IFLA’s Library Services to Multicultural Populations (MCULTP) Section will have a WLIC 2023 satellite meeting on 18 August 2023 in The Hague, The Netherlands. Dr. Raymond Pun, Librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education and Standing Committee Member of IFLA Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning (CPDWL) Section, will be presenting at the satellite meeting.  Lan Gao, Chair of IFLA Library Services to Multicultural Populations Section, has the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pun.

Dr. Pun, thanks for participating in this interview. I think the topic of data is very important in the library field, especially the privilege and representation aspects of it. What has inspired you to talk about this topic?

Ray: Thanks for the opportunity to chat about this! I have an opportunity to co-present this topic with Dr. Philip Schreur, Deputy University Librarian at Stanford University. It’s timely for us in libraries to think about data and its impact on our users and on our services. I’ve been working with many groups such as the Library Freedom Project (LFP) to understand how we apply data ethics in our work. With generative AI tools, we see how the data of users are collected and profiled by companies. This can also be said about our library databases too; are these databases ensuring that user information is not being collected? I also wonder how and what data sets represent communities and their needs authentically. Not all data sets can be disaggregated but if one person has access to a lot of data about specific communities, it offers an advantage over other groups with limited data about them too. It’s a complex issue that could be helpful for our work in providing data support and services in libraries.

What are the signs when data and its access lose their neutrality? What can we do to address this issue?

Ray: Data is never neutral, that’s the first point to reinforce. Data, numbers, and statistics are gathered for specific purposes and can mean different things depending on the audience. It’s important to understand how to collect, access, and use data ethically and responsibly. We are living in a world where data collecting and profiling are becoming common practices for benchmark measures or to assess learning outcomes or student success (in universities) but the issue is that we may be gathering data that is not really reliable and could be harmful if the data gets leaked and accessed by third party groups which can be challenging, especially for those who are from marginalized groups. Libraries continue to offer data services and support but need to adopt and follow a data ethics framework (e.g. Federal Data Strategy in the United States). All types of libraries are collecting data or providing data support for users and it’s not going away.

What is the most important part of data research in librarianship to ensure fostering an inclusive culture?

Ray: We have to acknowledge that the data collected and represented in specific communities may be flawed or inaccurate. For example, data generally collected about Asian American and Pacific Islander (“AAPI”) communities in the United States is actually aggregated and not very helpful in understanding the specific needs within “AAPI” which is over 50 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages and oftentimes excludes information about Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander experiences. This aggregation is unhelpful and marginalizes other groups within “AAPI” as a monolithic group. There’s vast diversity within underserved and underrepresented communities, and libraries need to be aware of how we offer data research support especially when it comes to demographics and census, and people’s experiences.

Where can we find more resources and tools on enhancing fair representation of data in the library field?

Ray: There’s plenty of resources out there to think about fair representation of data in the library field but need to actually read it and follow through and hold each other and their institutions accountable, and issues of privacy too. Some resources worth exploring include Data Feminism Network (DFN), Library Freedom Project (LFP), and Library Futures.

Photo of Dr, Raymond PunBio:  Dr. Ray Pun is the Academic and Research Librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education where he teaches research methods and manages the library services. Dr. Pun is a member of the Continuing Professional Development and Workplace Learning (CPDWL).