Monday, April 24, 2023

Creating an Edge by Turning Adversity into Advantage

During my sabbatical, I’ve been conducting research on EDI initiatives, in addition to completing my certificate in the EDI Certificate program at UBC. It’s been rewarding, and I’m grateful for the opportunity, but it has been draining and what some call an emotional burden - to listen to, process, and reflect on the inequities of the workplace and the traumatic experiences of library workers who faced discrimination, prejudice, and racism.  I've listened to some truly heartwrenching stories.  

Harvard faculty Laura Huang researches interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace.  The wonderful aspect of this book is that it’s not limited to any particular subject domain or just the business stories of successful people.  Rather, it’s extraordinary stories of ordinary people who came from disadvantaged backgrounds infused with evidence-based research.  Huang calls this approach EDGE – enrich, delight, and guide – to make your effort go further. These concepts make up the core structure of succeeding within an imperfect system and success ultimately requires knowing who you are so that you can turn that knowledge into an advantage.  Here is Huang's approach to creating one's edge.

Enrich - The ability to provide value to and enrich those around you. The difference between those who truly enrich and bring value to others and those who don’t actually bring value. Those who have an edge demonstrate and communicate the value they bring, rather than leave it up to others to determine.
  • Hard work should be enough; oftentimes, it’s not.
  • Know your weaknesses will help you identify your circle of competence, or “basic goods.” You’ll know not only where you’re valuable, but where you’re invaluable.
  • To use your basic goods in distinct ways, go where others don’t.
  • Embrace constraints as they provide the most opportunities.
  • Trust your intuition and your experiences – your “gut”
Delight - It’s the element of surprise, the unexpected. Delight isn’t about charming, entertaining, or slick. Rather, delight is about violating perceptions, but in a benign way, unsettling and challenging beliefs about your context, grabbing the attention of gatekeepers, and making way for you to show how you enrich
  • Before people let you in, they need to be delighted.
  • Don’t over plan. Instead, aim for flexibility and opportunities to delight.
  • Stay authentic and embrace how delight occurs in situ.
Guide - Empowering ourselves to guide our own contexts. When you know how others see you, it gives you the capacity to guide and redirect that perception, so that you can influence how people grasp and appreciate the value you command.
  • "Being yourself” means guiding others to the best versions of your multiple identities.
  • Know how others see you, so you can redirect them to how they should see you.
  • Guide others to what is within you by recognizing what is around you.
  • Guide how others see your trajectory. It’s not where you’ve been; it’s where you’re going.
Effort - Effort and hard work reinforce the edge that you create for yourself. Gaining an edge requires hard work, plus. You need hard work, but when so many factors are driven by outside forces, you also need to know how to allocate effort.
  • Turn adversity into your edge.
Laura Huang proposes that rather than spinning our wheels and feeling sorry for ourselves for these injustices, we need to accept the reality of our disadvantages and do something about it.   It's an inspiring monograph for those who have faced discrimination and seem to hit a wall all the time.  As a person of colour who grew up in an immigrant household and was the first to have gone to university in my family, I've faced racism and microaggressions as many of my generation and background have.  This book offers some solace.      
“Your past is not something that you should lament; it should be another asset in how you gain your unique advantage. Let your past make you better, no bitter.”

Friday, April 07, 2023

Rest is Resistance as Liberation

I learned about this book from the EDI Scholar-in-Residence, Nneka Allen, who introduced the concept of rest to the audience.   What a lifechanging moment.   I couldn't put down Tricia Hersey's book once I picked it up.  Rest is not a luxury, but resistance against grind culture.  Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. But Tricia Hersey argues that resting is not intended for us to come back stronger and more productive for a capitalist system. 

As someone who has grown up and is born in this system and culture, the idea of rest is a novel concept to me.   Rest is a deep movement of deprogramming our minds to discard this false belief of striving for constant perfectionism. Because capitalism has captured most of us, we are under the spell of the hustle-and-grind culture that compels society to the “unreachable finish line of wealth.” Rest is not encouraged or modeled in such a culture.  Some of the key highlights I want to share here:

“Students are being trained to be workers who can follow orders, memorize facts, and be on time no mater what. Imagination and critical thinking skills are replaced with cookie-cutter learning and standardized testing"

“We have been socialized, manipulated, and indoctrinated by everything in culture to believe the lies of grind culture. In order for a capitalist system to thrive, our false beliefs in productivity and labor must remain"

“We center rest as a means for healing and liberation. We believe sleep deprivation is a racial and social justice issue"

“Rest is resistance because it is a counternarrative to the script of capitalism and white supremacy for all people"

“Unlike white feminism, womanism holds space for race, class, and gender and understands the family and community of Black woman are collaborators in the struggle for liberation” 

“We can . . . begin to honor our bodies and trust our ability to learn new ways of being. We don’t have to be burned out, sleep-deprived, painfully exhausted, or disconnected from our selves and each other"

“I name academia as one of the main sites of grind culture. The headquarters of pushing through exhaustion, competition, expectations, and a lack of balance. people live in the library never once leaving, bringing sleeping bags to lay under tables and in between bookshelves. . ."

“The stress, anxiety, overloaded curriculum, and pressure we normalize in public schools and higher education are toxic and dangerous for everyone involved, but particularly toxic for young children and young adults who are still developing a sense of self . . . we seek external validation from a violent system void of love"

“. . . resting is a connection and a path back to our true nature. We are stripped down to who we really were before the terror of capitalism and white supremacy"

“The system has been lying and guiding us all blindly to urgent and unsustainable fantasies. We have replaced our inherent self-esteem with toxic productivity"

“You don’t have to always be creating, doing, and contributing to the world. Your birth grants you rest and leisure as well"

Naps are about a “deep journey toward decolonizing and returning to our natural state before the terror and the lies were given to us"

“We are going up against such violent systems in our attempt to disrupt and push back: white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, patriarchy, classism, anti-Blackness, homophobia, etc"

“Go to your beds. Go to your couches. Find a hammock. Go into the portal of naps. Go there often. You don’t have to wait on permission from the dominant culture"

Tricia Hersey suggests a 30-day sabbath, a quarantine and liberation from our grind culture, and focusing instead on rest. It means not only detoxing from technology and social media but announcing and making it clear as possible to everyone in your spheres that you will not be available during this time. Without a model from our culture for what it looks like to stop and pause, a sabbath is an opportunity for “intense imagination work and collaboration with Spirit” even if it’s for ten minutes, a weekend, or a month.” Whatever it is, this rest should be unique to us and only us.  

Monday, April 03, 2023

Future Horizons: Canadian Digital Humanities

It's been a few years of hard work and many fruitful research discussions with my research partner, Sarah Zhang, and the fruits of our labour are out with our chapter in Future Horizons: Canadian Digital Humanities.   When we first started out together on this project, we worked on with the historical dataset of the Chinese headtax registers (the records of migrants as they stepped off the ship and onto Canadian soil).  In 2019, we were asked to present at Paul Barrett's graduate studies seminar where we talked about the migrants' head tax, GIS, and digital humanities.  From there, we worked on presenting it at conferences.   In 2021, we were asked to submit a chapter to a book that Sarah Roger and Paul Barrett were thinking about putting together.  And in April 2023, it was finally published.  
Across more than twenty chapters, Future Horizons explores the past, present, and future of digital humanities research, teaching, and experimentation in Canada. Bringing together work by established and emerging scholars, this collection presents contemporary initiatives in digital humanities alongside a reassessment of the field’s legacy to date and conversations about its future potential. It also offers a historical view of the important, yet largely unknown, digital projects in Canada. 
Future Horizons offers deep dives into projects that enlist a diverse range of approaches—from digital games to makerspaces, sound archives to born-digital poetry, visual arts to digital textual analysis—and that work with both historical and contemporary Canadian materials. The essays demonstrate how these diverse approaches challenge disciplinary knowledge by enabling humanities researchers to ask new questions.

The collection challenges the idea that there is either a single definition of digital humanities or a collective national identity. By looking to digital engagements with race, Indigeneity, gender, and sexuality—not to mention history, poetry, and nationhood—this volume expands what it means to work at the intersection of digital humanities and humanities in Canada today.

1. Digital Canadas? Transforming the Nation — Sarah Roger and Paul Barrett

Part 1. Situating and Disrupting Digital Scholarship
2. Where Is the Nation in Digital Humanities, Revisited — Roopika Risam
3. Rerouting Digital (Humanities) Scholarship in Canada — Andrea Zeffiro
4. Closed, Open, Stopped: Indigenous Sovereignty and the Possibility of Decolonial DH — David Gaertner
5. “This Game Needs to be Made”: Playable Theories ⇌ Virtual Worlds — Jon Saklfoske
6. Reimagining Representational Codes in Data Visualization: What Contemporary Digital Humanities Might Learn from Visual Arts-Based Disciplines — Julia Polyck-O’Neill
7. Making, Conversation: An Experiment in Public Digital Humanities — Kim Martin and Rashmeet Kaur

Part 2. Digital Poetics
8. Canadian Poetry and the Computational Concordance: Sandra Djwa and the Early History of Canadian Humanities Computing — Sarah Roger, Paul Barrett, and Kiera Obbard
9. Canadian Poetry and the Computer — Sandra Djwa
10. “saga uv th relees uv human spirit from compuewterr funckshuns”: Space Conquest, IBM, and the Anti-digital Anxiety of Early Canadian Digital Poetics (1960–1968) — Gregory Betts
11. From the Digits to the Digital: Bodies in the Machines of Canadian Concrete Poetics — Eric Schmaltz
12. Nations of Touch: The Politics of Electronic Literature as Digital Humanities — Dani Spinosa
13. STOP WORDS — Klara du Plessis

Part 3. Digital Canadian Archives
14. Wages Due Both Then and Now — Pascale Dangoisse, Constance Crompton, and Michelle Schwartz
15. Analog Thrills, Digital Spills: On the Fred Wah Digital Archive version 2.0 — Deanna Fong and Ryan Fitzpatrick
16. Humanizing the Archive: The potential of Hip-Hop archives in the digital humanities — Mark Campbell
17. Sounding Digital Humanities — Katherine McLeod
18. Unsettling Colonial Mapping: Sonic-Spatial Representations of amiskwaciw√Ęskahikan — Kendra Cowley
19. Beyond “Mere Digitization”: Introducing the Canadian Modernist Magazines Project — Graham H. Jensen
20. “A Legacy of Race and Data: Mining the History of Exclusion” — Allan Cho and Sarah Zhang

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Remembering Jim Wong-Chu: Happy 74th Birthday

Today is Jim Wong-Chu’s birthday and he would’ve been 74 years old. It’s been five years since the passing of my friend and I dearly miss his presence and mentorship.  Jim was a “writer, photographer, historian, radio producer, community organizer and activist, editor, and literary and cultural engineer,” but to me, most of all, he was a role model for young people finding their way in this world. He was a polymath of ideas and very inspiring and had a moral compass. Jim was born in 1949 in Hong Kong. In 1953, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Canada as a "paper son", a term which referred to the practice of children who immigrated to Canada by using real or falsified identification papers of relatives living in Canada.  


Though his formal education was never completed, Jim inspired me that formal education never ends, and learning is lifelong. He wanted to learn more about the publishing business, so he also worked as an associate editor for Douglas and McIntyre and as an associate editor for Arsenal Pulp Press. Jim attended the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art + Design) with a focus on photography and design from 1975-1981. He also attended the University of British Columbia for creative writing from 1985-1987, all the while working as a letter carrier at Canada Post. He was a founding member of various community and cultural organizations including:
  •  Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop (ACWW)
  • Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society 
  • the Pender Guy Radio Program, Asia Canadian Performing Arts Resource (ACPAR)
  • Go for Broke Festival
  • B.C. Sinfonetta Society
  • Federation of British Columbia Writers
  • The Chinese Community Library Association
  • B.C. Heritage Trust
  • Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver
Jim was also an author and editor of: 
  • Chinatown Ghosts
  • Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Fiction
  • Many-Mouthed Birds: Contemporary Writing by Chinese Canadians;  
  • Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry
I'm heartened that Jim's work and legacy live on at the UBC Library's Rare Books and Special Collections.  In a way, it's comforting to know that I sit above his archival fonds each day, knowing that the many late-night conversations, early-morning deadlines, and everything in-between, continue as a lasting resource to many researchers and academics.    In 2021, for example, a graduate student Brandon Leung, writes about how Jim's life and insights influenced and shaped the way he researched and thought about Asian Canadian studies.   Here is a fantastic Finding Aid of the Jim Wong-Chu fonds (RBSC-ARC-1710) available online.   Jim, thank you for the memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

C.I. certificates -- A Key to Unlocking The Past

There once existed a dizzying array of special identity documents – called C.I. certificates – that were issued by the Canadian Government exclusively to its Chinese residents. These pieces of paper were intended to control, contain, monitor and even intimidate this one community.
Scholars such as Catherine Clement is soon launching The Paper Trail to the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act exhibition and all of the scans all the scans of all the C.I. Certificates will be housed in a public archive at UBC.   2023 is an important but unfortunate anniversary as it's the 100th year since the passing of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act in Canada (more commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Act) that set the stage for Chinese being barred from entry into Canada based solely on their country of origin.

If there are family members who were in Canada in 1923, they would have been required to register when the Chinese Exclusion Act passed.  The C.I.44 was issued to certify that an individual had registered under Section 18 of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Registration was required for every person of Chinese origin in Canada. The certificate recorded detailed identifying information and bore a photo and related file numbers.  Files were kept of foreign-born Chinese in Vancouver, Victoria, and Ottawa.

However, the Chinese Immigration records currently stored at the LAC are somewhat messy.  According to my colleague June Chow, who is a highly respected activist and organizer in the community, the C.I9s do not appear to be complete. There are microfilm reels that are scattered, as the records were separated by port (Vancouver or Victoria) and by foreign-born versus native-born Chinese. Some reels are digitized while some are not; some records are indexed and some are not.  "It's quite a quagmire."

With the newly released CI.44 record set, the hope is that they can lead to finding other existing record sets.  This CI.44 record set documents the mass registration required of all Chinese living in Canada when the 1923 Exclusion amendment passed.   I have submitted an ATIP request to LAC to open those records.  I'm hopeful that my search for my ancestry can continue.

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.