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A Conversation: The Exodus of Faculty Librarians of Color from the California State University System

🎧 Three former CSU librarians reflect on their experiences on the tenure-track system, life as LoCs, and explore the data and responses of an information gathering study on the lived experiences of other CSU LoCs.
Published onMar 11, 2024
A Conversation: The Exodus of Faculty Librarians of Color from the California State University System


The California State University (Cal State or CSU) is a public university system of 23 campuses, and is the largest public university system in the world. Academic librarians in the CSUs are unionized, hold faculty status, and may be in tenure-track positions. There have been public presentations as well as anecdotal conversations about the lived experiences of faculty librarians of color within the CSUs, more specifically about the waves of librarians of color (LoC) leaving the CSUs and/or the profession for various reasons such as burn out, toxicity, lack of opportunities, and exploitations.

In this conversation, three former CSU librarians reflect on their experiences on the tenure-track system, life as LoCs, and explore the data and responses of an information gathering study on the lived experiences of other CSU LoCs. The discussions and findings from this podcast highlights the lack of infrastructure and support for LoCs, especially women of color, and burn out and exhaustion experiences of those who have left the CSUs or the field entirely. This conversation holds space and accountability for the microaggressions, exploitations, and collective trauma that occur in the largest public university system in the world.

Podcast audio: 1 hour, 12 minutes. Transcript below.

Raymond Pun 00:01

Hello, my name is Ray Pun, a librarian in California, United States. Welcome to this podcast conversation called “The Exodus of Faculty Librarians of Color from the California State University System.” A conversation #CSUExodus, hosted by Commonplace, a space to discuss the digital infrastructures, cultures, and actions needed to distribute, constellate, and amplify knowledge for the public good. Today I’m joined by Moon Kim and Andrew Carlos, who are also academic librarians. Would you like to say hi, Moon?

Moon Kim 00:42

Hi, I'm Moon Kim, head of collection services at UBC in Canada.

Andrew Carlos 00:50

Hi everyone. My name is Andrew Carlos. My pronouns are he/him/his and I'm the head of research, outreach and inclusion at Santa Clara University also in California.

Pun 01:05

Great. So in this conversation, former California State University librarians reflect on their experiences on the tenure track system as librarians of color and explore the data and responses of an information gathering and study on the lived experiences of other CSU librarians of color. Let's get started.

First, you're probably wondering why the CSUs, California State University is a public university system of 23 campuses and is the largest public university system in the world. Academic librarians in the CSU are unionized, have faculty status and may have tenure track status positions. There have been public presentations as well as private conversations about the lived experiences of faculty Librarians of color within the CSUs more specifically, about the waves of librarians of color, leaving the CSUs or the profession for various reasons, which we'll get to.

So now that we have given you the context for this study, and for this introduction, I guess we can get a little deeper into the introduction here, maybe to explain who we are where we worked before, our roles and where we are right now, which both of you shared a little bit here. So let's start with Moon, would you like to introduce yourself fully?

Kim 02:11

Sure. I’m Moon Kim, she/her/hers. I actually used to be an acquisitions librarian at Cal State University Fullerton. So I look forward to sharing some of my experiences today.

Carlos 02:33

I used to be the Web Services / STEM librarian at California State University East Bay. And like I said, I'm now at Santa Clara University. And out of the three of us, I was actually in the CSU for probably the longest. So I've had a lot of experiences there.

Pun 03:02

Andrew, I think you were the only one who went through the whole tenure process. So we’ll definitely talk about that.

And of course, right now I'm at the Alder Graduate School of Education as the academic and research librarian. Previously, I worked at Fresno State, also known as California State University Fresno as the inaugural first year student success librarian. And the roles have definitely been similar. At the time I supported first year students, students in transition, and students at risk but now I mostly support graduate students who are going to be teachers.

So why this study? As I mentioned earlier, the context there is a field of study but also overall looking at this issue. And I'll start off briefly first and then I'll pass it over to Andrew and Moon. I think the most important thing to recognize is that there is overall, a misconception of the roles of librarians in academia in higher education.

It's partly because each institution and each system operates differently and treats the category of librarians differently. You have some institutions that may have them as being appointment, maybe having faculty status some may have continuing appointment and faculty status, or faculty status and tenure track. In my role right now, I am in a staff position. And so as a result of these different categories, it's also important to know that there is a power dynamic going on, meaning that we are depending on our categories if we are faculty status and tenure track. We're equivalent to our teaching faculty colleagues in the CSUs and maybe at other institutions systems like the City University of New York or the State University of New York.

But that doesn't mean that it's like every other institution, yet we might still hold the same as as our teaching faculty colleagues, but we are still confusing to them. Like I think there's confusion that Oh, you're actually faculty, they didn't realize because we're all part of this union and so forth. But then there's the power dynamics of our role in serving the teaching faculty as collaborators but yet, the teaching faculty still hold a lot of voice and opportunities in terms of how they see us and the library because at the end, the library is meant to serve the program and faculty and students.

So I'll sort of stop here and then I want to see if Andrew, if you want to talk a little bit about the challenges and add anything else.

Carlos 05:52

Yeah, so I think one thing I want to touch upon that you've talked about is that the library tends to be seen as in service of the faculty or of the campus and that's definitely something that I've been seeing not just at specific institutions I’ve been part of, but also just across the board. This deferential attitude to faculty, especially for librarians who have never gone through the tenure track process or have never had faculty status. They don't really understand the dynamics that occur between librarians who are faculty and teaching faculty, and it's always a really hard thing to describe to people because they just don't get it so that I think that's something to really emphasize that just like faculty, sometimes expect us to defer to what they want and to or to their decision.

In terms of other challenges, I think one of the biggest challenges that I've definitely seen is retention. There have been. Before the pandemic, there was actually a huge wave of librarians of color leaving the CSUs. We knew this anecdotally, we just had conversations with people and we heard that such and such person left and this person left and that person left.

So we really wanted to spend some time seeing what that trend actually is and the reasons for why people are leaving. It was a really interesting survey and I'm excited for us to talk about it and share it with everyone. So I'm gonna go ahead and pass it over to Moon.

Kim 07:19.000

Yeah, and as Ray mentioned earlier, the Cal State system is one of the largest public higher education systems in the US. And within the CSU, librarians have faculty status, not just the title, but definitely faculty status and all CSU faculty are unionized through the collective bargaining agreement.

And the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) or the contract outlines the system-wide requirements for tenure, but interestingly how CSU librarians are evaluated really vary from campus to campus despite having this kind of network of 23 campuses operating under the same contract. So although everyone in principle has the same core kind of work in terms of, you know, the 3 pillars that most faculty shops adhere to which is you know that kind of like teaching or for librarians, librarianship and or you know your performance, scholarship, and service. It really depends on your role too. So I know Ray and Andrew, you talk quite a bit about being in service to faculty members and I feel like because I've always worked behind the scenes in technical services work, which is largely the invisible labor of librarianship, but you know, I've always worked as an acquisitions librarian where I'm purchasing and/or licensing content and bringing outside resource resources into the library. And so I found that in my role, it is definitely supporting the entire campus community, but it's always been kind of an interesting position to be in because usually when I'm interacting with faculty members usually they're needing something from my area, right? So. Although it's still aligned with some of the kind of model of being in service of I think because my end of librarianship really is supporting constituents—the local constituents—that just kind of always been part of the territory.

Carlos 09:55

And they have to go through you to get the material. So like, they have to be on your good graces, right?

Kim 10:01

There was definitely a component of that. And it's really weird because in my end of librarianship it's not only faculty members that need that, right? It's also other colleagues even in libraries. So, you know, especially when you're in a faculty role, there is an expectation that you do research scholarship and/or creative activities and I found that in my role I've intersected with colleagues who need resources as well like from the library ranks just as much as faculty members.

Pun 10:41

Those are great points. I want to backtrack for a second here. You both shared where you're working, so Moon, you're at University of British Columbia and Andrew, you are at Santa Clara University. Moon, is your current position in tenure track faculty status?

Kim 10:56

So at UBC, librarians are part of the Faculty Association, but do not have faculty status nor title. And for librarians, there's something similar to tenure, but we actually call it confirmation. It's like tenure, but a little bit like. It's more like tenure light. It's not the same and it's also probably because we don't have faculty status. So yeah, you can come come in with confirmed appointments and/or earn it once you start. Andrew, what about you?

Carlos 11:45

So I am currently an academic staff. So we're actually in that weird in between of staff and faculty. We are, we literally have a whole separate section on the HR page or like we earn a little bit more vacation time than staff, but also we earned vacation time, which faculty don't. So it's just like the weird kind of mix of the 2. And we don't have a tenure process. We have something called “continuing appointment”, which Ray mentioned earlier. And if you know anyone from like the UC system or maybe any other library system that has academic staff it's gonna be pretty similar. As Moon pointed out, it's kind of like “light tenure” with more of an emphasis on the work that you're doing rather than scholarship or research or service. So it's heavily focused on you showing that you are able to do the work that they hired you to do. Ray, are you either faculty or staff? Oh, you had mentioned you’re staff, right?

Pun 12:48

Yeah. And it makes me think, some institutions actually have the formal title professor, right? And I wonder. If that actually could help address some of the power dynamics because if you're a librarian with the title professor because at the Cal States you don't have it whether or not that actually makes a difference. And I know Moon, you had that title before in a previous position.

Kim 13:11

Yeah, that's right. When I was at Ohio State, librarians had faculty status and title, but I think for me because I work so much behind the scenes, the title probably didn't come into play as much as for my colleagues who are a little bit more public facing and or more engaged with teaching. And kind of partnering with other faculty members, but I know that definitely that does factor into some of the work that goes into, you know, the overall governance of the organization, the overall governance of the organization too, right? It's different when you walk into a room with a professor title versus a librarian title.

Carlos 13:58

Right. I think that's what was really confusing in the CSUs, right? Cause we didn't have a professor title. But we still had something similar in that we went through like senior assistant librarian to associate librarian to full librarian. So I think they they thought that would be similar enough, but I think there's such a distinction between like librarian and professor that It just basically didn't mean anything, right?

Pun 14:23

Alright, and let's stay with the CSU for second here and it's interesting because Moon brought this up earlier saying that CSU librarians are evaluated variously across campus to campus. And one thing I had heard from many colleagues, especially colleagues of color, and I'm sure both of you might have different stories or similar stories that you can't transfer your tenure from one Cal State to another. So if I were to get the tenure at Fresno and I go to Fullerton, it's likely I have to be doing it again. Would you agree?

Kim 14:55

Yeah, and I think that's really hard in higher ed, especially for librarians because at least for teaching faculty. The criteria might be slightly different from campus to campus university to university, but for librarians, especially academic librarians, there isn't a rhyme or reason why some places are faculty shops, some places are academic staff or whatnot. So it's really hard to carry things over.

For instance right now I started at UBC with a confirmed appointment. If I move to another position, there's no guarantee that I can start in another position with tenure. So it's something to kind of think about if you're debating a move as well.

Carlos 15:51

I mean that actually happened to one of the librarians at East Bay. So they had I think they had full rank and tenure already at Fullerton, but when they moved up here, they actually had to go through the entire process again. I think they maintained their rank, but they just had to go through the tenure process. So like imagine having to go through like a 5 to 6 or tenure process twice in your career, like I think that's like that feels so daunting, especially for like librarians of color who don't even have an idea of what the process is or who don't really have the supports that they need to go through at one time. And then they have to go through it again if they switch institutions. That makes it so much more difficult to be mobile.

Kim 16:34

Andrew, did that person move from a CSU to another CSU and had to redo tenure? Wow.

Carlos 16:44

Yeah, so it was someone from CSU Fullerton who had tenure and I think Blank actually as full librarian and when they moved up to Cal State East Bay they had to go through the tenure process again. So there's no there's no reciprocity in terms of tenure and I think that's partially because of how each campus interprets the contract for librarians, because I've heard of some campuses where they consider scholarship like creating a LibGuide or putting up like an online website. Like they consider that scholarship whereas others are really competitive and really expected you to do a lot of peer-reviewed publication and work. So it's kind of hard to it's kind of hard to have reciprocity when there's such a variance in what's considered tenure-able.

Pun 17:33

Right, and I think it's important to note, I believe many of our listeners are folks who are in the teaching faculty side. So it's very complex as we're demystifying this one of the important consistent points is that the tenure process even in this case for librarians is still very much inherently political. So even if you have gone through it once and you have to do it again, can you imagine teaching faculty are like to get their tenure. Right, as opposed to librarians. So I think within the CSUs, I think there's definitely some double standard there that, unfortunately, you know, still exist today.

But in terms of this study itself, okay, so we're looking at and trying to understand the lack of retention, the fallout. And perhaps understanding how to recruit but Also support BIPOC folks in the process, but yet it's not really happening right in the CSUs in a way. I think 3 of us when we jumped on a call a month ago to talk about this, we almost alluded to this metaphor of the “canary in the mine”, right? Almost like some microcosm going on within the CSUs where if people are in people of color are in the library position, tenure track, so forth, and then they're like struggling, in the library position, They are not getting the resources. There's no infrastructure. I think it tells us something that's looming, in the profession itself.

But I wonder if Moon or Andrew, if you have any thoughts about that or any other additions to why now, why the study?

Carlos 19:12

I think in terms of why now? I think of the 3 of us, I'm the one who just most recently was actually still part of the CSU. I left my position in September 2021 so i've taken this time to really kind of process what my experience was like and just really take time to figure out like, oh, that experience was actually not the healthiest for me. Because I heard a lot from Moon and Ray about their experiences and I was like, I see that and I understand that but my experiences were very different because I was able to control my environment a little bit better than more than they have the ability to do.

Kim 19:59

Is it time to talk about trauma? I'm joking obviously. I think for me, like, I clearly left, so there were things I experienced within the CSUs that really didn't sit right with me. One kind of like what Andrew was saying, like it just made me feel like things weren't healthy or great for me, but I think so when did I leave the CSUs? I think I left in like, 2018 or 2019 because it was before the pandemic. But I think I needed this much time to kind of process and recover from some of the reasons why I felt like I had to leave.

But I'm also hoping that we get the opportunity to talk about, Why we're doing this too. So, you know, it's not all doom and gloom like sure there are a lot of issues and concerns that I've had within the CSUs that kind of makes me think like, oh my gosh, I don't know if I could go back, but I am really hoping that we're doing this to really shed light on some of the systemic problems that could be improved. I do hope CSU administrators do end up listening to this podcast not because we're talking about that system in particular but really with the hope that they'll listen and find ways to maybe improve the environment and provide better support. Especially for librarians of color in that system.

Pun 21:45

Yeah, those are valid points. For me, I had left after maybe 3, almost 3 years at Fresno State. Feeling really bewildered and confused about this whole experience. Certainly there were a lot of opportunities I was able to receive and do that I probably could not have at other institutions, so I'm grateful for that. But at the same time, there were definitely a lot of interactions that made me pause and think about why and how things were set up. So that includes, history of trauma, of retaliation, legacy practices that were enabling toxic behaviors, and a lot of culture of sabotaging and that is something I naively did not realize. I mean I even knew on the first day interviewing that there was gonna be some miscommunications that was inherently set up within the library because there was a lot of allegiances, right? People were either in team A or team B and so forth. And you just have to like navigate the politics and personalities and over time it gets to you and you know you have to sort of understand where you draw the line between continuously working at institution that takes a lot from you or choosing other opportunities because sometimes you outgrow the position.

Part of it looking at the study is that when I connected with both of you, you know, years ago and hearing from others how they're surviving or leaving. I think we all agree that there was something there like a pattern something that we couldn't quite figure out what it is until we name it or talk about it. And this is why we're having this podcast conversation.

And I think the the next point that I thought was really is really interesting for us to look into is official documents because we know that there are a lot of documents to fill out for tenure track processes. And these official documents really can tell a lot about the institution and how it welcomes librarians of color in the tenure track process or not, right? And so we we did some reviews, we've given some sort of a panel discussion years ago at the people of color (POC) in LIS Summit that was held in Loyola Marymount University in July of 2018. And now we're coming back, 2023, like 5 years later. Yeah, Andrew, do you wanna add anything to that?

Carlos 24:19

I think one thing I wanted to add is just, the criteria documents. I know Moon had been working on a research project around that. And it was so hard to actually figure out what the different standards were. Right, because different folks had different ideas for what things were. And not only that, like even just across. Even within our own institution, some of these documents weren't really well written for a specific purpose. So when I started, I asked, oh, how many publications am I expected to have before I go up for tenure and no one was able to give me a number or even just like a range. And when I asked why they said, “oh, it's because if we don't write it down, then it's easier for us to like finagle it, right, to make things work even if they shouldn't work.”

When I told them, if you don't have a number down, I create a number in my head that's expected or someone else who's reviewing me might have a number that they actually put in their head and expect and if I don't meet those numbers, then what do I do? Like if it's not a number that I could aim for. So I think that was one of my biggest issues with the CSU criteria for tenure was that they were so different and they weren't always clear as to what they wanted.

Kim 25:39

Yeah, and see I worked at a campus that had a clear number. And that was at times problematic too, cause then it kind of becomes like a publishing mill, right? Where, sometimes, you know, people need to meet their deadlines and their timeline for tenure, right? Otherwise—that's it. So I think that also creates some room for maybe even subpar scholarship. Things that even I would say I'm not proud of at this point but I was getting things out just to get things out.

I know this is a podcast mostly about the CSUs, but I do kind of like that model of like not having a number but talking more about your impact and the importance of your work. But Andrew, I completely agree with you because when that number is not specified, there are always colleagues who have a number in their own head. And you know, like if they happen to be on the, you know, tenure review committee the year you go up and if you don't meet their expectations, you're also out.

Pun 27:02

Yeah, totally. And I think one of the areas, Moon, you mentioned the 3 areas. So the teaching or the librarianship part, the research, and then the service. The service part is what really confused me because I don't know about both of you, but for me, I had a lot of contact with students. I am not formally teaching in a classroom, but I've had to mentor students of color, especially Asian, Asian American students who are on the verge of not doing well and and one of the advisors want to connect me because I am the person that represent or reflect maybe something similar right in terms of my background as an Asian American librarian.

And I've had countless and countless of students. I've had students who were unhoused, students who were experiencing domestic abuse at home and just could not get through the academic year and I've had to spend a lot of time supporting them listening to them doing this emotional labor that my colleagues who are not people of color probably do not have to deal with and it counted very little. This aspect counted very little and it was very frustrating because it's something that we have to carry and do the work, yet our colleagues, who might not have to do this, right, they have that privilege to opt out. I don't know if you've had anything like this, but I thought that was really, really telling.

Carlos 28:36

That was something that they were trying to address actually at East Bay before I left. So as part of I think like getting a course buyout so you have more time to do these types of advising work they call I forgot what they called it specifically they didn't say a emotional labor. But it was basically minoritized faculty. Who do the extra labor of supporting students of color who need their advice and their support. And people really fought against it because they're like, oh, well, why are these faculty being given these like privileges? And it's like, you do understand that that's not a privilege. That's just extra work for them to do and we're just giving them the opportunity to do that work. It's not like they're earning it like unearned, right? They're doing the work and we're just finally acknowledging the fact that they've been doing this work unacknowledged for a very long time. Even you pointed out what like you're doing you have to do stuff to support students that no one else had to do and no one else really acknowledged. So there were steps, there were things in the works to acknowledge that type of labor. I don't know how far along they got though at East Bay.

Pun 29:49

Yeah, that's a great point. And I know there's been some studies that are out there that help inform and frame our a conversation today as well as how we looked at the data. So that includes the article by Kaetrena Davis Kendrick and Ione T. Damasco titled “Low Morale in Ethnic and Racial Minority Academic Librarians: An Experiential Study” as well as another one called “How It Feels to Be Asian in U.S. Academic Libraries and Higher Education: A Systematic Review of Challenges and Coping Strategies” by Mihoko Hosoi. I don't know if Andrew or Moon if you want to add an in to these articles.

Carlos 30:42

I think one thing that we haven't really touched upon that was shown in Kendrick and Damascus article was the idea of diversity initiatives and like kind of using the minoritized librarians that you have to draw and attract other minoritized librarians. And I was just like, God, that's so right. Like, we become more tokenized to draw in other librarians. And I'm at the point now where I'm just like, I don't think we should be recruiting librarians of color if we don't feel good in the environment that we're in because why are we not just pushing back? Like we're passing along the trauma that we've experienced, right? And that's not healthy for anyone.

Pun 31:24

Right. And the official documents usually say, oh, we have these processes outlined. We support that and inclusion, but then in reality, it's actually not the case.

But Moon, did you want to add anything?

Kim 31:40

Yeah, and I think often times, it's been some time since I looked at the lit review, but a lot of times when they're talking about at least Asian American folks, it seems to be really centered around CJK, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or, East Asians. And I mean, even on this call, we do have, at least one person beyond East Asia, right? So I think oftentimes like, there is that notion of librarians, especially librarians of color taking on that work. You know, whether it be different types of service opportunities or mentoring or whatnot.

But I think what's also missing is the different identities that we're really talking about because I mean, we all know this, like there's intersectional identities here that are at play that's also political at work. And there are times where it's really hard to untangle all of that. Like especially when You're in a very politicized environment already with tenure being a huge factor already and then to have all these different identities where it kind of feels like they're stacked against you sometimes without support.

Because on the one hand we talked a little bit about recruitment. Where you know, maybe, you know, there's a lot of efforts going into, EDI, but, I think retention is another concern, right? Where you bring in a lot of colleagues with different identities and yet, especially myself, I experienced this very regularly and pretty much I think I've experienced it in every single workspace, where there's constant microaggressions and it kind of reaches a tipping point where you're like, oh, wait, they actually don't see me sometimes as who I am, but maybe like their notion of what I am supposed to be?

So the example I often come back to quite a bit is a lot of microaggressions that I've experienced in the form of getting misnamed. So I get called, “Kim” quite a bit. And, that's kind of led to some other research projects that I'm working on, but oftentimes when things are happening in the moment, you actually don't—or at least for me, it was really hard for me to understand what was going on when like people were constantly misnaming me despite me correcting them. I know, Andrew, you have some of those experiences too, but I've been called Kim at work. So many times. So many times, so many times that I can't even count anymore

But, Andrew, how do you deal with some of those issues and some other factors like earlier today I was talking to someone about how I prevent burnout. How do all these things weigh on you and your different identities?

Carlos 35:32

I think one thing I wanna say before I actually address that is that Moon and I have spent a lot of time together. We've known each other since undergrad. So like. Since 2003 we've been friends for more than 20 years at this point. And we both realized. Pretty recently that We didn't really feel our racial identities until we started in the CSUs, which seems wild to say, cause like we're visibly racialized, obviously. But we just happen to live in areas where we didn't have to think about that as much, right? Moon, you grew up in LA, I grew up in Orange County, but I also had my little bubble of in terms of like how to deal things deal with things like that, like I don't even know myself.

So I'm always open to learning more about how to how to deal with that type of trauma, but that type of just upset, right? Of people assuming your identities. I had someone in the CSUs assume that I spoke Spanish because my last name was, “Carlos” and it's just like, I took French in high school. I didn't take Spanish.

I feel like this might be a good time for us to transition to talking about some of the data that we got from our survey. Does that sound good with everyone? So we sent out the survey to some folks that we identified through our circles who were CSU librarians who were on the tenure track who were librarians of color and we actually got more than I expected.

We had 10+ results from our survey and they all talked about really similar things. One thing that we noted while going through the data was that some of the people actually left a profession completely like they didn't even just go to a different library like the 3 of us did they just completely left librarianship which to me is wild because you spent so much time of your career being a librarian and to no longer have that because of your experiences just seems wild.

Anyone else have anything they want to bring up from the data that we gathered?

Kim 37:57

I think going through the data, one of the things that we've kind of noticed is that there are a lot of women of color in this profession because librarianship is very pink collar, right? And so the treatment of women of color just looking at the data ranging from microaggressions to being bullied, not only being bullied by other white colleagues but even being bullied by other people of color, which I know Ray kind of talked about this a bit, but you know, we know this, not all skin folk are kin folk. So there are kind of these elements where it's not unique just to the CSUs. It just so happens that this is the microcosm that we were looking at. But looking at some of the responses where people are talking about having anxiety every Sunday night before having to go into work and having to face colleagues, right?

I know just in my experience at CSU Fullerton. I think there was a point where, in terms of the people who have left, four women of color left, women of color on the tenure track and when I was there, they hired 3 white men onto the tenure track. So these positions are also not being refilled in the way that, you know, we kind of have been thinking about and this speaks to the gross mistreatment especially of woman of color at the CSUs. But I mean, there's just like so much abuse and violence like just looking at the data, right?

I think when we did a word cloud, I think, Ray, you were kind of looking at doing some of the analysis and one of the most prominent words that kept on coming up were “left,” “women of color,” “abuse,” “microaggressions,” “racial and gender prejudice.” And I think a lot of this speaks to the lack of support that's really built into the system.

Carlos 40:46

Yeah, cause it almost feels like they expect you to be self-sufficient and figure it out on your own, which Let's get serious. Like that's not reality. People always have support systems in place even if they don't know it. But I think especially for librarians of color coming into a system that's so different from whatever they've even experienced in the past. Having formalized ways to support them is just really important. I mean it speaks to not really thinking about retention as a responsibility of the institution. Cause I think for a lot of institutions they're like, well, we recruited this person. That's all we needed to do, but like, no, you need to actually do the work to make sure they stay. Because so many of our colleagues left the CSUs and then we went to other systems that actually provided them the support, that actually pay them what they're worth that actually give them the time and space to explore themselves and their identities.

I think it's interesting the things that we saw from that data, especially the BIPOC, microagressing other BIPOC. Like it's not enough to experience microaggression by white colleagues, but also to like experience that from other BIPOC colleagues is intense.

Kim 42:03

Yeah, and I think that's also kind of how we became friends with our group chat, right? Like through some of the trauma bonding.

Carlos 42:15

Which isn't always the healthiest way to react I totally understand that but it's just nice sometimes to check each other, to make sure that what I'm experiencing isn't actually right.

Pun 42:28

Yeah, and it's really interesting because 3 of us work at the same time in 2018 3 different Cal State institutions right and the fact that we were all sort of saying, is this what you do in Cal State's Fullerton or East Bay or in Fresno because clearly there was something going on that was a unique experience, but yet at the same time meant to be shared. And I have to say that the data is really interesting and I really appreciate everyone who's listening right now who may have contributed to the data set. Thank you because it really informed and validated some of the experiences that we had and also to expand sort of understanding of the potential ways to address these these issues.

Not to say that there's going to be one solution, right, to like solve all these issues, but rather just to acknowledge that these issues are real, they're intersectional, they are deeply systematic racism, ageism, lots of microgression, but also, what is sort of the the consequences and then the consequences are they are believed.

And so I wonder if it's something we should talk about why this is not talked about. If this is the right time and I don't know if Moon, if you want to mention your thoughts on that question.

Kim 43:54

Yeah, I think oftentimes it's really hard to talk about these issues because you don't feel like it's a safe space and/or you don't know why it's happening, right? I think I was lucky and having a group chat with the 2 of you just to bounce ideas off of each other and have a reality check, right? But oftentimes this was my I mean—in my family, I was the only one to really to go into academia. I had no one in my family I can turn to to say like hey, does this seem normal to you? This wasn't part of my upbringing and I have relatives who are in academia, but they were so distant that it wasn't anything that I can kind of grasp, right? So I do feel like in higher ed, there's also that perception of especially in, you know, when you're in a faculty role. There's kind of that element of imposter syndrome and/or like you feel like you should know. But there are times when you're very unsure, like if you're doing something right or A lot of what we're talking about right now just about like racialized identities or, even discrimination, you know, it's really difficult to talk about.

Especially discrimination those could be you know potential lawsuits, right? So I think for me, like this is one of those topics, not everyone talks about it publicly, but I am hoping through this podcast where able to bring a little bit more conversation into some of the silent parts of the tenure system for librarians.

Carlos 46:00

And I think one phrase that we used a lot when we were talking about our jobs was the idea of the golden handcuff. Working in the CSU system, you had access to a pension. Like, How rare is getting a pension now, you know? So we always felt like we had to just suffer in silence and be like, we are lucky that we have these opportunities. We might not be paid that much or as well as we could in other places, but we at least had something to look forward to in the future. We had that retirement opportunity in like, 40 to 50 years. So that was always something that I think stuck out to me is that that's why people didn't wanna talk about it. They didn't just wanna rock the boat. And I feel like the only reason we really felt comfortable doing this was the safe space that was created because of POC in LIS, the people of color in library and information science summit. Like we finally found a larger community of librarians of color that we could talk to and share ideas and say like this is what we've experienced, what about you? And just having that type of structure, that infrastructure to have those types of talks was really, I think, helpful for us. And if those didn't exist, I don't think this type of conversation would, have moved forward.

Pun 47:17

Right, that's a great point what you just shared, Andrew, about suffering and and it makes me think of a librarian and feminist Audre Lorde [update: Zora Neale Hurston who quoted this] who says, “If you're silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Part of it is we were suffering in silence and we found ways to push back and question the authority because there was some unethical behavior or unjust. And we were in some ways retaliated or experienced some form of it, right? And whether or not it was direct or direct or, you know, connected to what we did…

It was clear that people did not appreciate the changes that we were trying to invoke, which is including and creating inclusive process and ensuring that there's ethical, fair process, etc, etc. So I, I think it makes me think about some other issues in terms of geography. So we're all located in the California.

State because the CSUs and, and California is often viewed as that very progressive liberal state, right? But in actuality, I think just because you have that, sort of perception doesn't mean it's actually true. And actual. Maybe Moon, you can see this too—in Fresno, it was, it was not really progressive in a way, like I've heard a lot of xenophobic comments, especially when Trump was elected there's been a lot of supporters in the library. Library workers supporting him and making sure other people knew that and things like that. And it was very confusing. Then, then you can't really talk about some of these other issues because you have these other issues happening.

So I, I think I also hear a lot of people saying, especially administrators from the CSUs, “you should be grateful because of these tenure track job roles are — librarians are rare, you should thrive and be grateful and, you know, keep your mouth shut kind-of-thing. “And it was just not, not okay watching injustice happening to my colleagues, right? And to students and faculty.

But Moon, I don't know if you wanna add anything to that about the geography of Fullerton, or anything else we talked about?

Kim 49:31

Yeah, I think for me. Because I grew up in LA and Fullerton is in Orange County, which is right next to LA County. I really didn't think it would have been a big change before the move but it was actually really drastic and—not that it doesn't happen in LA too, but, some of the behaviors were—I almost didn't even know how to articulate it at the time, but it was just racist. Not that it didn't happen in LA, but there are a lot of things that in hindsight were really alarming.

I still remember when I first started, I signed up for like the ergonomics, office to come in my workspace and, you know, we corresponded over email a number of times before the appointment and when the person arrived and popped in my door and you know we chatted a little bit. That person was actually really surprised and I was like, oh, that's weird, like, why are you so surprised? And it was because based on my name the person just expected me to not really speak English. So it was constant reinforcement that, you know, I was being othered, right?

And this was at work, you know, I was being othered, right? And this was at work, which, you know, oftentimes we think of universities as kind of like bastions of, liberal thinking. But that's not always the case. And we also have to recognize that, you know, there's different types of mindsets in the work environment and there's one quote, I always I think about quite a bit and I probably messaged the two of you when when I worked at Fullerton, but I think about it more and more the longer I'm in academia, but in that show “Billions,” Wendy Rhoades says something, and I can't remember the exact scene, but she saysin academia everything's a big fucking deal because the stakes are so small.”

I always think about that. In academia now where I feel like even with you know a lot of institutions are looking at austerity measures coming out of the pandemic and or you know just budget cuts in general. And just, the lack of resources and how far they have to stretch. And now, especially with a lot of the EDIA—equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility initiatives—how our funding structures aren't designed, especially in higher ed, to support these new initiatives.

Ray 52:42.000

Yeah, what you shared, Moon, is truly horrific that encounter, right? Where you had somebody who thought you didn't speak English and it made me think about my own experiences that I wanted to connect to and then we can we can definitely move on to the other parts. Which is that, before coming to the Cal States, I worked at a university in China, but I'm originally from New York City, you know, and born and raised and took an opportunity to work abroad. And so I was grateful that the Cal States brought me in and people thought, oh my gosh, just person's from China, but I'm actually an American and Chinese America.

People were very confused because they kept saying, you know, they kept asking me a lot of a lot about China, which I have a cultural heritage of course, but it's, you know, not something I'm 100% familiar with all the idioms and things like that. But for the most part, what I thought was really interesting was an administrator on my first week was like, hey, I want to take you out to lunch, welcome. You know, we have great Chinese food here. I'm sure it's just as good as the food you have in China.

And I'm just like, okay, I'm like, I can't wait to go to lunch. And I kept thinking there was a restaurant right across campus that's a Chinese restaurant. But we started walking and I thought, are we going to the parking lot? But instead we make a left like we're walking and down the stairs. And it's actually to Panda Express. I was confused because I thought this person was joking, but this person was actually serious. And so I, you know, it was my first time having Panda Express. There are no Panda Expresses in New York from my experience growing up. And then towards the end of my career at Fresno State, as I'm leaving, another administrator I was talking to, high level, was also leaving and I told them since we had rapport, we've been on committees and stuff, I said, oh you know, this was a great opportunity. It was great working with you. I'm going to leave Fresno State and I'm going to the Bay Area.

And then they said, oh, I didn't know. I didn't know you're leaving. Well, congratulations! I just want to say they have really great Chinese food in the Bay Area. And I was really floored and confused. I think I texted you both right away. As I was walking back home from the office and I was like I cannot believe so and so said this and I texted other faculty members who I knew could give me some other response and some people said, oh just ignore it they're just being whatever. And I was leaving and I thought to myself, no, I'm not letting this go. So I wrote to them a concise email explaining why I was leaving, the racism, people saying there are too many Asians in the library, too many Asians in the search committee, etc, etc, and then just letting them know this was the reason I was leaving.

And then of course they felt they felt sorry, they felt horrible about what happened and wanted to meet and talk about it and then we had our little moment to catch up and talk about it. And so I think it tells me a lot about, our image who we are and how it's projected right and how others see it and then sort of like try to make this connection but it's actually very racialized and not Anyway, so I kind of stop here. I don't know if there's anything else we want to add about issues like burnout, microaggression, trauma, or toxicity.

Kim 56:10

Well, we also saw in the responses that, tenure often weaponized against people, right? I think there was one instance where there someone was brought in with you know all of the lofty, sweet talking that happens before and then once the person was seated into their position things were very different at reality. And, I don't know how many stories we've all kind of exchanged about instances where someone's brought in and then, you know, for whatever reason the folks at their institution don't think they're gonna meet the mark and tenure is kind of like weaponized against individuals and/or it's a way to kind of rule people out. So unfortunately, I think this happens not just in libraries and you know, and out in the Cal States but also in other parts of higher ed, but we also see this quite a bit with people of marginalized identities.

Pun 57:31

Yeah, since you mentioned the tenure issue. This is something I have only shared with both of you and maybe a few other colleagues. I think it's been 5 years. I think it's okay for me to talk about it. I went up for early tenure based on the encouragement of my colleagues, some of my colleagues and my dean at the time. And things kind of went different. It didn't go the way the way I was informed. I ended up finding out about my tenure case through vendors. So like a library database and another teaching faculty in a social science department.

So I found out that I didn't get early tenure through them because the people that were reviewing my tenure case, the other colleagues in the library, could not keep their mouth shut and just needed to talk to someone or just sort of felt like, how dare Ray go up for early tenure, right?

It was sort of like resentment, a way to gate keep me and a way to punish me for even the deciding to go out early when it was clear that I was encouraged, but also I thought to myself if I didn't get it I would try next year, right? It's not a big issue. But then I saw how it played out how sort of the body language of my colleagues changed and it was just not sustainable for another year or for, and I thought this is not, psychologically safe for me. And I had told the administrator who had mentioned about the Chinese food going to the Bay Area or good Chinese food there and they were like in shock and then they really didn't want to talk about it because as Moon pointed out it leads into potential lawsuits.

And it's definitely a protocol breach, privacy breach, confidentiality breach and you know, I think these things do happen. People don't want to talk about it because it's complicated. It's hurtful. It's traumatic. For me, it definitely was. Thought I could make it and it turns out, you know, I think when an opportunity ends a new one comes so I feel fortunate to have had another opportunities right after. But I think the data, you know, certainly didn't get too much into the tenure track as I'm, as I'm noticing right now but rather the daily experiences and realities that people have.

So anyway, I'll stop there with my own experiences and see if there are other other issues that we should talk about now.

Carlos 01:00:10

I don't think so, not that I really notice. The only other thing that I might want to bring up is the fact that I think at least 3 or 4 responses. They mentioned the lack of opportunity for growth or promotion once you have tenure. And that definitely feels - I definitely feel that inside because that's part of the reason I left is that in my head I want to keep going up until I get enough experience to become like an assistant dean or dean or just be a better leader in a library. And there was definitely not opportunities for that within the CSUs. So I think that's just something to also consider is that depending on faculty status, you might not actually have growth opportunities. You might be stuck doing the same thing for 30 plus years once you've got tenure and that's just not exciting to me.

Pun 01:01:03

Right. And the organization is very flat too. So, they all report to the Dean, even though there are associate deans. And what I found interesting is some of the data pointed out that the associate dean and the dean can be demoted with retreat rights, and that could create issues like any other college or department, but in libraries especially.

Carlos 1:01:30

Should we start thinking about like ways to address these issues?

Kim 01:01:35

Right, so we've been talking quite a bit about, you know, some of the concerns that we've experienced ourselves and or what we notice in the data but what would retention even look like? Does anyone wanna kick us off on that one?

Carlos 01:01:56

Well, I think like what I just said about promotion opportunities like just giving people space to develop skills that they might not always be able to develop in librarianship. Like for me, one of the things that I definitely identified is I need to be better at like finance stuff. Just being able through like financial reports and really understanding a budget and that's just not something that is readily available for most librarians. Right, especially if they're not in acquisitions or technical services, they don't really have a big budget to manage, you know, so that's I think having opportunities for people to grow and to develop and to promote themselves. I think that's going to be really important.

Pun 01:02:40

Right, I think part of it is that sense of value too. That background as minoritized, library workers. We have assets we bring, like I mentioned earlier, how our presence need to be valued and validated and accounted for. When we are here supporting the students of color, right, who might not have that role model or mentor. In the other library departments or whatever and so they seek us first because they find our representation matching theirs to be to be of safe and to be trusting, right? And so, but yet that's not really counted for in the tenure process in the documents. It's just like a little, little sort of a trivial point but rather it needs to be explicitly acknowledged and recognized because that's really invaluable for retention purposes for the students and also for our own well-being that we spend a lot of time, you know, mentoring, coaching students.

Kim 01:03:46

And I think many of the Cal States are also minority serving institutions, right? Are all of them or at least most of them? So it's like for you, you know, also serving those populations but seeing ourselves in more leadership roles and having better support overall. For me this is a really tough question like. I don't know if it's just CSU or just in librarianship overall, but not having to kind of justify my existence or having to explain my name or having to take on all the emotional labor of those who normally wouldn't have to take on some of this work, right? For me, I think that would be a huge sea change alone.

Carlos 01:04:50

But I feel like something like that definitely requires like an institutional change. Right. Or a systemic change, cause it's not just. You can't make that change yourself. It'll have to be…wider. Right, and that's why I've self selected out of those institutions where I felt like my values weren't always aligned with the institutional culture.

Pun 01:05:18

Right. And we're talking about culture that needs to be changed. I think it's a point to recognize what we're seeing right now happening. I believe that there were 2 Black women in the Provost position that were asked to step down really suddenly.

Carlos 01:05:40

Yeah, I think it just happened like a couple of months ago, like 2 of them is like not even just asked to step down. They were forced to leave.

Pun 01:05:48

Right, right, and you see this, we don't know the full story. Obviously there's probably a lot more into the details, but rather. Just like what's going on within the Cal State, right? There's something. Perhaps that needs special examination to to really understand these issues within the structure of the hierarchy. And then that might explain part partly like why the libraries could swing into a form of dysfunction as a result. And you know, it's important to have these conversations and to reflect on it and to continue like encouraging it, but of course it's very difficult and we really really want to acknowledge again all the participants for their data because it really it was anonymized but it was like their honest feedback right that really helped us share share and shape this conversation today.

I guess, if there's other ways to address this issue or other support that's needed, if one of you wanna share a little more about that.

Carlos 01:06:59

I think one thing that I've been encouraging lots of librarians of color has been to find their community. I think Moon and Ray, you both pointed out that like having the 3 of us in the chat conversation has been really supportive and has really helped us kind of become better people, right? Cause we're able to like have other people check to see, oh, this doesn't feel right, what should I do? And just use them for advice. I think finding that community is one of the most important things that people can do for themselves, not even just to like make themselves better.

Pun 01:07:42

Yeah, that's a very interesting point. I will say when I first started at Cal State, my library colleagues were like, if you're gonna find support find it outside of the library meaning go to other like academic departments in anthropology in English, etc, because you'll find advocates and supporters there in the library, it's going to take some time, which was really interesting and telling and that was my first week. But in general, certainly finding your communities, whether that's your professional associations, your union groups, or if you have allies in other departments, certainly that helps to share and affirm each other. Moon, did you want to add anything about support or issues?

Kim 01:08:29

I think for me, like really having this group chat. It's so funny because I listen to a podcast, called Vibe Check. Is it Vibe Check? Oh my gosh, now, now I have to like double check - by Saeed Jones and a couple of other folks - and the whole premise of it is like a group chat that's become a podcast. And so to me, it's really heartening to kind of have this with my group chat turn it into a podcast.

So in addition to everyone that contributed to the survey and some of what we're trying to kind of sort out, right, within our own heads and just our relationship going through tenure as librarians of color and working through the CSUs. I really want to say thank you to both of you as well for, you know, being my support group too.

Pun 01:09:38

Thanks for sharing that, Moon. I feel the same. And, Andrew, do you have any last thoughts?

Carlos 01:09:49

Only to say thanks to the 2 of you for helping me keep sane for the what 9 plus years I was in the CSUs and for still supporting me. And thank you to all the contributors to the survey. Like it was it was depressing to read the responses because I was like, oh, it's not just us. It's actually a system-wide issue. And I really appreciated that taking the time to share their experiences with us and even especially because it must have been traumatizing for some of them.

Pun 01:10:21

Yeah, same here. I, I found, both of your comments and thoughts in this conversation and dating back to 2016, you know, when we've been starting this group chat, to be very supportive. During challenging moments. And even after the CSUs and so I think it's been great, to have this connection with other colleagues and friends and really dig dig into some issues and also collaborate on projects where we can name these issues and ways to move forward. And so I think this might be the way we're sort of wrapping up, but also I wasn't sure if Moon, if that was, how you wanted to end, if there's anything else you want to add.

Kim 01:11:13

I think we're good to wrap up.

Pun 01:11:16

Okay, that sounds good. Thank you again and to all the listeners. We hope that we found this conversation to be very helpful. We really wanna, again, thank Commonplace for giving us a platform to share our experiences as librarians of color in a tenure track within the Cal State University system. Hopefully this will give other folks an opportunity to reflect, pause, and think about ways to enact change, but also to prepare themselves too for entering the CSUs.

So with that, thank you all so much!

Carlos 01:11:52

Bye everyone.

Kim 01:11:53


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