Asian-American Librarians Hold First National Conference

By Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, August 2001 | Go to article overview

Asian-American Librarians Hold First National Conference


Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


Opening the first National Conference on Asian Pacific American Librarians, held June 13-15 in San Francisco before the ALA Annual Conference, Planning Committee Co-chair Ling Hwey Jeng remarked on the obstacles facing the event's organizers. "People told me it's impossible because Asian Americans are so different," she said. "There's no way you could put all Asian Americans in one conference."

"We look at the differences and it becomes the opportunity to expand our horizons," said Jeng, and to see the many things Asian-Americans share professionally, culturally, and socially. That concept was reflected in the conference's theme, "Shared Visions," and in the 310 registrants--slightly more than the organizers' goal of 300, according to Jeng's co-chair, Ken Yamashita--whose heritage ranged from Chinese and Japanese to Filipino, Korean, and Indian.

Yamashita said the event originated two years ago when he, along with Jeng, then president of the Chinese-American Librarians Association, and Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association President Patty Wong decided that the two ALA affiliates should pool their resources to organize a national gathering.

An even more diverse vision than Asian-American unity was the basis of a panel--one of 20 program sessions offered during the conference--on ethnic coalition building featuring leaders from four of ALA's ethnic caucuses. Black Caucus of ALA President Gladys Smiley Bell, Reforma President-elect Susana Hinojosa, American Indian Library Association executive board member Joan Howland, and CALA President Yu-lan Chou suggested ways their groups could work together to achieve common goals. As Hinojosa pointed out, the caucuses share many overriding concerns--immigration, language bafflers, and recruitment and retention--as well as the more short-term issue of how to get more of their representatives on ALA Council and committees.

In another sign of collaboration among the caucuses, plans are in the works for a joint conference of the groups, possibly as soon as 2005. ALA Executive Director William Gordon, who was also on the panel, called such a joint conference one of the most important things the groups could accomplish, although he warned of the pitfalls confronting such an ambitious attempt at coalition-building. Gordon stressed that participants must have a clear understanding of the length of their commitment and who will be the lead partner.

A program titled "Shattering the Glass Ceiling" examined the question of why Asian-American librarians lag behind other minorities in being promoted to managerial positions. New Mexico State Librarian Ben Wakashige pointed out that although the number of Asian-American librarians corresponds to their percentage in the overall population, there is only one Asian-American director among Association of Research Libraries institutions, and none in the largest public libraries.

Wakashige's advice to aspiring administrators: Make sure you have high self-esteem and the ability to cope with stress; learn administrative skills such as budgeting and management; develop interpersonal skills like public speaking; and be sensitive to the stereotyping of Asians as passive and undemanding.

Charlotte Kim described the path her career has taken to her current job as assistant commissioner of neighborhood services for the Chicago Public Library. "Looking back," she said, "I regard each position as a definite breaking of the glass ceiling." Kim said the challenges facing Asian-American librarians can be external, such as racial discrimination or language barriers, or internal, such as insecurity or a victim mentality.

Uniquely American?

Equality of access and confidentiality are foreign values in many cultures, noted Patty Wong, facilitator of a panel on "Freedom of Information: A Uniquely American Value?" Wong (who was also the NCAPAL program chair) said that policies on such matters may be in conflict with the benefits of immigrant parents who feel the library should play the role of a protector and educator that monitors their children's reading. …

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