Friday, April 1, 2016

PLN Journal Week 11: APALA Strategic Planning Town Hall

When I checked my email today, I received a "happening now" email about an Asian Pacific American Libraries Association (APALA) online strategic planning town hall. I clicked on the link to join the live meeting thinking that I would simply lurk and see what it was like. But, at least in the beginning, I was the only participant (two other people joined as the meeting continued), and so I was immediately greeted by name.

As this is barely my second year as a teacher librarian and I am just halfway through my MLIS program, I have limited experience with the various library professional organizations. In fact, I only joined APALA within the past few months. Furthermore, it's not only new for me to participate in library professional organizations, I am also not accustomed to being involved with culture-centric groups in general. When I was in high school and college, I never felt like I would fit in with the Asian student clubs and so I never joined them.

In retrospect, some of my early reservations were probably due to my need to prove my "Americanness." For instance, I have vivid memories from my childhood of speaking loudly on purpose so that people would hear that I did not have an accent, as if that were somehow proof of my worthiness. In contrast, my shame made me mute on other occasions. I can still picture sitting in my junior high history class learning about World War II, when a student turned to me and asked, "So, why'd you bomb us?" I remember feeling caught off guard and embarrassed, and yet I didn't say a word in response.

Through the years, I have more fully embraced various aspects of my identity, including my "Asianness." I have come to use to my voice with greater ease and intention, and as I gain more life experience, I feel increasing motivation to participate more actively as a community member of multiple communities, which brings me back to showing up at today's meeting. The purpose of the town hall was to gather input regarding APALA's current strategic plan. I mentioned that I am a new member and so I may not have much to add, but the moderators encouraged me to simply speak from my own experience in terms of what I hope to gain from the organization. My answer really ties into several streams of thought.

"Public K-12 School State-Certified Library
Media Specialists by Characteristic, 2009-10"
Source: ALA's Diversity Counts
First of all, when I started the MLIS program and began applying for scholarships, I was uncertain whether or not I would qualify for various library "diversity" scholarships. In undergraduate programs, being of Asian descent is not compelling when it comes to diversity-based recruiting efforts, but what I learned is that Asian Pacific Islanders are in fact quite underrepresented when it comes to librarians and particularly teacher librarians. With this in mind, I acknowledged in today's meeting the importance of APALA's strategic goal related to recruitment, and I inquired about the possibility of mentorship opportunities.

Next, I am currently working at a high school with few Asian Pacific Islander students and staff members. Looking at 2014-15 statistics, Asian, Filipino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students combined accounted for only 3.7% of the total enrollment. Holding onto this figure, I reflect upon last year's school multicultural fair. After the event, several students from the Asian American Club reached out to me even though we had never spoken previously. They shared at length about having felt tokenized by the experience and we formed an immediate connection. Since we did not have an existing relationship, I can't help but think that part of the reason they felt safe approaching me is because I am Asian like them. This event resonated with me powerfully, encouraging me to embrace my responsibility to show up as a role model and leader for these young people and others. Needless to say, I am glad to see how APALA's drafted strategic plan includes an emphasis on leadership.

My grandma with my kids
Finally, since becoming a teacher librarian, I have also been inspired by learning about my grandmother's work in a World War II Japanese relocation center school library. I love the idea of libraries promoting diversity, inclusion, and social justice - all of which are specifically included in APALA's draft vision. This also prompted my suggestion during the online meeting that the organization not only support members in an inward-focused way, but perhaps find ways to work in an outward direction to connect with the greater community. I cited how, as a Japanese American, I am sensitive to current anti-Muslim sentiments and threats such as banning immigration and implementing surveillance. My thinking is that it's not just about Asian Pacific Americans* in terms of a subject to advocate for and on behalf of, but also the unique agency provided and informed by the Asian Pacific experience.

As I continue to test out different professional organizations, I am not sure how I will end up dividing my time and energy over time, but I am happy to report that my initial introduction to APALA has been a positive one. And, as I anticipate completing my MLIS next year, I believe that these organizations will only assume an ever-growing role in my ongoing professional learning. 

*NOTE: APALA is also currently polling and discussing preferred terminology.

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