch of EDI initiatives, including my name, during an interview. Not only was it the first time I came across pure strategic performativity at an interview, but it also helped me understand now that I have the tools, to see it for what it was:
Racial capitalism places value on racialized librarians or staff members’ cultural knowledge when there is some capitalistic benefit (e.g. appearing multicultural).
Vong’s piece is important as it lays out the truth with salient categories:
  • Fractured identities - The alienation of racial identity in the sense that identity may be bought and sold like in a marketplace.  Racialized persons can never be themselves in the workplace simply due to the schizophrenic identities they need to assume.  
  • Racialized tasks - This is the work minorities do that is associated with their position in the organizational hierarchy and reinforces Whites’ position of power within the workplace.  The UL's assistant once came to me asking to translate a passage into Chinese.  While I didn't say I couldn't do it (I refused in the end), it was a reminder that regardless of my position or my CV, I'd forever be the other librarian.
  • Identity Performance demands - The identity performances of racialized people that stem from pressures to perform their non-whiteness and to perform it in a way palatable to the white majority. I’ve seen so many racialized colleagues anxious and nervous to change the way they behave or whom they associate within group settings (sometimes even avoiding sitting with other racialized colleagues) as a way to fit in and “feel” included.
  • Consuming trauma stories - This happens when the majority revels in listening (sometimes with empathy) to the difficult experiences of their racialized colleagues. This group consumption of racial trauma stories, unfortunately, results in further damage on racialized staff who must re-visit traumatic experiences in the presence of those who may have perpetrated acts of racism and discrimination. I have a close friend/colleague who loves sharing racist incidents in the news but bless their heart, have no idea how meaningless and hollow it truly is.
  • Cultural performance demands - Outreach programming and events aimed at racialized groups for holidays or educating the larger community through awareness campaigns are often delegated or assigned to racialized librarians, adding more work and pressures to perform identity work. When racialized librarians are asked to perform identity work, they are tasked with cultural education or anti-racism and EDI.
  • Cultural Taxation – The added time and workload of taking on anti-racism and EDI work are typically not financially compensated, meaning that most racialized people take on research, practice, and/or service along with EDI and anti-racism responsibilities in institutions where there are few racialized staff. They are added to various committees, positions, and expected to mentor in addition to meeting the goals and objectives in their annual work plans, all without acknowledgment of the extra work. What a deal!
  • “Conditional hospitality” - It’s the invisible workload that racialized people are expected to do, to give something back in return, on condition of being welcomed to the group. A lot of extra time and emotional labour goes into performing identity work, which adds to workloads that are typically uncompensated and expected from racialized library employees with the assumption that they are all willing and able to work on EDI and anti-racism initiatives and committees. We often hear the phrase by racialized pioneers, “I knew I had to work twice as hard to succeed.” That’s what we mean by being conditional.
  • Pay inequity - Racial minorities are particularly vulnerable to broad fluctuations in market conditions, whether it’s the economy or the workplace. When there’s someone who is let go or comes second in a hiring decision, it’s often the racialized person. A disturbing study found that visible minority librarians in Canada earn substantially less than their non-visible counterparts.
Damn the Meritocratic System?

It’s dangerous to assume neutrality in society, which is reflected in the workplace. In promotion and tenure/permanent status evaluations, procedures and policies may appear impartial, but decisions are often made by small groups of library administrators or elected colleagues. These evaluative processes are prime for bias and, although it can be argued that rubrics of evaluation help to restrict hidden prejudice, “they are typically constructed and draw on institutional and organizational goals and objectives that mould librarians into the image or vision of the organization.”

Vong offers words of encouragement as a way out: we need to introduce CRT in leadership and training as well as properly fund EDI work. This needs continued emphasis from leadership in organizations. Whether it’s a 400-person library or a three-person hospital library, change and inclusion require work that goes beyond tweaking tokenistic gestures.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

The Homophiliasm of Hiring - Are You The Right Fit?

I recently came across a terrific book by Mathew Syed, Rebel Ideas, which suggests that individual intelligence is not enough to tackle really important problems. Rather, cognitive diversity and collective intelligence always win out. Syed draws from the literal intelligence breakdown that happened among agencies during the 9/11 attacks by exploring the diversity of the CIA:

startling high proportion of staff at the CIA had grown up in middle-class families, enduring little financial hardship, or alienation, or extremism, witnessed few of the signs that act as precursors to radicalization, or had any multitude of other experiences that might have added formative insights to the intelligence process. . . As a group, however, they were flawed. Their frames of reference overlapped. This is not a criticism of white, Protestant, male Americans. It is an argument that white, Protestant, male American analysts – and everyone else – are left down if they are placed in a team lacking diversity.

Hiring more diverse candidates doesn’t equate to cognitive diversity. Building collective intelligence cannot be a box-ticking exercise, or else, diversity basically turns into dominant assumptions of the group, and the leadership teams look diverse but continue to share nearly identical views, insights, and patterns of thinking. Successful teams are intentionally diverse, not arbitrarily. Diversity contributes to collective intelligence only when it is relevant – in other words, hiring without empowering doesn’t work.

Homophily is a term that is so apt in these situations. It’s the principle that contact between similar people occurs at a higher rate than among dissimilar people. But because homophily means that cultural, behavioral, genetic, or material information that flows through networks will tend to be localized as well, this is often reshaped intentionally (or unintentionally) in the workplace.

Looking back at my own experience, I'm used to hearing the word “fit” in hiring committees. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s a euphemism for how candidates were “ranked” based on similarities to the rest of the staff. According to Syed, the Higher Paid Person’s Opinion (HIPPOs) is the deciding factor to final hiring decisions (or any decisions for that matter), and that’s dangerous. The trickle-down effect results in groupthink: there’s no incentive to have a diversity of perspectives; after all, it never pays to speak out.

But if we return to the CIA case study, the story ends on a more comforting note. The CIA realized it had diversity blindspots, and hired one of its first African American Muslims, Yaya Fanusie, who made an immediate impact as a counter-terrorism expert, and helped foil a terrorist attack before it happened. History would never record this as the incident never occurred.

Having a diversity of people and ideas – rebel ideas – is critical for strong organizations. Libraries don’t tend to look hard at their “diversity problem” (or perhaps to them, diversity is the problem), Sometimes, the larger libraries ask why they are mediocre and decide to hire a revolving door of external consultants to task them to find out. But if we look hard at homophily as a problem in itself, hey, that would be a good start, don’t you think?

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.