And we’re all people together

We have an organized response, almost two weeks after the Black Caucus of American Library Association (BCALA) released their statement condemning the location of ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference in Florida. I’ve had the enormous privilege of working with other members of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA) to discuss what the location means to us as Asian and Pacific American librarians, how we can support our brothers and sisters in BCALA, and how to move as a profession towards respect, equity, and justice. And after two weeks of emails, side conversations, Google docs, and various committees, BCALA, ALA, and presidents of ALA’s ethnic affiliates have released a follow up statement.  So, I’ve been following some of the discussions that have been going on, butthis statement below isn’t mine:

CHICAGO —The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion form the foundation of the library profession and our professional associations. Those values have been challenged by the discriminatory enforcement of the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida and the fact that ALA’s 2016 Annual Conference is scheduled for Orlando. The Executive Committee members of ALA and the BCALA Executive Board have actively engaged in conversation to determine the best solution to this challenging dilemma. That conversation has been extended to the Executive Boards of AILA, APALA, CALA, and REFORMA with a decision to issue a joint statement of commitment and action.

In response to BCALA’s concern regarding holding the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, the ALA Executive Board thoroughly explored the options for moving the conference. ALA started by clarifying the facts underlying conference site selection, the implications of trying to move the Orlando conference, and the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States. The contracts for Orlando were negotiated originally in 2000; the Stand Your Ground law in Florida became effective on October 1, 2005. Cancelling the hotel and convention center contracts would result in a minimum fine of $814,000. Conferences as large as ALA must be scheduled for specific sites and contracts signed at least 7–10 years in advance. At this late date, it would be highly unlikely that ALA would be able to find another site with availability during our window of late June/early July 2016.

Most troubling is the growing prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws. Twenty-two states have laws that allow for that self-defense provision to be asserted (as of August 2013). An additional 21 states have enacted laws that allow for self-defense within one’s home (called Castle Doctrines). However, each state has implemented and applied the Stand Your Ground laws differently, and it is the interpretation and application of the Stand Your Ground Law in the Zimmerman and Dunn cases, as well as the Marissa Alexander case, that has heightened the urgency for discussion and action.

With that information in hand, our ALA’s Executive Committee and BCALA’s Executive Board decided that the best way to respond to the Florida situation is by turning it into an opportunity to educate, build awareness, and advocate for equitable treatment, inclusion, and respect for diversity. We have agreed on the following actions:

  • Town Hall discussions of racial diversity and inclusion in our profession, association, and communities.
    • Major topic of Membership Meeting at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
    • Topic of discussion during Virtual Membership Meeting on June 5, 2014.
  • Support for conversations and actions at the state level facilitated by state library associations or other organizations within the states.
  • Formation of a Special Presidential Task Force involving members of the ethnic affiliates and ALA to (1) develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue, (2) build strong advocacy and awareness while at the Orlando conference, and (3) develop communications directed toward the public. The Task Force will be formed immediately. The goal is to use the Orlando conference platform to provoke a national dialogue.
  • Collaboration with local Black and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations in Orlando to determine the best ways for ALA members to be supportive of them.  This will include compilation of a list of African-American and Hispanic/Latino businesses in Orlando for ALA members to patronize.
  • Outreach to national organizations with vested interest in the Stand Your Ground laws to build alliances and collaborative efforts in advocacy and public awareness (e.g., NAACP, La Raza, Urban League).

Most important to all the ethnic caucuses and ALA is the public and honest conversation that will be generated by our actions. We are committed to building more diversity and inclusion among our members, the field of librarianship, and our communities. We invite all members of AILA, APALA, BCALA, CALA, REFORMA, and ALA to engage with us in moving toward a more just society.

With respect,

Barbara Stripling
President
ALA
(American Library Association)

Jerome Offord, Jr.
President
BCALA, Inc.
(Black Caucus of the American Library Association)

Heather Devine
President
AILA
(American Indian Library Association)

Eugenia Beh
President
APALA
(Asian Pacific American Librarians Association)

Lisa Zhao
President
CALA
(Chinese American Librarians Association)

Isabel Espinal
President
REFORMA
(The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking)

Macey Morales
Media Relations Manager
American Library Association

mmorales@ala.org

So… what do I think…

Let’s start positive. Very positive, the condemnation of Stand Your Ground laws, and the Zimmerman, Dunn, and Alexander cases. Plus, a pretty wide number of groups is represented in this document, which represents an even wider range of engagement!

Pretty positive, the action items are documented, to keep us accountable to each other. The decision to keep the conference in Florida, and to make sure that we support local communities seems fair to me. As long as it happens. As long as it’s a real commitment to local libraries and activist groups and businesses, and not looking through Yelp for businesses to put in the program and says “Remember to eat at black restaurants!”

Less positive, the action items don’t assign a lot of responsibility outside of the already vested ethnic affiliates. I’m a little worried that this could turn into members of the ethnic affiliates trying to have conversations that other library professionals still don’t want to have.

Not very positive, that second paragraph sounds very ‘splanatory. I understand the desire on ALA’s part to justify their decisions, first to hold and then to keep the conference in Florida, but I’m wary of saying “it’s too expensive” or “its too hard”, because it can sound like money or difficulty were an explanation for not pursuing the safety and inclusion of your members. And I dislike the phrasing that makes it sound like “ALA started by clarifying … the prevalence of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States”. I don’t want people to think that somehow ALA is this big white organization and the ethnic affiliates are outer members that needed Stand Your Ground explained to them.

ALA represents all librarians, and people of color are working with their fellow information professions as fellow members of ALA to make sure that our profession reflects diversity/equity/inclusion.

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Librarians are just other people

We have politicized identities and political views. We want to be heard and respected for our views. The murder of Trayvon Martin and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman did neither of those. Nor did the murder of Jordan Davis and the subsequent verdict for Michael Dunn (he was convicted of attempted murder of the three other boys in the car, but not of Jordan Davis, despite the fact that he fired all of those shots). So the Black Caucus of the American Libraries Association has released this statement:

Black Caucus of ALA Denounces ALA’s Decision to Hold 2016 Annual Conference in Orlando, Fla.

For immediate release: March 10, 2014

Media Contact: Jason Alston, jasonalston@gmail.com

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), condemns the American Library Association’s (ALA) decision to continue with plans to hold the ALA 2016 annual conference in Orlando, Fla. in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict and that state’s refusal to revise or repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws, which were included in jury instructions in Zimmerman’s trial for second degree murder for fatally shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. in 2012.

BCALA believes that “Stand Your Ground” laws enable a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality against African-American men perceived without merit to be threats or assumed without evidence to be engaged in criminal behavior. Kenneth Nunn, a professor at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, wrote in the New York Times in 2012 that, “African-Americans, black males in particular, have been constructed in popular culture as violence-prone and dangerous,” and that this construct produces a fear in Americans that deadly force against such people is consequently reasonable in general.

BCALA therefore contends that Florida law should require more than perception of a threat before use of deadly force is deemed justifiable. BCALA predicts “Stand Your Ground” will be used in future killings where racial bias played a factor in the actions of the accused. Months after the Zimmerman verdict, another travesty of justice occurred when a Florida jury failed to convict Michael Dunn of murder for shooting into a car and killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn said he fired because he felt threatened by Davis and other Black teens in a car Davis was riding in, but the unarmed Davis had not exited his vehicle or physically confronted Dunn. Dunn was convicted only for attempted murder after he continued firing at the vehicle as the teenagers attempted to flee.

BCALA believes that ALA, which claims various commitments to diversity and tolerance, should have begun plans to find a new venue for ALA 2016 following the July 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman. BCALA must question ALA’s true commitment to diversity and racial tolerance when ALA, North America’s largest and strongest library association, still plans to hold its largest and most financially lucrative function in a state that has become Ground Zero in initiating weapons laws, as well as voting policies, that potentially put the rights and safety of African-Americans at risk. ALA annual conferences are generally well-documented and publicized, and BCALA fears that librarians, 20,000 strong, conducting business and spending money in Orlando will negate any claim that librarians have to being advocates of equality and social justice.

BCALA, rather, is committed to creating, supporting and cheerleading initiatives that facilitate success in young Black males. The organization is particularly encouraged by President Barack Obama’s recent unveiling of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which the president hopes will, “(I)mprove significantly the expected life outcomes for boys and young men of color (including African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans) and their contributions to U.S. prosperity.” An initiative to support Black male success coming from national leadership will hopefully catch on with those who otherwise wouldn’t care or would see these youths as a threat.

BCALA was formally established in 1970 and remains the forefront networking and professional development vehicle for African-American librarians. An independent non-profit organization, BCALA sponsors scholarships and travel assistance, produces a quarterly publication and holds a biennial conference. BCALA serves in an advisory role to the American Library Association and collaborates with other ethnic affiliate organizations on diversity initiatives in libraries. More information about BCALA is available at www.bcala.org.

October, Again

October is, among other things, Filipin@ American Heritage Month, Medical Librarian Month, and Family History Month. I know because I’ve received separate emails about each one, suggesting ways to celebrate/commemorate/spread the good news. So if anyone out there knows a Filipin@ American medical librarian, I’d love to help him/her with a genealogical or archival family history project. Just to make sure I’ve covered all my bases.

This is where I should put the winky face, right? So that you know I’m being tongue in cheek?

October is filled with some seriously good cultural groups vying for attention.

Meaningful Work

In the midst of my graduation from a Master’s program and job searching, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of work a) that I want to do, b) that I’m qualified for, and c) that I’ll settle for.

At the time that I applied for grad school, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that stories told by Asian Americans are marginalized and lost– college papers written but never read (let alone published), Asian language newspapers that weren’t being digitized, stories buried with generation that never told them, etc. I wanted to make sure that Asian American primary and secondary sources got the care and attention that they deserved.

While I was in library school, I met some really cool people who approach diversity and information sciences from different directions– a multicultural librarian who taught Asian American Studies and information literacy at a community college; several children’s librarians devoted to making multicultural literature available to multicultural families; a medical librarian who managed a project that produced culturally sensitive patient information (like a guide to cooking traditional Cambodian food while managing diabetes); and two MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Sciences) students who built a site to help deportees find basic resources in Mexico.

I envisioned starting up my own library, one that combined multi-lingual books for/by/about Asian Americans, archived community histories, and hosted public events like children’s story times and open mics.

But I’ve graduated now. I’m working temporary jobs to pay the bills and wondering when my ship will come in. So I find myself thinking a lot about how I can advocate for underrepresented communities and resources no matter where I find myself. Because working with diversity doesn’t have to mean finding a job with a kickass organization committed to social justice and equality (although that would be great). But it does mean finding a way to pursue social justice and equality within all kinds of organizations.

Out of the Archives: Archival Resources

Lest you think I’m a genius, I’m not the first person who’s ever tried to catalogue Asian American archives. These two lists detail physical and digital Asian American archives/archival collections. I’ll put up more as I find them, and eventually, make a resources page here on Movements and Moments. I have to, because I’ve posted it on the internet. And if we know anything to be true, it’s that no one is allowed to lie on the internet.

Note that many of the archives on these lists are not digitized. If you’re looking to access things remotely, or even figure out exactly what’s in the boxes, you may run into serious roadblocks. I guess that means you’ve got to find some travel money.

 

Asian Pacific American Archives Survey

The Asian/Pacific American Documentary Heritage Archives Survey is the first systematic attempt to map available and potential Asian/Pacific American archival collections in the New York metropolitan area. The project seeks to address the underrepresentation of East Coast Asian America in historic scholarship and archives by working with community-based organizations and individuals to survey their records and raise awareness within the community about the importance of documenting and preserving their histories. This website, by digitally bringing together descriptions of the often fragmentary and scattered documentary heritage of the New York Asian/Pacific American community, hopes to serve as a central resource for information about these surveyed hidden collections.

The project is a collaboration between the NYU Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives the Asian/Pacific/American Institute and is funded by a one-year grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council.

 

Asian American Archives Libguide

USC’s libguide on Asian American Studies features a tab to help students do research on Asian American archival material.

Bias By Default

There’s a lot of literature written on biases that exist in knowledge organization systems. I mean that the Library of Congress, social tagging, and good old Dewey Decimal, among others, are full of historical biases that offend and render invisible vulnerable populations. The problem is not that the people who make these systems are terrible people dedicated to oppressing women, LGBTQs, and racial minorities, but that knowledge organizations systems (KOSs from now on) reflect the biases held by the people who make them. And those people, like all people, have issues.

Solutions? Some people suggest turning away from oppressive, patriarchal systems (see Websters’ First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, dedicating to creating a thesaurus free from the masculine oppression of the English language), but I wonder about the impracticality of such ventures. A related suggestion is THE INTERNET. Come on people. Google is not the answer to everything. See the first paragraph.

What then?

Asian (Americans) in Libraries

The American Library Association (ALA)  released its statistical study on diversity in libraries this week. Apparently Asian and Pacific Islanders compose just 2.7 percent of credentialed librarians and  5.5 percent of library assistants. The general American population is about 5% Asian and Pacific Islander American according to the latest census, which means we’re woefully underrepresenting in the library profession.

The round up for other racial groups reflects some similar underrepresentation:

  • Latinos compose 16.3 percent of the population, but just 3.1 percent of credentialed librarians and 9 percent of library assistants;
  • African Americans compose 12.6 percent of the population, but just 5.1 percent of credentialed librarians and 9.3 percent of library assistants;
  • Native Americans were less than 1 percent of the population and just 0.2 percent of credentialed librarians and 0.7 percent of library assistants.

Like I said last week, representation is important because it’s one way to ensure that our constituencies are served and our voices are heard.