Wednesday, November 30, 2022

In Search of My Genealogical Roots - The Records Remain a Mystery

From the mid-to-late nineteenth century, more than 15,000 labourers from China arrived in Canada to conduct construction work on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).   Many faced discrimination, such as being paid only paid a third less than their co-workers while given the most dangerous assignments in harsh conditions.   As part of the anti-immigration sentiment in British Columbia at the time, the federal parliament passed in 1885, the Chinese Immigration Act, which stipulated that all Chinese entering Canada must first pay a $50-dollar fee, later referred to as a head tax. This was amended in 1887, 1892, and 1901, with the fee increasing to its maximum of $500 in 1903.

My great-grandfather, Choo Hang Wai, great-grandfather, Chow Bing Fai, and many ancestors, were among the more than 97,000 migrants who had to pay a headtax for the entry into Canada.  Between 1885 and 1923, the Government of Canada collects about 33 million dollars ($544 million in 2022 dollars), from about 97,000 Chinese headtax payers. The headtax system also had the effect of constraining Chinese immigration; it discouraged Chinese women and children from joining their men, so the Chinese community in Canada became a "bachelor society".

For the past 15 years, this journey to rediscover this lost part of history has been both rewarding and frustrating. My colleague at SFU Library, Sarah Zhang, and I are working on a project that ‘hacks” the historical dataset of the Chinese headtax registers (the records of migrants as they stepped off the ship and onto Canadian soil). Both a professional to personal endeavour, there have been twists and turns to how much the archives that my country is holding onto and how much it wants to release.

During the pandemic, the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) quietly rehauled their website earlier this Fall, to reflect new guidelines for Government of Canada websites. I was perturbed that this happened and worried that everything had been wiped clean. Thank you to my friend and colleague June Chow pointing me in the right direction.

Go to LAC

- Select English or French

- At mid-page, select Most requested > Collection > "Search the collections"
- Select "Collection Search"
- Select "Advanced Search"
- Select from the Database: "Immigrants from China, 1885 to 1952"
- You can leave Type of record as "All" or Select from:
(a) "General Registers of Chinese Immigration" for records of arrival/entry; or
(b) the various C.I.9 certificate series, based on Vancouver/Victoria issued and/or people born in/outside of Canada


I've been disturbed by this level of difficulty for a simple search.   I had a challenging time, but I do this for a living.  How can we expect the public to use this tool for finding anything?  I really hope that this is a temporary measure by the LAC!

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Practicing Anti-Racism in Information Spaces: Notes From the Field

I was pleased to present to the School of Information's graduate studies course LIBR 508 -Information Practices in Contemporary Society.   Taught by Dr. Hannah Turner, LIBR 508 is a course that prepares students from diverse scholarly and professional backgrounds to investigate, analyze and critique the social, political, and cultural tensions surrounding contemporary information practices.  When I was asked to present to the class, I immediately wanted to share with these future practitioners not only my research into the area of EDI and libraries but also how my personal experiences as a racialized male librarian inform my practice as an academic librarian.   Here are the three themes I shared in this presentation:
  • Explore the concept of diversity and intersectionality of identities
  • Examining how power and privilege shaped libraries 
  • Understanding microaggressions/subtle acts of exclusion in the workplace

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Importance of Inclusive Community Engagement & Equitable Participation in Programming

As a community engagement expert, having organized events over the past twenty years, it’s not difficult for me to put together a public program and speaker panel. It's second nature by now, having done it for so long. But as I reflect over the years, it was also easy to select a homogenous group, especially if a profession (such as libraries) tends to draw from a homogenous group itself.

Professional career coach Karen Catlin and author of Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces is an excellent reminder for event planners to be intentional and inclusive. She points out that there is even terminology out there. Did you know that “manel” is a term coined to describe a panel consisting only of men? It wasn’t too long ago that there were “manferences” featuring all-male speaker lineups. Another huge and ever-growing problem is the all-white panel, or “wanel.” Across industries, these exclusionary events have become ubiquitous for years.

Even more problematic is when these speakers don’t have directly lived experiences with the topic. Consider panels about challenges faced by POC or women featuring only men. Or discussions on transgender rights where all the panelists are cisgender people.

Most organizers reach out to their network to find people who can speak on the topic. If they lack diversity in their network, the likelihood is that they’re going to lack diversity at the event.  Thus, ensuring that speakers represent a variety of viewpoints and life experiences should be a goal for all organizers. We should be willing to move outside our comfort zones. Some concrete suggestions for all who organize public events by Catlin:
  • Inclusive speaker lineups - Be intentional in your selection. If you’re organizing an event, ask every male you’re inviting to speak to recommend a woman, a person of colour, or a member of another underrepresented group to also speak.
  • Code of Conduct – Creating and enforcing a code of conduct. Having a diversity statement (such as this one from Word Vancouver Festival) clearly concretizes and makes clear the values of the organization.
  • Inclusive Content - Ensure supportive measures so that presentations showcase diversity in slide decks. For example, the simple act of using stock photos and illustrations of people from underrepresented groups makes all the difference. Just as we make sure that the presentation works smoothly on technology, the same care should be made to the presentation itself.
Of course, any gathering or meeting should be seen as a forum for diverse perspectives. Inclusion is not just for showing in a public setting. As Catlin puts it, “every one of any identity can ask whether BIPOC, women, transgender, nonbinary, and/or disabled speakers will be featured, and they can push back if not.” I value this title and as I mature as a community engagement specialist, I’m heartened that the work that I do also needs to mature beyond just planning the event, but ensuring it is meaningful to not only the organization but also makes an impactful contribution to society.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Acting With Power, Power with Empathy

Power is a part of a social contract and as Stanford Graduate School of Business professor and psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld suggests, “People have power to the extent that others consent to being controlled.”  Having been in a bureaucratic organization, I’ve seen firsthand how power influences decision-making, often letting personal and subjective impulses cut discard policy and common sense. Power doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but instead is contextual, and exists in relationships by virtue of the roles we play in each others’ lives. Power is often associated with Machiavellian ethics, ancient Legalist techniques, or Kissinger’s cynically “power is the ultimate elixir” maxim. But we should think of the power the other way: that it’s a part we play in someone else’s story.

Gruenfeld’s research and course at Stanford is sobering yet look into the art and science of power. The role of one’s power depends on who’s on the stage and what the story is. Rather than thinking of power as flowing to those who are the loudest or have the most impressive job title, power is how much we use, like actors do, in controlling the stage, which is why some struggle to step up and be taken more seriously while others are too aggressive and others too nice. While there is much to unpack in this two-decade-long research, three themes stand out for me in Acting With Power.

Responses to power – Aggressors, bureaucrats, and appeasers are three common responses to power and leadership. While aggressors are motivated to win approval from their peers to do the best of what they are asked to do in positions of power - often at the expense of those they are in charge of - bureaucrats are those who simply match expectations and follow rules to a T, being risk averse and have no aspirations to actually excel. The appeasers, in contrast, played nice and actually befriend their underlings and be liked. Do any of these traits relate to you?

Insecurity - Peeling back the darker veneer of the need for power is a story of insecurity. Whether it’s disinhibition, objectification, entitlement, megalomania, or bullying, abusers have a fundamental need for validation and stem from previous life experiences that deprived them. It’s an interesting psychoanalytical tool to examine how power corrupts, but Gruenfeld counsels that to wrangle a bully – disarm and detach from the abuse – one must reclaim one’s story and control of the plot. Realize that choices are available and we can choose how to respond to the bad actors who enter our realm. The way out is to focus on acting, on doing something, to step out of the role of victim. Choose your context carefully, police your borders, and don’t take the bait.

Culture of Beneficence – The book offers an antidote: beneficence - the developmental maturity to prioritize the welfare of the less powerful. We not only need to look for leaders with maturity whose ability to control selfish impulses while acting in ways to benefit others, but also enact those attributes ourselves. Rather than gaining power for personal advancement, a more mature approach to power is one that is based on lasting contributions to the organization and see power as a resource that is used to protect others rather than self-preservation. Those who give up their own resources to invest in group success with no promise of any return or personal benefit are often rewarded with more status. In evolution, it’s the only approach that makes sense, too.

As a visible minority from a historically underrepresented group, I’ve always felt that power has been fleeting. With context from critical race theory, one can see that power is inextricably more complicated with racialized and BIPOC actors. But I do believe that Gruenfeld’s message is a universal one: although we can all feel powerless, we always have more power than we think we do. We just need to play our roles.

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Racial Pay Gap - Much Work Remains to Be Done in Canadian Academic Libraries

“The Racial Pay Gap” indicates that there’s still much inequity in Canada’s academic libraries. While Canadian academic libraries have made progress in hiring and retaining employees from underrepresented groups, they still lack offering equitable salaries.  My ViMLoC colleague, Yanli Li’s “Racial Pay Gap: An Analysis of CARL Libraries” is an alarming study on the racial pay gap of visible minority librarians. Using data from the 8Rs CARL Libraries Practitioner Survey in 2014, Li’s research study examined the impact of race on the earnings attainment process based on a sample of 392 CARL library practitioners and found a significant salary disparity between visible minorities and nonvisible minorities. It’s really important research that deserves more attention in our profession.

The study admits that because it is limited to 29 of the larger Canadian university libraries and two federal government libraries that comprise CARL. It would be interesting to study the racial salary gap of other university and college libraries or public libraries for a more comprehensive landscape of Canadian libraries. One can surmise that the racial pay gap probably exists in these institutions based on existing research. Perhaps a more in-depth examination of hiring, promotion, and access to senior positions, particularly the discrimination against visible minorities in the library science labor market, can also be done to further understand the specific factors of the racial salary gap.
While academic Research Libraries (ARL) in the US made great strides in the last three decades toward decreasing the racial pay gap, the same cannot be said about Canadian (CARL) libraries and this is surprisingly embarrassing, to say the least. As one social commentator pointed out once, comparing itself to the United States is almost like a national sport in Canada. Canadians revel at their superiority over their American counterparts, but when it comes to paying disparities, it’s business as usual. It’s remarkable how far Canadian academic libraries lag behind their American counterparts. As the authors of this study comment, “[o]verall, [American] ARL libraries have done an outstanding job of fostering racial equality in pay. . . there is no longer a statistically significant wage gap between nonminority and minority librarians in ARL libraries.” In fact, American counterparts have used more tools at their disposal for analysis, too. As opposed to using basic comparisons of group means to examine the racial salary gap in Canada, American studies have adopted multiple regression models to assess multiple variables of earnings in the library science labor market. All this is to say that much work remains for not only closing the racial pay gap in CARL libraries.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

The Diversity Audit Tool (DAT)

A diversity assessment can measure an organization’s progress in increasing diversity not only within its human resources functions but also in its activities in the creation of products or services. While there is no shortage of diversity audit surveys out there, one, in particular, stands out to me and that is the Diversity Audit Tool (DAT) developed at the Diversity Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University.  I like that it has been well used in examining both profit and non-profit organizations and adapted for use by many businesses over the years.

The DAT is a useful tool for assessing and identifying leading practices to increase diversity in organizations. The DAT was created by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, in partnership with Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Women in Technology (CATAWiT) Forum, as part of a project on increasing women’s participation in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, led by Wendy Cukier.  The DAT is divided into six key organizational levels or functions:
  • Leadership and governance – Success of diversity initiatives depends on senior management’s commitment to diversity in addition to the integration of diversity goals as part of the organization’s strategy
  • Transparent HR practices – Identifies areas where organizations can increase diversity in recruitment, performance management, promotion, education, and knowledge building as well as training and development.
  • Organizational culture & Quality of Life – Flexibility and ensuring that the organizational culture is inclusive and accommodates the divergent needs of its employees.
  • Metrics – Used to track and measure progress relative to diversity goals.
  • Integration into the Value Chain -- Diversity in product development, marketing and customer service programs, communication (both internally and externally), media buys, philanthropy, government relations, as well as in procurement decisions.
  • Developing the pipeline – Develops a future workforce that is diverse and inclusive
When compared to the other diversity lenses, the DAT is a more comprehensive and inclusive measure of diversity initiatives than other lenses, and part of the reason is that it focuses on general initiatives at the macro-level initiatives. I’m excited about adapting the DAT to my context of academic libraries and publishing organizations. What would the DAT look like for both smaller and larger organizations; profit and non-profit; Western and global firms? If you have any thoughts, please do share them with me!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Gatekeepers of Diversity in Publishing and Writing

I recently wrapped up an arts mentorship program at Centre A and worked with a diverse group of writers, and as a group, we explored the creative writing and publishing industry within the context of BIPOC artists. It’s good timing that the ​​Diversity in Canadian Writing: A 2020-2021 Snapshot has been released. UBC creative writing professors Rhea Tregebov and Kevin Chong led the project and developed the survey design. The results were not surprising: the typical respondent, based on our survey data, was: female, white, in their 60s, living in Ontario, straight, cis-gendered, and able-bodied.

In our sessions, we explored how “diversity washing” has become simply producing literary texts that publishers want for mainstream, but Canadian publishing continues to lack diversity in staffing. The next generations of writers that I worked with show that there is an emergence of diverse authors, but they are still shut out by the literary gatekeepers as there is a shortage of diverse publishers, agents, and editors. In order for BIPOC writers to flourish, they need better representation in those fields to be supported.
There needs to be more transparency when it comes to how books are promoted and advocated for, and sometimes this has less to do with literary merit and more to do with the PR machine behind the book. This leaves a lot of us out, especially when we already face systemic barriers. We need opportunities to feature our work in more meaningful ways, beyond conversations about our identity and deeper into craft. […] It’s important that these questions are addressed by the publishing industry so that we can have transparency around what needs to be done.” 
  • Gatekeepers – Those in positions of power in the sector need to be more diverse, both within publishing houses and in affiliated organizations such as reviewing outlets, festival and prize administration, literary agencies and funding institutions, by creating concrete, transparent and measurable goals around their makeup
  • Smaller Presses – Create greater systemic support for them which often are key in recognizing and promoting marginalized authors.
  • Training - Mandate EDI training for staff, as well as create a budget and established procedure for employment of sensitivity readers among publishers.
  • No More Identity Labels – Titles by marginalized authors should be promoted, evaluated and featured in nuanced, complex and meaningful ways beyond simple identity labels. Organizations, reviewers and readers should recognize that non-dominant culture content is not of limited interest and that publications are not limited by simple identity labels. Content should not have to be trauma-generated or otherwise identity-specific in order for authors to be given a platform.
  • Funding – Create funding structures for disabled writers to pay upfront for the support needed to fully participate in events.
  • Prizes – Carefully review the creation of new prizes, their mandates and their selection processes to ensure better inclusivity. Moreover, residency and grant opportunities that set an arbitrary age limit for eligibility should be removed.

I’m heartened by the work that the authors of this report and I’m optimistic that it puts the lens of EDI squarely focused on the current landscape of Canadian publishing. I’m often invited to government book awards and grant juries for diversity, consult on EDI by book publishers or join EDI committees. While I’m happy to participate and make a difference, I feel that my role is really at end of the conversation, to ensure representation, but not at the beginning, such as systemic change. It’s about time that EDI is integrated so that box-ticking exercises don’t need to be left at the end, as an afterthought. When I ended my final session of the Arts Writing Mentorship Program, I was heartened that participants understood that they were the next generation of the publishing industry, whether they are writers or acquisitions editors – and had a responsibility to instill change.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Everything Will Be, Will Be in Chinatown - Honouring Asian Heritage Month

Thank you to the NFB, for sharing this film with us.  I recall during my early days of community engagement and outreach work that the goal of Asian Heritage Month was to "celebrate" the successes of Asians in Canada.   The complicated history of Canadians of Asian heritage or mixed-race heritage has often been obsfucated by the model minority myth and problems of anti-Asian racism covered and blurred.   Since the pandemic, anti-Asian racism has skyrocketed and with one city called the anti-Asian hate crime capital of the world.    The 1907 riots in Vancouver is but one unfortunate historical incident among countless ones during the formation of the colonial settler society of North America.   This video is an excellent reminder that the history that we forget continues to haunt us in the present day.  

Friday, April 29, 2022

Innovation Does Not Spread Like a Virus – It Requires a Village

Much of what’s been popularly written is that influencers are the linchpins who spread ideas and spark revolutions. They are paid the big bucks to promote products and campaigns and hired to be brand ambassadors. For almost a century, scientists have believed that human behaviours spread just like viruses do; however, research shows that is not true. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring, and the popularity of certain social media apps, all happened geographically and incrementally through local networks first before they went viral.

Residents in Ferguson were shaping a network infrastructure both online and offline that generated awareness and local small-scale protests in towns and cities across the country which eventually vaulted Black Lives Matter to the national spotlight after the death of George Floyd. It needed time to develop as a network before it could result in social action and change.

We’ve all heard of the Oprah Winfrey effect where books skyrocket to best sellers based on Oprah's recommendations. But the research shows the influencer isn’t enough: it’s existing book club networks that enable the success to take off. One individual’s voice is insufficient.

Social and technological innovations require credibility and credibility within the network. The more social approval that happens the more people in the network are excited to adopt. Social reinforcement in the geometry of networks is the key ingredient. As such, a centralized network (the fireworks) is much less powerful than one which is distributed network (fishing nets). While a centralized network can spread information faster, like a virus, a distributed network that is bound to be slower and have redundancy, is actually going to result in a much stronger message.

Weakness of weak ties – People in a centralized network have very few if any common contacts. It’s like a firework that requires a central node but has little else beyond that. In contrast to conventional network science often highlights the utility of weak ties, the reality is that it’s quite the opposite. Rather, a fishing-net pattern fosters the most trust and intimacy – strong ties networks - friends, families, close contacts. It’s quite a counter to the 6 degrees of separation that we’re so used to hearing about.

Snowball effect – Instead of targeting “influential people,” tipping points happen when places within networks are targeted. Social movements require time to incubate and to grow a critical mass. Social reinforcement spills over from one social cluster to another. “Early adopters” snowballs into a social movement that can tip the social norms for an entire community.  As Damon Centola puts it,
“Social innovation” comes from social networks that balance coordination with creativity.
Now if we were to extend this metaphor of networks to how libraries traditionally operate, we can probably find some lessons here. Libraries are notorious for defaulting to a centralized network, partly due to the nature of their hierarchical and organizational traditions. Libraries have for the most part been crystallized in the past. Publications such as Knowledge Justice have explored how historical white supremacy has been passed down in the practices, services, curriculum, spaces, and policies with the result that the LIS field continues to be invested in the false idea of its own objectivity and neutrality. When a profession is unable to diverse workforce is one that attracts people of different cultural backgrounds, ages, genders, disabilities, religions, sexual backgrounds, etc. it risks lacking diversity of not only people but new ideas and different approaches to thinking. This is nothing new as a species' ability to adapt and survive depends on diversity.

I’m heartened that change has begun to happen at the grassroots level. Change in LIS must happen at a distributed network level for it to be sustainable. Quick fixes in the language of job advertisements or meeting a quota of token hirings aren’t effective. Rather, racialized and minority organizations such as APALA, CALA, REFORMA, ViMLoC (just to name a few) are effective in creating professional networks, mentorship programs, and ultimately an infrastructure for meaningful change.  And yes.  It will take a village.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Upstreaming Bureaucracies, Undoing the Games

Upstreaming is efforts intended to prevent problems before they happen or reduce the harm caused by those problems. Upstream is like teaching kids to swim upstream to prevent drownings. Downstreaming is reactionary, it’s easier to see and easier to measure because it’s tangible: bureaucracies love it.

when done successfully, is not tangible. It’s hard to prove what didn’t happen. Victories are stories written in data, with heroes and victims. Eventually, bureaucracies devolve into an exercise of turning into a game, or “gaming the system” for those cynical. Here are a few case studies from the book:
  • Paying $40,000 for insulin when $1,000 might prevent someone from ever getting diabetes and needing insulin
  • Police who hide in order to hand out driving tickets to meet a quota
  • Doctors who prefer C-sections because they’re scheduled, no weekend or holiday work, and especially because they get paid more per hour than waiting for natural births
These are more extreme examples, but unfair or not, we encounter these types of what may seem anomalous affairs more than we would think or want. We can probably think of a few from our own experiences.

The library world has forever been in dire straits when it comes to using statistics to prove its value or the much-dreaded ROI. There have been studies done about how numbers don’t tell the whole story and might not always be reliable, such as this one, or this one, and of course, this one. In bureaucratic systems, where data can be only too easily used as an excuse for decision-making, upstreaming can be tempting. Data-driven decisions can (in)advertently turn into an exercise of “gaming the system.”

In some ways, Dan and Chip Heath’s book is essentially an academic study of cutting corners.  But in the end, they make an indelible argument: it’s not just gaming the system, it’s also defiling your mandate.

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.