Monthly Archives: March 2008

A summer workshop on Black Studies and Information Technology

I had the privilege of meeting Abdul Alkalimat at the annual iConference, a gathering of faculty and students from schools that are part of the “iSchool movement.”* Abdul is a professor with a joint appointment in Information Studies and Black Studies at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He is organizing a four-day workshop on Black Studies and Information Technology this summer and is looking for applicants. More details here:

I believe the workshop funds its participants, with the main events will be limited to a small number of people – for those working in this area, it looks like a really interesting opportunity.


*Most (though not all) formerly known as library schools. Fodder for a different post.

Leave a comment

Filed under LIS education, The Profession

CHN Closure Part IV: Americanization or obfuscation?

In my non-librarian alter-ego, I teach women’s/gender studies at a college. The class of my heart (don’t most teachers have these – the one or two courses they just love the most?) is a women’s health course. I love it for multiple reasons. I find it fascinating to explore the intersection between two concepts – “women” and “health” – that both have strong roots both in biology and social construction. I love that everyone finds something personally relevant in the material we cover. I love that the material is always evolving and the class content will never be exactly the same twice. And I love that, even if some students don’t master all the feminist theory we cover, all students can still leave the class with an enhanced ability to understand health information and navigate health systems.

I was recently talking with one student about as assignment she’s working on. She is very interested in learning more about abortion in Canada, and the health issues surrounding abortion. Like many people, she has been exposed to a lot of propaganda/myths about alleged negative health impacts of abortions. Part of my job as her teacher (strikingly similar to my job in my other role as a a librarian) is to help her develop the ability to navigate all the information (and misinformation) out there on such a topic, in order to assess what is reliable and “true” to the best of our scientific knowledge, and to use her critical analytical skills to try to figure out what is going on when there is such apparent disagreement about the scientific “truth.”

One suggestion I have made to her, of course, is to always be aware of the source – and funding – of the information you are reading. That, in the case of, for example, the alleged link between breast cancer and abortion, political abortion websites (pro or anti choice) are not as good a choice for unbiased information as a reliable cancer information website would be. Thus for accurate and current consumer information on whether there is a link between breast cancer and abortion, one would have better results going to, say, the Canadian Cancer Society or the US National Cancer Institute, than following “Dr. Google” to the atrociously misleading and inaccurate top hit of “The Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.” (the search was [“breast cancer” abortion])

I also talked with her about the challenges of looking at medical research as someone who is not an expert or even a health professional of any sort. Sometimes students will find A study on a topic and take its findings for truth, not fully understanding that one individual study is not usually as reliable as a set of studies, that small studies are usually less useful than very large ones, and not having the skills to critically assess the methods used in the study.

So where should she go for such information, particularly if she’s not someone who has the familiarity with the topic to know that there even *is* a Canadian Cancer Society? Good question.

In the past, my first answer for her would have been simple: try the Canadian Health Network. And this would have been a good answer, as a search there for [“breast cancer” abortion] gives one result:

Abortion and breast cancer
Provides the Canadian Cancer Society’s perspective on rumours that suggest having an abortion or miscarriage will increase the risk of breast cancer.
Source: Canadian Cancer Society (CCS)
Amazing! That link is exactly what I first thought of to recommend. Or not so amazing, as that link was put there by some health librarian or similar, who has the same values I do of promoting clear, easy access to accurate, impartial consumer health information.
However, the CHN homepage now has a “Thank You” notice on it:

A notice to Canadian Health Network users

The Canadian Health Network would like to thank its visitors for using this Web site as a health information resource since 1999.

Beginning April 1, 2008, Canadians will be able to access timely, trusted and credible public health information through a single source – the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Web site at Accessed by over 10 million visitors a year, we invite you to bookmark this Web site as a valuable and unique source for information on healthy living, disease and injury prevention.

Since my class is possibly the only consumer health training my students will ever have, and the CHN is still slated to go *poof* in three weeks, I didn’t recommend it to my student who was researching breast cancer and abortion, even though it would be an ideal starting point for any similar searches she wanted to do in the future.

Seeing as the CHN website refers users to PHAC, the Public Health Agency of Canada, as a replacement resource, I decided to head over there and try the same search on the PHAC site. Rather than a link to one resource to answer the question, we got ten hits, beginning with:

· 1. CYAC 2006E.vp

unopposed estrogen Breast cancer Uterine cancer Ovarian Endometrial cancerSarcoma Early age at menarche or irregular menses ?*36 ? *187, 128, 183, 63, 140 URL:
2006-09-12 | Size:1456.4K |Language:English

and continuing down a list of references that are, for the most part, equally unintelligible to the average consumer health information seeker. None of the ten citations listed look promising for answering our question.

This is where I started to get angry.

It’s one thing to take away a really great consumer health resource.

It’s another to take it away and leave a pointer referring people to an other resource that is virtually useless for the same type of information seeking!

Okay, I thought. I’ll try Health Canada, then. They do everything; they must have the info there. Well, as we all know, having everything is not what makes a useful library for most regular patrons. Looking for info on abortion and breast cancer at Health Canada is like looking for Harriet the Spy at the Library of Congress by only using a keyword search in the catalogue. There have got to be a lot of books about adolescent girls and journals out there, ya know? Similarly, at Health Canada, our [“breast cancer” abortion] search returns us 76 pages of results, several of which have the same ambiguous title/description:

1. Canada-U.S.A. Women’s Health Forum Commissioned Papers
Canada-U.S.A. Women’s Health Forum Commissioned Papers…

This is not what my student needs.

Just for kicks, I hop across the virtual border and conduct the same search in MedlinePlus. Here, I got 32 hits, with the top one being:

Can Having an Abortion Cause or Contribute to Breast Cancer? Abortion and breast cancer are both topics that can an Abortion Cause or Contribute to Breast Cancer? Abortion and breast cancer are both topics that can bring out strong&# ……abortion_cause_or_contribute_to_breast_cancer.asp?sitearea=cri

This is the U.S.American version of what the CHN gave us from the Canadian Cancer Society. The results that followed were all reasonably closely related as well, being decent consumer health webpages about either breast cancer or abortion. For this topic, the U.S. and Canadian information is basically the same, so from an information standpoint there should be little qualitative difference (the Canadian Cancer Society might differ in opinion, though, now that they will no longer be getting the web traffic from CHN). However, for, say, breast cancer treatment, the U.S. information would definitely not be the same, or even equivalent to the Canadian, due to different drug approval systems and healthcare delivery systems.

So where does this leave my undergraduate researcher/young woman trying to find out some health info? Really, she has three main choices now, if she is savvy enough to question the verisimilitude of the abortion-breast cancer propaganda in the first place:

  1. Ask a professional (teacher, librarian, doctor…)
  2. Use non-Canadian sources (if US sources, often similar to Canadian info, but sometimes quite different)
  3. Give up: either be confused by the seeming garbledygook on Health Canada/PHAC, or accept the “facts” according to the top hits on an internet search.

I guess I still just don’t understand the idea behind closing the CHN. Is it merely to obfuscate, or is the intent to Americanize?


See previous posts on the CHN here, here and here.


Filed under gender, Health, Uncategorized

Victoria Library Lockout & the Lazy Doctor’s approach to Pay Equity

Last week’s Victoria Times Colonist featured an update on the library lockout, “As library lockout drags on, employer’s side says it will examine wages paid elsewhere.

The management says they’re going to take a few weeks to gather data on payscales for similar jobs in other library systems around the province, such as Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby, in order to determine whether what they are offering CUPE 410 members is reasonable. (Not sure why they’re not just asking CUPE for the data, since it appears the union collected it all last summer anyway for this report…but a number of contracts *have* been renegotiated since July, so I’ll give them that.)

Sounds fair, right?


Comparing wages in one municipality riddled with labour disputes, situated within one of the minority provinces with no pay equity legislation, to another municipality in the same boat will only serve to maintain the status quo. Matching undervalued jobs in City A with the same undervalued jobs in City B will not achieve pay equity. To say it will is, frankly, a ridiculous proposition!

The Lazy Doctor: Defining down the standard

I asked one of my best friends,who also happens to be someone with experience with labour unions and gender equity stuff, what he thought of the situation, and he likened it to a lazy doctor. As in, you go to the doctor because you have some problem — say you’ve had a migraine for a month now and it’s really affecting your life. And rather than examining you, ordering diagnostic tests, and trying to treat your ailment, the doctor says,

“Well, listen guy, you think you’re the only one? This headache you have, it’s not a problem. You only think it’s a problem. There are lots of other people out there with headaches, and they’re mostly still alive. You think you have it bad? I see patients nearly every day who are practically bleeding to death on my floor! What you have is not a problem; it’s pretty normal. Just ignore it and you’ll (probably) be fine.”

Said friend called this “actively defining down that standard,” and when I went “?!?!?” in response he explained that, basically, instead of acknowledging that you have a problem and helping you get better, the doctor is redefining your problem as a perfectly acceptable norm.

Sounds like a pretty reasonable description of what’s going on here in libraryland to me.

Why isn’t the Victoria Public Library board comparing their staff wages with those in a region with actual pay equity?

For that matter, why have they apparently given up on their within-municipality equity comparison?

Oh, right… those type of comparisons would probably necessitate actual change. Such as meeting over the bargaining table, an activity I am given to understand hasn’t happened in a while.

From the numbers readily available, the pay for, say, an “L1” type position (entry level professional Librarian: far from the bottom of the payscale, but not exactly the top either) in Victoria doesn’t look worse than Vancouver, and looks perhaps a bit nicer than some smaller, suburban library systems in the region. Does this mean that Victoria is doing a good job, if they pay as well as Vancouver?


Vancouver, quite possibly the highest-paying of the listed comparator systems, is still recovering from a several-month strike in which the main issue was pay equity.

The Difference Legislation Appears to Make

And oh, those greedy Vancouver librarians! If they indeed *are* the most highly paid in this comparison (which I really can’t say – I only took a quick peek at recent job postings I could find, which in no way resembles a thorough or comprehensive comparison), are they just terribly greedy to have the gall have been on strike for more? Should they have stopped their snivelling and just put up with making >$7 an hour less than librarians at the Toronto Public Library (According to CUPE 391)?

Wait, why do those Toronto librarians make such a darned decent-seeming wage? Oh, riiight. Ontario has pay equity legislation….

As the Ontario Pay Equity Commission clearly states in their “Overview of the Pay Equity Act,”

Pay Equity is “equal pay for work of equal value”. The Pay Equity Act requires that jobs be evaluated and work mostly or traditionally done by women be compared to work mostly or traditionally done by men….
If jobs are of comparable value, then female jobs must be paid at least the same as male jobs. Female jobs are mostly or traditionally done by women such as librarian, childcare worker or secretary. Male jobs are mostly or traditionally done by men such as truck driver, firefighter or shipper.

The same overview states that two of the general principles on which the Pay Equity Act is based are:

“Female job classes”, or jobs performed mainly by women, are compared to “male job classes”, or jobs performed mainly by men. These jobs may be quite different.


Where a female job class is found to be of equal or comparable value to a male job class, the female job class must be provided with at least the same compensation as the male job class.

“Female job classes” are to be compared to “male job classes”…hmm…do you think it could be stated more clearly? Comparing undervalued feminized jobs with undervalued feminized jobs is an exercise in maintaining the status quo, not a move of any sort toward pay equity!

BC Library folk, maybe it’s time to really think about joining forces with some other groups for a new push for pay equity legislation similar to that in other provinces. Because if the past year is any indication, library staff are going to keep getting brushed off, ignored and underpaid until the province has something along the lines of what others do: pay equity legislation. (I’m sure there’s some BC labour history here of which I as a relatively recent immigrant am woefully ignorant, so feel free to comment and fill me in…)


Previous post on the lockout can be found here.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender, labour issues, The Profession