Lisabelle Tan

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Initiatives Student Librarian


Lisabelle Tan (preferred name: Lis) (she/her) is a second-year Master in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) student from Singapore, Southeast Asia. She is interested in work that explores the intersection of information, disability studies, and mental health and wellbeing. Her previous work experience includes being a children and teens librarian and working in strategic planning and research in the library and information field in Singapore. Outside of school and work, she can be found exploring the city through instant photography, tinkering away at creative writing, or experimenting with cooking.

Current Role and Responsibilities

The EDI Student Librarian supports the development of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Scholars-in-Residence program, along with assisting in other community engagement programming at the IKBLC.

Could you tell us more about yourself? Could you share with us some of your experiences working with the community? What types of projects are you most proud of?

I’m Lis. I use she/her/hers pronouns, and am from the island-state Singapore, in Southeast Asia.

I have experience working with the community in my undergraduate days, as a former children and teens librarian, and also in my own personal capacity volunteering with the Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP) which is part of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH, Singapore). I am proudest of my volunteering stint with EPIP, as I found community and belonging with my fellow volunteers, alongside meaningful purpose-led projects.

I have been volunteering with EPIP since 2019/2020, and throughout the pandemic years. In 2021, we developed and designed a psychoeducation workshop series titled “Striking Matches”, co-produced with people who have lived experiences of psychosis. Due to COVID-19, the workshop series was delivered via Zoom. Striking Matches was well-received, and we extended it into Striking Matches Lite after the original series concluded. While planning for Striking Matches Lite, we developed a co-production framework to design, deliver and evaluate psychoeducation workshops. This co-production framework culminated in a poster presentation at the 14th International Conference on Early Intervention in Mental Health (IEPA14) in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 2023.

While the poster presentation is done and dusted, our work in the mental health and wellbeing field is far from finished! There is still a lot of ignorance and stigma about people with lived experiences of mental health conditions, especially lesser-known conditions like psychosis. I consider it part of my life’s work to eliminate (or at least significantly reduce) mental health stigma — both internalized stigma within the neurodivergent community, and more commonly expressed stigma and prejudice across the wider neurotypical population. Recovery from mental health conditions may be a meandering journey, but it can also be filled with hope, possibilities, and community. As someone with lived experience too, I believe that our lived experiences can translate to living realities and testimonies of resilience.

What is your definition of equity, diversity, and inclusion? How do you encourage people to honour the uniqueness of each individual? How do you challenge stereotypes and promote sensitivity and inclusion?

I borrow this visual definition of equity, diversity, and inclusion from the Parole Board of Canada’s Working Group on Diversity and Systemic Racism Report (June 2022):

Instead of defining EDI, an analogy I would use to illustrate diversity, equity, and inclusion is that of children at a playground. Diversity is having children of different backgrounds (ethnic, socioeconomic, religious) and abilities (neurotypical/neurodivergent, able-bodied/disabled) playing at the same playground. Equity is ensuring that each and every child is treated equally and fairly at the playground in spite of their differences and that everyone gets a fair chance at play. Inclusion is when the children do not exclude anyone else from play based on perceived or actual differences – while play might look different for an able-bodied child vs a disabled child, there are creative ways to let everyone join in the fun regardless.

I think that we live in an increasingly polarized and divisive world and it is challenging to encourage people to honour the uniqueness of each individual if all we see in a person are the identity labels and categories that they identify with, as opposed to them as whole human beings. As human beings, we have the capacity to hurt and harm or heal and uplift one another in the ways we inhabit and move through this world. It might be helpful to tend to our human interactions with curiosity and compassion, instead of judgement and condemnation, even if the person we are interacting with holds opposing views from us. That said, we are more than allowed to disengage from hate speech and remove ourselves from unpleasant situations.

Stereotypes exist because it is all too easy (but also lazy and reductive) to box people into categories. I think at one point or another, even the best of us have been guilty of stereotyping people based on their identity labels, social groups, etc. Some stereotypes may appear deceptively ‘positive’, such as the model minority myth of Asian peoples. Others, which I will not cite here, are far more offensive and damaging. However, stereotypes are ultimately harmful as they obscure us from seeing people as whole, unique, human individuals. To that end, perhaps it might be helpful for us to take a step back, and reconsider our automatic prejudices and stereotypes when they inadvertently pop up into our minds. It also takes humility to acknowledge that we have wronged others by stereotyping them, make amends, and do better next time.

Fobazi Ettarh’s “vocational awe” has become a widely read piece of LIS literature and the term has entered the lexicon of the profession. She recently followed up with, “The Future of Libraries:” Vocational Awe in a “Post-COVID” World” (co-authored with Chris Vidal). What does “vocational awe” mean for you as a graduate student entering a career in library and archives?

I just read “The Future of Libraries: Vocational Awe in a Post-COVID World” and was blown away by how hard-hitting and truthfully written it is. I shared the article with my friends back in Singapore — many of whom are in the library and information field, or adjacent fields such as education. I think anyone in management roles of information organizations should read this article, and take action to acknowledge and rectify the issues listed by Ettarh and Vidal, especially those surrounding unfair and unrealistic expectations of labour.

Personally, I have worked in the LIS field for about 3.5 years before embarking on my MLIS at UBC. In that sense, I didn’t enter my graduate program all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as a fresh (under)graduate might have. I experienced and witnessed systemic issues within the LIS field prior to my MLIS that, very honestly, made me rethink a career in the field.

According to Ettarh, “vocational awe” is the “set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that result in notions that libraries as institutions are inherently good and sacred, and therefore beyond critique”.

As an early-career LIS professional, “vocational awe” is to glorify the work in the information field to the extent that we neglect or fail to critique the problematic practices we witness, beliefs we possess, or to even acknowledge the unsettling foundations upon which libraries and archives are built on. The work we do may be purposeful, important, and for the most part, contribute to the community and society, but that does not mean we dismiss the very real issues that we encounter. From a personal perspective, “vocational awe” manifests in the form of poor boundaries that lead to overwork and potential burnout. Reading Ettarh’s and Vidal’s article, “vocational awe” gets weaponized in the workplace when “passion is the metric on which workers are evaluated” (p. 19). This can lead to people taking on more and more (job creep) just to prove to the organization that they are “good” and “worthy” workers, but without receiving due recognition much less reward as this becomes “expected behaviour”. Having experienced this myself, I am mindful that healthy workplaces do not demand or expect sick employees to continue working without caring for their own physical, mental, and emotional health.

How has diversity played a role in shaping how you communicate and interact with others in the workplace and as a student?

As an introverted humanist, I approach human interactions with caution, but also compassion and curiosity. Diversity reminds me that there is a lot to learn from our mosaic of differences if we view our differences from an asset-based approach instead of a deficit approach. I try to learn and understand what is unfamiliar to me, be it practices or cultures, and also treat fellow classmates and colleagues with dignity and respect (as I would anyone else). I acknowledge that I am but a singular individual, with my own positionality, lived experiences, background, etc. and there is much to learn from the people I encounter. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes we treat people the way we would like to be treated. However, to challenge that perspective, it might be more fruitful to try treating people the way they would like to be treated, to step into their perspectives and understand them a bit better.

In your experience, what challenges are faced by members of historically underrepresented groups in the workplace?

There are a myriad of challenges that members of historically underrepresented groups face in the workplace, and continue to grapple with. While very few workplaces will outrightly admit that they are toxic or even have glaring red flags, a lot of these discrimination and prejudices are deeply insidious and embedded, sometimes as part of the organizational culture. Members of historically underrepresented groups continue to face ableism, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. and these exclude them from cultivating a sense of belonging and pride at their workplace. Instead, they feel apart from

the dominant group(s) and are often silenced or dismissed. Given that we spend at least a third of the entire day at work (on any given workday), I think workplaces need to reckon with making the work environment less punishing and toxic — both systematically and on a micro level — especially for members of historically underrepresented groups.

What does a campus environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and increasingly diverse look like for you?

A campus environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and increasingly diverse would provide safe and brave spaces for all students, faculty, and staff to express themselves, learn, grow, and thrive. This might come in the form of student-led groups and events. I am grateful that these spaces exist in UBC through student groups such as Sprouts and Agora Community Eats/Dinners/Café that help to tackle food insecurity through free/very affordably priced meals on campus, the Gender, Race, Sexuality, Social Justice Undergraduate Association (GRSJUA), Mental Health Network (MHN), Disabilities United Collective (DUC), and IDEAS@UBC (under the iSchool). Apart from students, faculty, and staff, I think a welcoming and inclusive campus also appreciates and recognizes workers from the care and maintenance fields who, day in and day out, do the hard and often invisible blue-collar work that is so crucial to day-to-day functioning and for building a habitable environment for all.

Are there any recommendations for books or articles that you recommend we learn more about? What are some titles that have shaped who you are?

This is a non-exhaustive list of books/articles/resources I would recommend: