Celebrating Asian Heritage Month in Canada

It’s weird to be away from this blog for so long and then start writing again.  I finally decided enough was enough and try to get back to regular blogging.

The month of May is Asian Heritage Month.  To help celebrate, here is one of my favorite genealogical resources and one in which I really spend more time exploring–the Immigrants from China database from Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

These registers list all immigrants of Chinese origin arriving in Canada between 1885 and 1949.  If you know a little of Chinese Canadian history, you will know that the Canadian government forced Chinese immigrants to pay the Head Tax from 1885 to 1923.  These files are not easy to search for a couple of reasons:

– all names are listed in English which meant that many Chinese immigrants inadvertently had their names mixed up (convention is to list the surname  or family name first followed by the individual name)  or worst, “anglicized”.  Depending on the government official, the surname “Chen” could have been heard and spelled “Chin” or “Chan” on the file.  The chance of finding your ancestor is simply made more difficult when you have to take into account all the variant spellings.

– no one ever talks about this but what all about all the “paper sons and paper daughters” who entered Canada illegally?  Paper children borrowed the identity papers of established families so they could come to North America.  Think of it as “identity theft”.  I admit that I haven’t done much research in this area but I suspect that a good portion of Chinese immigrants may have entered the country illegally.  This is not something that many individuals, especially of our grandparents/great-grandparents generation, in the Chinese community would want to admit to but these “paper sons or daughters” certainly add another level of complexity to genealogical research.

Besides the obvious informational value of this database, what I find most fascinating is how these files got indexed.  For many years, public libraries such as Vancouver Public Library and North York Public Library had the microfilm reels.  Unless you knew when a particular individual arrived, the exact name he/she used and possibly, the Head Tax registration number, people did not find the reels easy to use.  Apparently it took a couple of health researchers who applied for and received funding to index these files to help them with a major research project that had nothing to do with genealogy at all. Just goes to show how historical records can be used for all kinds of projects.  Historians and genealogists maybe the obvious and perhaps, maybe the most popular choice but they are not the only ones who have a vested interest in ensuring the preservation and accessibility of our historical records.


Library Day in the Life Project – Days 4 and 5

When I am not working at the PHR reference desk (or the main Reference Desk), I spend the rest of my time in my office which is conveniently located behind the PHR reference desk.  Here is what my desk looks like:

I guess I should explain some of the items on my desk.  First, you are pretty wondering why all the coffee/tea mugs?  Yes, there are 3 of them on my desk.  At one point there was 6 mugs and 2 water bottles.  The environment in the library is very dry so I am usually drinking coffee (morning), tea (afternoon/evening) or water (afternoon/evening) throughout the shift.  I should also point out that I am not a morning person so it’s best not to talk me until I have had at least couple of cups of coffee.  Otherwise, I am not going to follow our conversation very well.  I don’t have a coffee maker in my office so I end up bringing coffee from home.  We have a hot water dispenser in our staff lounge and I made good use of it.

So what’s up with the devices?  My Creative Zen MP3 Player is a one of the three devices I use all the time. I usually walk to work while listening to audiobooks.  In case you are wondering, I just finished listening to Rick Riordan’s Son of Neptune by Thursday morning.  My Kobo Touch eReader is my other fave device.  Like many library staff members, I prefer to read on my meal breaks.  In the interest of sharing, I am currently reading Lawana Blackwell’s The Dowry of Miss Lydia Clark.  And you guessed it.  My third favorite device is my computer attached to a very nice widescreen monitor.  Because I typically work the afternoon shifts on the desk, I spend my mornings drinking coffee and catching up on email and my various RSS feeds.

Okay so now you are wondering, what’s up with the last item in this photo? Namely the Serenity Prayer poster.  Well I made a New Year’s Resolution to start letting things go and not getting stressed out over things that were beyond my control.  I keep a copy of The Serenity Prayer  above my desk  as 99% of the things that usually stress me are  work-related.

Library Day in the Life Project – Days 2b and 3

Here is the other half of my observations from Day 2 regarding my job, which also nicely sums up my Day 3.

But first, here is a photo of the PHR desk where I spend the bulk of my day.        

The room itself is located on the main floor of Central Library but tucked away in a corner.  As a result, patrons often regard our Reading Room as a quiet place to work.  One myth I should dispel about the Prairie History Room is that it’s not a designated quiet space.  There is actually no designated quiet places in our library.  Patrons can browse our collection, take books off the shelf and even make photocopies.  The only restriction is that we don’t allow patrons to drink or eat in the room.

Anyway back to the desk.  Unfortunately, Prairie History was renovated before my arrival in 2006 and what ended up happening was the placement of an oversized reference desk outside of the reading room.  Yes, to my dismay, the desk acts as a the proverbial gatekeeper.  Patrons will sometimes ask if they are even allowed into the room.

The desk is really a minor hiccup.  The best part of my job is really working with the patrons.  As hard as it is to be in the public eye all the time, I really enjoy working our clientele who include the hard-core genealogists, local writer who use our collection for their “inspiration”, amateur historians looking for info about a long-forgotten building or individuals, and my personal favorite, the young school age kids who are researching for their Heritage Fair project. Yesterday and today were no exceptions.

I won’t kid you when I say that all of the questions that are asked are interesting.  Most of them tend to be the “usual” sort–namely, “Do you have the obit for this person?”, “Do you have the newspaper from March, 1952?” or “How do you print from the microfilm machine?”  These are the types of questions I can answer in my sleep.  But from time to time, I am pleasantly surprised by how a simple answer can sometimes result into something a little extraordinary.  Last night was no exception.

A mother came to the PHR desk and told me that she is trying to help both of her daughters with their heritage fair projects.  One daughter was researching Nellie McClung and another was focusing on the Underground Railroad. The one with the Nellie McClung project was having some difficulties because the mother was really trying to track down some of McClung’s stories.  I was skeptical because PHR does not collect fiction at all but I duly found and placed holds on a couple of books that she could borrow from other branches.  I also found books on McClung within the PHR collection and set them side for her while she went to renew her library card at the circulation desk.  As I was scrolling through the results list, I noticed a couple of references to McClung’s writings that looked like there were works of fiction. I  checked our shelves and then ran downstairs to our secondary storage unit where I ended up finding a copy of The Black Creek Stopping House and Other Stories.

But the real surprise was when I opened up the book and realized that our copy was printed in 1912!  For a book this is 100 years old, it’s in terrific condition. When I peeked inside, I noticed a book label saying it was a donation to the library.  Although I don’t really know when the book was donated and became part of the PHR collection, I kinda like to think this book has been part of our collection when we first opened our central location in 1912.  I just find it so fascinating that a)my predecessors opted to keep it despite that the fact it doesn’t fit our collection mandate b) its excellent condition despite the fact that we don’t have optimal storage conditions for old books.  Needless to say, the mother was so thrilled with the find and could hardly wait for her daughter to come in to see it.  Just what I like to hear and see.  Oh and by the way, I also found some additional books on the Underground Railway for her other daughter. The mother left the library very satisfied and happy that I was able to help her. Happiness all around.

Library Day in the Life Project – Day 2a

Sigh.  What a day!  I had every intention of taking pictures of my library but a number of things prevented me from accomplishing this task.  Essentially the day can be broken down and categorized as either the positive or the negative aspects of my job.

Let’s begin with the negative.  Public service librarians, such as myself, work one evening shift a week.  My regular evening shift is Tuesday so I started work at 1 pm instead of my usual 9 am.  From 5 pm onwards until closing time at 9 pm, I also serve as both shift supervisor and building supervisor (or as my manager calls it, the PIC (Person in Charge)).  To be perfectly honest, Tuesday nights tends to be usually quiet but not tonight.  We had a newish security guard who spent most of this evening coming by the reference desk getting advice from either myself or my other two Library Assistants (LAs) with what to do.  The first incident had to do with a group of unruly teens who were just being loud wherever they went in the library.  We have had problems with this group of teens in the past.  The most serious problem with them is the fact that they tend to hang out in our foyer and generally make other people uncomfortable when they walk into the library.  Anyway, the teens were upstairs making all kinds of noise that I finally had enough and ended up following the teens back downstairs to have a chat with them. I put on my “stern” face and basically gave them a verbal warning that if they caused any more ruckus, they would be escorted out of the library.  They seem apologetic and surprisingly, the evening was much quieter afterwards.

Little did I know that that unruly teens would be the least of my problems.  Around 8:25 pm, one of my LAs and the security guard walked to my desk at PHR to inform me that we had an unconscious patron passed out upstairs in one of the seats.  The LA pointed out the patron was still breathing but definitely reeked of alcohol.  He recommended that we wait 15 minutes before we wake him up since the patron wasn’t causing any problems.  My gut reaction was to call 911, which is probably an overreaction but last Saturday, when we had a similar situation with a passed out patron, we had to phone the police.  Anyway, I compromised and let the patron sleep it off for another 10 minutes before I headed upstairs.  The security guard eventually found me trying to wake the patron up.  I spent 5 minutes trying to rouse him without any luck.  By this point, I had to make the decision and I got the guard to phone 911.  As we waited for the police to show up, the clock was starting to count down and the prospect of staying past 9 pm loomed largely in my mind.  After talking to both staff at the reference and circulation desks, I swung back upstairs and tried again to wake up the patron.  Eventually the yelling did the trick and he woke up about 2 minutes before close.  He staggered to the downstairs escalator and out the building. The security guard phoned to cancel the request for police assistance and a “crisis” was averted.

Let’s not kid ourselves here.  Working in a public library especially in one that is located in the middle of downtown is not always easy.   I hate confrontations so having to talk to unruly teens about their behaviour in the library is not my idea of fun. I also felt out my element when it came to dealing with the passed out patron, trying to decide whether or not to call the police right away.  Yes, I know.  You are probably wondering, “Doesn’t your library have a policy to help you deal with these matters?” The short answer is no.  Our library has a security committee that quite frankly, has yet to do anything helpful.  Every time a staff member files an incident report, the report is never posted to the staff Intranet because the manager and head of the committee questions whether or not our situation a) qualify as an incident b) is fearful that our written incident reports could be subpoenaed by the police.

My point here is that sometimes you will be unsure of yourself especially in “stressful” situations and that’s okay.  I have been a supervisor for over 5 years but that doesn’t mean I always know what to do.  Often you have to rely on your own instincts and experience to get you through the situation.  Just don’t be afraid to “tackle” the situation.  Even though my library’s policy is less than ideal and our security committee appear to be ineffectual, I will still push to get clarification from management about what our policy is towards loitering in the front foyer and unconscious patrons.  Remember that minor incidents like these can escalate to something bigger unless you are better prepared.  So always “hope for the best, while planning for the worst”.

Library Day in the Life Project – Day 1

So I decided at the last minute to participate in this fabulous online project to share a week of my work life with a broader audience.  I currently work as the Prairie History Librarian at the Prairie History Room at Regina Public Library. I am primary responsible for maintaining this collection which contains non-circulating local history & genealogy materials. I am also one of three reference librarians at my library.

My plan is to blog every day from January 30 to February 5.  Here is Day 1:

7:30 am to 8:30 am: Stumble out of bed, wash up and eat breakfast while watching one of my random show on my PVR.

8:30 am to 8:55 am: Walk to work.  Despite the fact it’s January 30, it is only -4 C so the weather is actually mild.

8:55 am to 9:15 am: Catch up with my supervisor who informs me that we had an incident this past Saturday with a patron who was tossed out of the library for berating staff.  If this individual shows up in the library, he is to receive a letter from management that banns him from the library’s premises for up to a year.  I also find out that our new business librarian who was to start today, has called in sick.

9:15 to 10:00 am: While drinking coffee, I receive a much anticipated phone call from a fellow genealogy librarian who is currently the library director in her system.  We congratulate each other for all of our hard work in establishing the new Local History and Genealogy Services Network within CLA and discuss some tentative plans for our group at this year’s annual conference in Ottawa.

10:10 am to 11:55 am: A colleague stops by to chat about her weekend. After a quick break, I start to tackle my email messages including a couple of reference questions (one regarding an Interlibrary Loan request and the other is an obituary request).  Maintenance also stops by to deliver the 5 fans that we ordered for my office, our work area and our reading room.

12:00 pm to 1:00 pm: Lunch.  Out of the 6 staff members in our lunch room, 4 are reading books, 1 is reading on an eReader (that be moi!) and another is listening to music on her iPod.

1:00 pm to 5:00 pm: Scheduled shift on the PHR desk.  Still amazed by the fact that we are fully staffed today (3 people on the main ref desk and 1 on the PHR desk), which is abnormal because we have been short-staffed for such a long time.  During my shift, I managed to update our PHR blog and wrote a couple of draft posts that can be published at a later date, decided against adding 9 out of the 10 books that were being weeded out of our main collection for the PHR collection, and had a brief telephone conversation with another colleague about planning a local history-themed public program in May.  Also received a phone call from a researcher in Toronto who wanted access to a book that only exists in our library and the legislative library.  Interesting chat with the researcher.  In truth, I am not sure how we managed to get a copy of this manuscript, which this gentleman has been struggling to track down.  Needless to say, it’s one of the best things about my job when I get to discover a “hidden gem” within my collection.  While on my scheduled coffee break, I try to think of ways to rewrite one of our Reader’s Advisory libguide that in all honesty, is really skimpy in terms of content.  Also spent some time catching up on reading my RSS feeds, including a link to a free podcast from RootsTech (technology for genealogists).

5:00 pm to 5:30 pm: Chatted with my Library Assistant. She worked yesterday which happened to be stat tracking day.  We had 13 patrons use our resources.  7 reference questions, 7 directional questions and 3 technical assistance.  Quite the busy Sunday afternoon for us.

 5:30 pm to 6:45 pm: Have dinner with yet another colleague who I haven’t seen for several weeks.  Yes, I spend a lot time with librarians both at work and outside of it.  Unfortunately she will be missing most of next week’s Archives Week celebrations.  Luckily, her husband who is an archivist and one of the chief organizers of the event, will still be in town next week.

6:45 pm to 6:55 pm: A quick walk with my colleague back to the library.

7:00 pm to 7:45 pm: Attended a union meeting held at the library.  Struggled all day to be enthusiastic about it.  Normally union meetings seem to go forever but this meeting was thankfully short.  As our union president reminded us, it is now 25 months without a new labor contract and the conciliation talks have now failed.  Meanwhile, one of our branches is moving to a temporary location until the permanent location is ready so 1/2 of the branch staff are being “temporarily displaced” for the next 5 months.  I just shake my head at all of this.  I accept a ride home and treat myself to a nice cup of green tea as I unwind.

So here was my day.  Sorry about all the text but tomorrow, I plan to take some pictures to show off a little bit more about my job.

Chinese New Year – Year of the Dragon

Well we are only mere hours away from celebrating one of the biggest holidays in the Asian calendar—Chinese New Year! While governments, businesses and schools in Asia will be closing down on January 23, I like many Asians in North America, will be going to work tomorrow instead.

Still Chinese New Year is a great time to celebrate the “pomelo” in all of us.  Even though my family got together for dinner on Saturday night for Chinese New Year, I can’t help but think taht it seems kinda wrong that we don’t make a much bigger deal out of this holiday. My sister phoned earlier to today and she asked if I remembered to give the little red packages to my nephew and niece. Quite frankly, I had thought about it but couldn’t get organized enough to do it.

So what else did I forget to do this New Year’s Eve? According to this website, I should also be doing the following:

  • Clean the entire home to get rid of all the things that are associated with the old year. I had to chuckle when I read that very few modern families follow “all” the cleaning traditions. Thank God!  Although I did manage to sweep my living room floor and clean by upstairs bathroom.  Does that count?  
  • Put away all brooms and brushes. Oops! Now that I put all of that away, I can count this off my list.
  • Pay all your debts. Sorry. 
  • Resolve differences with family members, friends, neighbors and business associates. No issues with family members, friends or neighbors.  Work colleagues are a totally different matter.  Too many issues that will need resolving to get it all done by tomorrow!
  • Pay respect to ancestors and household gods. Acknowledge the presence of ancestors because they are responsible for the fortunes of future generations. Sorry, no shrine to the household gods. 
  • Open every door and window in your home at midnight to let go of the old year. Yeah, not going to happen.  It’s -20 outside.  No way I’m opening every door and window at midnight to bring in the new year.

Well according to the list, I will be very unlucky.  Oh well, luckily I don’t subscribe to the notion that you have to follow every tradition perfectly in order for one to be considered Chinese.  I believe you take the best of that tradition and adapt to suit your current situation.  Namely, the most important thing was to spend time with my family.  So what if my nephew and niece didn’t get a lee see  from me?  The kids know I love them and would do anything for them, including emergency babysitting.

So let’s  take a moment and just say, Gong Hey Fat Choy! Wishing you prosperity, luck and happiness in the Year of the Dragon!

Review: Samurai Girl by Carrie Asai

The Book of the Sword (Samurai Girl, #1)The Book of the Sword by Carrie Asai
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One night, I was flipping through channels and came across the TV series Sammurai Girl (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1091234/). Unfortunately, it was at the tail end of the series so I couldn’t follow what was going on. Luckily, I discovered that the TV series was based on the book which I was able to get through my library.

Disappointment pretty much covers what I felt about this book. I’m sure if I was in Heaven’s place where my wedding ceremony is interrupted by an assassin, I too would be pretty shell-shocked too and make dumb mistakes. But that’s not what really bugged me about the book. It’s the fact that once Heaven finds “sanctuary”, she spends all of her time training to be a samurai instead of seeking answers that could help to explain what’s going on. She seems so blasé about her predicament, especially when her father tracks her down and slips an envelope underneath her door. Gee, I don’t know. I think I would freak out that the person I’m trying to run away now knows where I now live. But oh no, this only gives Heaven an opportunity to go out shopping/partying (I really can’t remember).

Sigh. Like I said. Disappointed.

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