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THIS ARTICLE REVIEWS THE BRIEF HISTORY OF Chinese Americans in the United States and their contributions to librarianship. Despite the hardships and challenges they faced, Chinese American librarians made great Lcontributions to the building of East Asian libraries, to the cataloging of East Asian and Chinese collections, and to the development of library automation. They have advanced information technologies, promoted multicultural and diversity library services, and participated in library management and administration. Chinese Americans are active in library and information science education, in professional associations, in international librarianship, in national library and information services policy making and programming, and national policy making. Pioneers and key figures are identified with their accomplishments. The origin, purpose, programs, and activities of the Chinese American Librarians Association are also described.
The Chinese have been in the United States since the 1820s. Their history in this country is the longest among all Asian groups. With a population of 1,648,696, according to the 1990 U.S. census, it is also one of the largest ethnic groups in the country (Lai, 1995). During the last two centuries, Chinese Americans have played an important role in the nation's economy.
There are basically four groups of Chinese in America: (1) Chinatown-centered Chinese; (2) Chinese in Hawaii; (3) scholars and professionals; and (4) Chinese who temporarily reside in the United States, including college students from China; industrial, business, and military trainees from China; visiting merchants; and governmental representatives (Hsu, 1971). Chinese American library and information science professionals fall into the category of "scholars and professionals," and a majority of these completed at least part of their higher education in China and then emigrated to the United States within approximately the last fifty years.
Early Chinese immigrants were chiefly engaged in labor and services. It was not until after World War II that an educated Chinese American middle class began to emerge. By 1965, with the reform of the U.S. immigration policies, the number of Chinese professionals emigrating to the country increased significantly. This group of Chinese professional immigrants was mainly from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Because there was great demand for librarians in the 1960s, library science became one of the favored professions for the many new Chinese immigrants. There were no statistics about Chinese Americans in librarianship prior to 1970, but the number of Chinese American librarians, archivists, and curators reached 795 according to the U.S. census in 1970 (234 males, 561 females) (Sung, 1976, p. 77). The next wave of Chinese professional emigration started in the 1980s and continued to the 1990s after the relaxation of China's emigration policy, which led to a great increase in Chinese immigrants from Mainland China. A great number of these new immigrants are well-educated professionals, and some eventually became librarians or library and information science educators. Unfortunately, the U.S. census no longer provided a detailed breakdown by occupation for Asian American groups in 1990. The total number of Asian/Pacific American librarians was recorded as 6,776, of whom 1,812 (27 percent) were males and 4,964 (73 percent) were females (U.S. Census, 1990).
After years of professional endeavor in librarianship, Chinese Americans have made great contributions to the profession just like their ancestors did to the U.S. economy. Although more writings on Chinese Americans appear in the literature in recent years, there is very little documented information on Chinese Americans in librarianship. This article tries to fill this information gap by joining pieces of available information through scattered documents, notes, messages, unpublished reports, and personal communications. A few significant achievements may have been overlooked. The writing of this article is to fulfill the purpose of a Chinese saying: "Throw a brick to bring forth a jade."
Two studies examined the status and characteristics of Chinese American librarians in the United States. Li (1979) established an early profile in the 1970s. His report showed that a great majority of Chinese American librarians (76.2 percent) worked in academic libraries; of them a large number were engaged in Asian studies. Knowledge of more than one language was a strong asset to this group. Advanced degrees in other subject areas also helped Chinese American librarians perform well as subject specialists. The reason that a majority of Chinese American librarians worked in academic libraries was because "a heterogeneous cultural background is perhaps more acceptable in academic circles" (p. 44). Similar to national trends, most Chinese American librarians were female, with the ratio approximately two to one. "Nearly nine out of ten male librarians are employed in academic libraries, and one out of three is in an administrative position. Female librarians in administrative positions account for 27 out of 176, or 15.3 percent" (p. 45). At that time, more than half of Chinese American librarians worked in technical services such as cataloging and acquisitions. Less than a fifth of them worked in public services (e.g., reference, reader service, and bibliographic instruction). Geographically, Chinese American librarians lived almost equally in each part of the country--Northeast, North Central, South, and West.
No further systematic studies on the Chinese American librarians' status could be found until Yang's (1996) job survey on Chinese American librarians was published. Yang surveyed members of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA). She found that a great majority of Chinese American librarians (96 percent) were born outside the United States, namely China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It was a female-dominant group (82 percent) just as Li (1979) observed. About half of the group was over fifty years old. One-third held a second master's degree and one-tenth held a doctorate degree. The largest groups of Chinese American librarians worked in academic libraries (47 percent) or public libraries (31 percent) with a small number (14 percent) working in special libraries. None of the surveyed librarians worked in school libraries. This finding differs from that of Li's study in which the number of public librarians was much smaller (16 percent). It indicates that, during the last seventeen years, the participation of Chinese American librarians in public libraries has increased. Another significant change found in Yang's 1996 study in comparison to Li's profile was the Chinese American librarians' job assignments. Seventeen years ago, the number of Chinese American librarians working in technical services was almost four times more than those in public services. Recently, they are nearly equally distributed with the number in reference slightly higher. This change reflects the importance of providing effective diverse services to multicultural communities. Bilingual communication skills can be valued in technical services but are equally valuable in providing direct information services to a diverse public. Chinese American librarians have good self-motivation and are active in professional organizations at the national or state levels. It is encouraging to learn that three-quarters of Chinese American librarians were in managerial positions with a majority at the middle management level with job titles of branch manager or department head. The ratio of males and females in high level administration is still unequal. While 29 percent (8 out of 28) of male Chinese American librarians are directors or deans, only 6 percent (8 out of 129) of females hold the title.
It should be noted that, although a majority of Chinese American librarians are composed of first-generation immigrants from outside the United States, second-generation Chinese Americans began to join the workforce at a younger age. As many of the first-generation Chinese American librarians are at retirement age, it is encouraging to have new blood entering the profession to strengthen the group.
BARRIERS AND CHALLENGES
Like most ethnic minorities in the United States, Chinese Americans face a number of hardships and difficulties, namely racial discrimination and unequal opportunities. Historically, treatment of Chinese Americans in this country has not been kind. Early immigrants were treated with suspicion and disdain, which was reflected in laws that barred Asians from citizenship and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that barred Chinese immigration to the United States. For many years, white and minority societies were segregated. Chinese Americans had very limited opportunities for education and employment. Such restrictions are still felt by Chinese Americans. When the economy and job market shrink, Chinese Americans and other minority groups are affected first. Chinese American librarians are sometimes dismissed after years of dedicated service without legitimate reason. With limited knowledge of legal information, they did not always fight for their civil rights. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act was an improvement, but it cannot assure overall true affirmative and equal hiring practices.
Although discriminative laws are no longer legal, there are other barriers to Chinese Americans in the workplace and in daily life. These barriers were generated based on their cultural background, their method of communication, and their value system. There is a misconception that Chinese Americans are very successful in American Society. The mythical "model minority" label implies that Chinese Americans are able to acquire status without any assistance. Many Chinese American librarians perform highly skilled tasks in cataloging, reference, and other library operations with wholehearted devotion. But they are often bypassed when opportunities for promotion to management arise. Lack of opportunity to succeed often acts as a damper on ambition and self-esteem. Chinese American librarians who are placed in a dead-end loop with career limitations are often desperate and rarely voice their dissatisfaction because of a fear of damaging working relationships. The silence is often interpreted as a lack of motivation. The unhealthy circle then goes on as these individuals continue to be overlooked for advancement.
Most of the foreign-born Chinese Americans who attain administrative positions have to utilize their linguistic competency to their best advantage in East Asian libraries. Very few Chinese Americans have reached top administration levels at academic or public libraries. Most Chinese Americans are at the middle management level and have difficulty in breaking the glass ceiling.
Recent reports on Chinese Americans and their connection to questionable political fund-raising revealed that those stereotypical views toward Chinese Americans still exist. Bridges must be built to help the general American public understand Chinese Americans. Hsia (1979) stated that a career in librarianship "can evolve in many directions. The challenges to a Chinese American librarian seem to have no bounds" (p. 64). To be a successful librarian surviving in American society, a Chinese American must examine his/her personal service philosophy, career expectations in terms of peer recognition, and adjust one's social consciousness and ethical viewpoints. Frequent and open communication with peers is the key in solving many misunderstandings. Chinese American librarians can enrich librarianship with their own cultural backgrounds.
Chinese Americans feel proud that their ancestors made a substantial contribution to the growth and development of this country in spite of prejudice, intolerance, and poor working conditions. They will follow their ancestors' positive spirit to meet the challenges and strive to make even greater contributions to society. As John F. Kennedy said: "Our task now is not to fix the blame for the past, but to fix a course for the future."
CONTRIBUTIONS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Julia Li Wu (1979), former Commissioner of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, pointed out that "Chinese American librarians are characterized by their intelligence, diligence, and ability to assimilate American culture. Outstanding performers in the profession, they have tremendous upward mobility" (p. 72). Despite the hardships and challenges that they have to face, Chinese Americans have made great contributions to librarianship and have been, and continue to be, great assets to the library profession.
This author tried to group the significant achievements that Chinese Americans have made in librarianship into categories. However, there are a few outstanding leaders like the legendary Ching-chih Chen, Hwa-Wei Lee, and Tze-chung Li whose all-around accomplishments can hardly be categorized under one single section. Nevertheless, the author made the effort in placing their …