“Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a book. And a good book at that.”
GSLIS doctoral student Karla Lucht visited the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia as part of the iSchool Doctoral Student Exchange Program in November 2012. The CCB decided to meet with Karla to discuss her trip and her research. Lucht describes her research as looking at the representations of mixed-race Asian Americans and Canadians in youth literature with a critical race theory lens.
Skip to a Question
Why do you see your research as important to the field of youth services and children’s literature? Why is it valuable?
What are some challenges you see in your particular field of research? What are some opportunities?
Tell me about your trip to Vancouver. What did you do there?
Can you explain more about the trip? How did you end up there?
Do you have any advice for students interested in doing research in children’s literature, youth services, or LIS more broadly?
What do you hope will be the takeaway from your research and visit? How do you hope that it will change the field?
To start with, there’s a gap in this research with lots of underrepresented groups, but with mixed-race people especially. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented in a book…and a good book at that. In the past, we’ve seen some books about mixed-race people, but a lot of them weren’t good. I’m trying to fill in those gaps.
One primary challenge is just finding titles, especially using subject headings. The Library of Congress Subject Heading that’s closest to my work is Racially Mixed People–Fiction, which isn’t very descriptive. I’ve been sifting through books with that heading. I’m also trying other keywords–adoption, immigration, multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural–and then looking at the books to see if they have the content I’m interested in.
Another problem is that, especially in the late 1980s and the 90s, a lot of the YA books on this topic are a bit problematic and poorly written. You find books that really invest in Othering a character’s Asian side and putting whiteness on a pedestal. In those books, the character vists the Asian side of the family, and it’s always a big problem–the Asianness is “too weird” or something.
“You find books that really invest in Othering a character’s Asian side and putting whiteness on a pedestal.”
On the other hand, finding the books is fun and exciting. It’s like: “Finally, here is a representation!” I remember the first time I read a book with a mixed-race Asian character, and even though it was a pretty problematic book, it will always have a special place in my heart, because it was the first time I saw myself in a book like that.
The trip was pretty amazing. I met with Judith Saltman, who, among other things, does work in First Nations literature for youth. It was good for me to talk with her and her students about challenges in finding books, in particular. I’ve been trying to use slang and colloquial words–hapa and Blasian, for example–to help find books, and her students helped me find words that are used in Canada. Her students asked me if I’d searched for “CBC,” which stands for “Canadian Born Chinese.” Although I’d used ABC–American Born Chinese–I hadn’t thought about that.
We also had some interesting talks about demographics and demographic shift. It was interesting to explore culture clashes. You know, they say, “Eventually, everyone’s going to be mixed-race,” and I was able to talk to her students about what we thought about the effects that would have on literature and on culture in general–we pretty much agreed that it wouldn’t “fix” racism. The students there are super engaged in Otherness and multiculturalism, and we had some good discussion about how to deal with that content: Do you infuse it throughout the curriculum or do you make it its own class? There was a lot of disagreement, but it was stimulating conversation.
I went as part of the GSLIS iSchool Doctoral Exchange Program. It’s an opportunity extended to doctoral students to visit another school and network with other faculty and students. My advisor, Carol Tilley, first turned me on to the program and suggested I could go. Deborah Stevenson at the CCB told youth services faculty and PhD students, “I can help make contacts.” Deborah was the one who suggested I should talk to Judith Saltman and made the first contact to help set up the exchange with UBC.
It was really helpful for me to go to Canada to help broaden my project to an international–or at least a regional, North American–perspective. It was also an amazing experience to meet other students, especially at UBC, where they have an M.A. in children’s literature. I was there speaking as a librarian to people who just have a children’s literature background–teachers, librarians, people in publishing. It was very helpful to have different perspectives. It forced me to think about who was in my audience.
The first thing I would have to say is collaborate as much as you can with peers. In GSLIS, there’s a lot of group work, and even though it can be frustrating, it’s also rewarding to see what your peers are doing, what their different interests are. You can start doing things like putting together posters at ALA or bibliographies outside of your coursework because of shared interests that you wouldn’t have expected.
Also, network while you’re in school. You can’t underestimate this. Go to conferences. Take advantage of those student rates. Go to alumni events. Make contacts now. They are incredibly valuable.
“Can we use other words besides ‘multicultural’ to describe these books?”
I guess, looking at the bigger picture, first, I would hope the people realize the need for different representations of young people in books than what we already have. Librarians and educators will hopefully be more aware about thinking about the cultural impact of books, and the kinds of books I’m looking at more particularly. I’m also interested in posing the question: “Can we use other words besides ‘multicultural’ to describe these books?” I strongly disdain that word in this context. People think they know what “multicultural” means, and often, it’s not a very good definition.
I’d also like to say a special thanks to Deborah for helping out with the trip. She really made this valuable experience happen by initiating contact with UBC.