Sunday, 23 July 2017

On finding Asian-Australian voices in our nation's memory...

Over at the #GLAMBlogClub, this month's theme is identity. Being a person of colour, specifically an Asian-Australian, racial identity is a topic that I tend to shy away. I was brought up in a multicultural community, singing "We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on Earth we come... we share a dream, and sing with one voice... I am, you are, we are Australian." I also grew up, quite conscious of racism, and even to this day I am super-conscious when I overhear casual racism, and feel personally hurt when I become the target of racial slurs by unknown passers-by - which happens more often than I'd like to admit.

Besides, as far as I was concerned, I was Australian, and anybody who suggested otherwise because of my racial background, wasn't worth engaging in a pointless argument with.

But recently, there's been a growing amount of literature in the field of critical librarianship which analyses and addresses whiteness in the industry. It's something that I've become super-conscious of, and I feel that it's a topic that I should engage with more. The problem is that when I've occasionally brought it up in conversation with colleagues, at best it's acknowledged politely, at worst, I'm accused of invoking identity politics, and playing the race card. I haven't done it in a while, purely because I care about my career and don't want to make any of my colleagues feel offended / upset / guilty / awkward.

I have a lot of admiration for my peers and friends who are actively feminist, especially in addressing the ways that patriarchy is still are present in our society and workplaces. Yes, even the library industry, where over 85% of librarians are women, and yet male librarians still earn $6.9k more on average every year. And yet, I still feel strangely reluctant to speak out when there's a noticeable lack of representation, perhaps not always in our workplace, but certainly in our collections. I don't even sense any kind of solidarity amongst Australian librarians of colour, where I can comfortably discuss these issues to any depth.

I recently attended a talk at the National Library of Australia, outlining two of the exhibitions currently on display. One is an impressive collection of Japanese "kuchi-e" woodblock prints from the Meiji period, and the other is a collection of Chinese propaganda posters from 1949-1976. These, like most collections from the NLA's Asian Collections, are managed by language, focusing on the countries that collections are derived. It also includes Australian works which are published in foreign languages in these countries. And this is all good and important - as a collecting agency, we need to engage and collaborate with our regional neighbours.

However, there's a part of me that's deeply uncomfortable with the "otherness" that is associated with Asian culture in this context. We are looking outward at Asian cultures external to this nation, where there have been plenty of Asian communities and influencers in Australian society since the mid-19th Century. I'm conscious of this in state collections, particularly from my time working in the Northern Territory, and some of the Victorian collecting agencies, such as the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Museum. And, of course, the Immigration Museum has done important work in acknowledging the changing face of Australian society over the last two centuries.

And yet, when it comes to our national collections, I am conscious of the absence of these representations, when I browse these organisations that are charged with preserving Australia's national memory. One of my colleagues occasionally teases me about the fact that much of my work involves moving boxes full of papers of dead white people. It's become a reminder to me to keep an eye out for boxes full of papers that may be from people of colour. Their voices may tell a different story of what it means to be Australian. These are important voices, but so far they are literally buried in the stacks - waiting to be heard.

So, what else can I do?

As a Reference Librarian, there are opportunities to shine a light on parts of the collection that might otherwise go unnoticed. Some colleagues in recent years have identified indigenous content that we weren't even aware of, and made important and meaningful connections between them and the communities that they came from. I personally feel like I need to do more delving into the collections, and develop my own familiarity with the voices and stories that lie therein, so that I can then increase the wider awareness of diverse representations in these collections.

But most importantly, I would encourage Asian Australians who have played a part in this nation's history and culture - whether they are writers, artists, politicians, community leaders, etc. - to consider donating their papers, whether they be sketches, diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, computers, hard drives, and so on, to the National Library. It might currently be a place that's full of boxes of papers by dead white dudes, but it doesn't always have to be that way. This way, we can preserve a national memory that's representative of the diversity of Australian culture.

It's a start, anyway.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Day 30 : Farewell to another Blogjune!

I made it! Blogjune is done for another year!

I also made it through my first month in a new role. Today was a good day. It turned out that all the frustration from yesterday paid off, and all the difficulties I addressed yesterday paved the way to get a heap of things progressed forward today. So, it's a timely reminder to myself to be more patient - both with myself, and with the process - and to keep on keeping on, and these things will sort themselves out.

And looking back at the month, it's been a big one. Possibly the biggest this year so far. The new role, obviously, played a major part in it, and whilst I haven't blogged overtly about it, there are aspects of it that have prompted a few of my posts, and, if nothing else, affected my mood and the corresponding tone. It's brought career development into the fore of my thoughts, as I learn new processes and develop new skills, and wonder which direction this big change will take me.

Speaking of professional development, I mused about the mentor programme - which I did decide to sign up for! I attended the ALIA New Librarians' Symposium, and found a renewed sense of professional exuberance. Perhaps they should rename it the Renewed Librarian's Symposium...? Actually, I was always a fan of the Emerging Leading Library & Information Professional Symposium Experience - or ELLIPSE... I do love a good acronym! But I digress...

Looking back at the past month, and comparing it to Blogjune 2017, I feel like I'm in a much better place now. I'm definitely starting to settle back into my life in Australia, and I currently have a stable basis for continuing my career, and a solid plan for the immediate future, with a few exciting adventures on the way. I look forward to looking back onto these posts in future years, as I have recently on past years, and appreciate how much my life has changed, and continues to change who I am, and where I'm going.

Until next June!

(Or whenever I decide to blog again in the meantime...)

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Day 29: Post-conference comedown... and making a plan.

So, it finally hit me today. The post-conference comedown.

I'm not talking about physically crashing - that happened on Monday! No, I'm talking about the crash to reality after a weekend at NLS8 - feeling inspired and motivated about being in a socially and technologically progressive professional community, and like we were ready to take on the whole world and change it.

I mean, really, today was just one of those days - everything that I tried to do got hit with frustrating setback after another, and by the end of the day I felt like I'd gotten nothing done, compounded by the fact that I had my rostered evening shift, which turned it into a ten-and-a-half hour day. We have those days, sometimes, and my brain should know this.

But no, suddenly it felt like the world was crumbling around me, and all my professional dreams that I'd been striving for for the past twelve years were turning to utter crap, and I may as well just give up rather than keep deluding myself that this is a profession worth being a part of. Admittedly, I do sometimes have those days, but not so often.

So, what did I do?

I sat down and worked on the ALIA Career Development Kit. Strange choice, I know, but (a) I needed to do an activity to get my PD points up a bit further this month, and (b) what better time to be brutally honest with yourself about your career path than when you're feeling negative and disillusioned about it?

And you know what? It kinda made me feel better. I identified nine professional development priorities, identifying people in my professional network who could support me in developing certain skills and knowledge, and other external courses / activities to pursue over the next twelve months. Which is good timing, since it's almost performance review time anyway, where I get to propose PD activities for the next year.

I mean, sure, it's not a perfect plan, and most of it may go out of the window, but there's something comforting about at least having a plan.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Day 28: Time-travel Challenge!

So, in the continued spirit of going with other people's blog themes, I'm playing along with Kathryn's Time Travel Challenge - which involves answering these questions three two:

If you could go back and tell your 20 year old self one thing that was going to happen to you between then and today, what would that be?

Well, thinking back to 20 year-old me... let's say, for argument's sake, it's June 1998. I've already decided that I know longer want to be an engineer, and drop out of a course that I'm probably about to fail, to focus on my Arts degree. I'm still with my first girlfriend, and have no idea what the future will hold.

I could tell myself that life won't go according to plan, but that's okay, because that's when all the awesome adventures and unexpected twists occur. But then again, that's something that I need to figure out for myself. After all, spoilers.

I could tell myself that I'd eventually end up working as a librarian at the National Library of Australia, but I'm not entirely sure if 20 year-old me would be impressed by that. That's more like something I'd tell 30 year-old me.

I could tell myself that I'd have adventures working in weird places around the world but, again, I never really learned to appreciate them until I actually got there.

Honestly, I'd probably just tell myself something lame, like I would finally get to see Morrissey perform in concert, and hearing How Soon Is Now live up the front of the crowd of Macedonian fans would be one of the single most self-affirming moments of my life. I think 20 year-old me would be impressed by that.

In 20 years time (presuming the world gets better, not worse) what do you think will be the biggest technological difference between your life now and your life then?

I think the ways that we can access, experience, copy and manipulate digital information will become instantaneous and seamless. Which means that the scope of creativity will increase exponentially. However, it means that issues of authority and authenticity in works will become more problematic. You think fake news is an issue now? Wait 20 years...

At the same time, I'd like to think that it will mean that we can continue to build a greater appreciation of artistic work in all its forms. And as a librarian, I hope the technology for accessing and copying collections reaches that point where we don't have to pour our energies into the transaction, and instead focus on cultivating creative collaborations and partnerships.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Day 27: My first library job

So, following on from flexnib and Jane's post about their first library job, here's mine (since I'm running short on original ideas today!).

My first library job was not a library job.

It was in the Percy Baxter Collaborative Learning Centre, which was a state-of-the-art learning facility located on the first floor of the University of Melbourne's Baillieu Library. It was equipped with new PCs and Macs, complete with scanners, and the centre was one of the very few places on campus that had wireless internet access. There were two large separate training rooms for group learning, but the main centre had, iirc, about 60 or so computers. But this was more than just a student computer lab - the unique setup was designed so that computers were grouped into carrels for small-group collaboration. It opened in June 2000, and I was one of the original staff, working there until I moved to Darwin in September 2006.

I worked as an ongoing casual on the front desk, working regular shifts, primarily helping people with printing and loaning our wireless cards (remember them?). I would also assist students and academics in accessing journal databases, and showing them how to identify and download full-text articles. I also received training in using Endnote and supported students and academics in using it. In the later years, we offered technical support to teaching staff using the Learning Management System (LMS), uploading and organising course material for online delivery.

What interests me in highsight was how "not part of the library" this centre was. We would often have people referred to us from the information desk downstairs - particularly those wanting to access online resources. There was quite a bit of referencing and citation training too - academics would often bring groups of postgrad students up for their research methods training using the training rooms.

For me and my colleagues, this facility seemed to be the exception to what a library was at the time - where it really should have been quite integral! And there's no doubt that my experience working in this centre over those six years equipped me with many of my primary skills for becoming a librarian - customer service, supervising a space, troubleshooting equipment, one-on-one information literacy training, referencing and citation knowledge, and so on...

A year or so ago, I revisited the Baillieu Library after hearing that they'd completed a major renovation. The Percy Baxter Centre now seems to have been superseded by the modernisation of the rest of the library, and just feels like a run-down computer lab. The service desk and offices are now vacant, as there doesn't seem to be a need for in-person support.

I suppose, these days, they'd just go and ask a librarian.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Day 26: Overall reflections on NLS8.

It's been a day since NLS8 ended, and my head is still spinning with the ideas that we've been exploring over the weekend. That probably means it's been a good event. :)

Whilst there was a broad range of topics explored, some recurring messages stood out, and whilst some of them are hardly new ideas, they still act as an important reminder to me as I go back to work tomorrow...

Do something - Don't wait for somebody else to do it. Take the plunge and say Yes. You are your own best champion. You are the CEO of your own career. Don't worry about being perfect - you're fine the way you are. Be curious, and try new things.

Create - Whether it's playing with new technology, tapping into your own passion to find new approaches to delivering training / services, or allowing collections to captivate and inspire your imagination, and the imagination of those who come to the library, to create new things and tell new stories.

Collaborate - Don't do it alone, do it together. Colleagues will sanity-check your "brain farts" and help you through lonely times. As a librarian, don't ask "How can I help you?" but instead ask, "What are you doing, and can I be a part of it?" Become community activists - your job is not to inform communities, but to improve communities. Be seen in the workplace, and share your knowledge and successes with them. Have coffee dates - exchange knowledge, skills, experiences - and be open to saying yes to new projects.

Listen - To your clients and communities. Again,  be curious. Ask them what they need. Ask them to tell you their stories. Pay attention to who your clients are, even if it means changing the way you dress to make them more comfortable and open up to you. Remember that they are human - pay attention to what they are doing, and what their goals are, so that your service is more than just a transaction, but a collaboration - you becomes weavers of community understanding by connecting communities with conversations.

Be Global - The world doesn't stop at the doors of your library, or your sector, or your country's borders. We are a world-wide professional community, and the more we connect, the greater our understanding and awareness of the diversity in our society, the challenges that are faced by our peers around the world, and the ways in which the global socio-political climate can affect us in the services and products we deliver.

Reflect - Whether it's recording PD, or developing training, it's important to take the time to reflect on what you're learning and how these lessons learnt can be applied in your work.

In terms of my own work, I'm still relatively new in my current role, and so most of my time has been preoccupied in understanding and staying on top of workflows. As such, my experience of the role has been predominantly focused on providing access and delivery in terms of technical procedures and transactions. Attending NLS8 has reminded me that I need to allow myself the time to step back from the task from time to time, and look past the procedures and instructions - to see the people who are at the receiving end of our service, and connect with them and whatever creative ventures they are undergoing. To appreciate how our collections not only inform them, but captivates their imagination, transports them to another time, brings deeper understanding to human relationships, and connects them with their communities of the past, present and future. These are what it means to be preserving our nation's collective memory - not just merely collecting materials and providing access to them - but facilitating the development of knowledge, understanding and meaning, sharing our stories, and creating new stories - with the ultimate purpose of improving our communities.

That's what being a librarian means to me, and it's what motivates me in this industry.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Day 25: Day 2 of NLS8

So, more brief thoughts before I go to sleep...

Keynote: R. David Lankes

Words are important. We use words like information services, customer service, library users. But as professionals, do we really want to be "used" or "consumed"? Furthermore, the problem with seeing our product as information or data, means that people then become processors of that info / data to facilitate an action.

Library materials themselves do not equate to knowledge. It is not our job to inform - but to improve.

Information literacy itself is not enough - because it makes people feel better about having lousy skills. In order to improve, people must first acknowledge their ignorance.

Rather than merely provide access, new librarians need to keep a critical eye, listen to people, and connect conversations and communities. Stop asking "how can we help" and instead ask, "what care you doing and can we be a part of it?" We need to listen.

Librarianship is political, because it deals with empowerment. We need to get rid of the idea of neutrality. We're no longer gatekeepers, but rather weavers of community meaning and understanding.

These ideas echo much of what I've learned in the past, particularly in relation to librarianship and reader development, and my work in international development. We should stop seeing ourselves as simply provider of a transaction of resources, but see each interaction as an opportunity to build, collaborate, create, learn, etc.

eResources, licensing and copyright

My main takeaway from this was mostly to do with the tensions between licensing contracts and copyrights - especially when they come at odds with one another. Fair use doesn't solve this, as it's still an exception. Do we serve our clients and be bold in observing copyright legislation, or do we honour our contracts and maintain vendor / donor relationships?

Guerrilla research

This was more of a refresher than anything else, but was still handy to remind myself of the steps to go through when undergoing informal DIY research, and helped prompt me to reflect more on the kinds of research I'd like to pursue in the future.

Librarians and Dragons

I thoroughly enjoyed this as a creative and engaging way to teach people about applying transferable skills. I'm kinda tempted to re-write my resume as a DnD Character Sheet, as a way of looking at my skills and experience from a different perspective.

Keynote: Jane Caro

Jane is such an engaging speaker, telling it how it is. She reminds me of why feminism is still important today, and how we should all be mindful of the impossible standards that a patriarchal society places on us all.

Final words: Vicki McDonald

I'm keen to see how ALIA is planning to focus more on the wider Asia Pacific region in the coming year, and again, I'm further reminded on the importance of becoming a global librarian.

Okay, sleep time. I'll write up further overall thoughts and reflections tomorrow.