March 18, 2018

Notes from Some Small Islands | Office Hours

Michael StephensI was honored to give one of the keynote addresses at the 2013 Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) conference. There, I met many New Zealand LIS professionals and got a glimpse of how they work. I also became intimately acquainted with the integration of Maori culture into New Zealander LIS professionals’ lives. The Maori are the original citizens of the two islands.

The conference began with a powhiri at Turangawaewae Marae, a sacred place near Hamilton that is the traditional home of the Maori king. The powhiri ceremony involves welcoming newcomers to the Marae, a dialog between Maori hosts and the visitors, a donation (koha) to the group, shared singing, and the opportunity to touch noses with the elders, known as a hongi, which signifies the joining of the two groups.

I was a bit hesitant about touching noses with the line of elders, but when a lovely lady grabbed my hands and pulled me in, I was sold. It felt special and right to be welcomed in this manner. The nose touching gave way to afternoon tea, chat, and a keynote address in the auditorium. This was the most unique, culturally significant, and inclusive welcome to a conference I’d ever attended.

Social networking

I was reminded of Tom Standage’s new book, Writing on the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 Years (Bloomsbury USA), in which he argues that social media is nothing new, with papyrus scrolls and Twitter both examples of instant mass communication tools. How the two groups came together, pulling everyone in to the same community, made me think this is also evidence of pre-Internet social networking.

I found LIANZA 2013 to be a positive and encouraging experience. Keynote addresses, mine included, ended with a traditional Maori song (waiata). Teatime offered a chance for folks to network and browse exhibits. At what was billed on the LIANZA site as “the legendary conference dinner,” delegates were on their feet cutting a rug before dessert was even served. Delegates and vendors appeared in costume to match the “Take Me to the River” theme.

A close community

Something struck me about this conference, in addition to my interactions with the library folk I met as we traveled down the North Island, stopping in Wellington for a talk I gave at Victoria University and on to the South Island. At a combination #hyperlibMOOC and library folk tweet up held at Pomeroy’s Pub in Christchurch, I finally asked the assembled group, “Why does the LIS community here feel so cohesive and tight-knit? Is it the isolation?” Between the pub chat and the question I threw out to Kiwis in my Twitter network, the ideas flowed:

“Tight-knit for sure, but many local authorities in NZ are becoming smaller, and there are fewer employing authorities, so librarians are working in larger organizations and tend to meet one another more often,” said Brendon Moir, system analyst for the digital library web team at Christchurch City Libraries. “The local and national partnerships between libraries have become really important, and this will only increase.”

Cath Sheard, assistant manager for cultural services at South Taranaki District Council, thought it’s a “relatively small pool of people to get collegial support from, so people tend to form strong bonds.” She also cautioned, though, “Small country, people in smallish profession need to be ‘nice’—speak badly of someone, it gets round. Think two degrees of sep[aration], not six.” Sally Pewhairangi, strategic services development coordinator at Waimakariri ­Libraries, echoed this thought: It is “difficult to speak out against policy, actions etc., because it will be remembered.”

I felt the closeness when I spoke with vendors on the LIANZA exhibit floor. NZ Micrographic Services strives for “a close and intimate relationship with the GLAM sector,” Andy Fenton, managing director, told me. “We have always chosen to treat customers as friends and colleagues—you’d do your best never to let them down, right?” Fenton told me that his core values include “give a lot to gain a little” and “treat everyone like a good friend or neighbor.” Transparency from vendors and commiseration evident on the conference floor are heartening.


There is a desire to participate in the greater LIS community, but the reality of their geographic location has forced our colleagues in New Zealand to be more self-reliant. Here, the power of large-scale online learning such as ANZ Mobile 23 Things and the hyperlinked library MOOC has given places like New Zealand a pipeline to the community that it never had before. However, doing some things on our own can be rewarding.

Take a lesson from this small island nation. Perhaps the global library community itself needs to stop questioning our worth and holding up “saints and sages” to profess it and, instead, have professional self-esteem that is based upon our intrinsic value and not on an external power.

Michael Stephens ( is Assistant Professor at the School of Library and Information Science, San José State University, CA

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA



  1. Michael,
    The islands of New Zealand may be small in size, but they are large in impact. I often look to my Kiwi colleagues for new ideas, examples of innovation, and running code (e.g., Koha and Greenstone, for but two examples). The University of Auckland Library should bow to no one when it comes to providing excellent service to a university community. The Victoria University library school in Wellington has been doing MOOC-style education for many years before the acronym became popular, serving students all over the world. So…yeah. Our colleagues in New Zealand rock, as do our colleagues across the Tasman Sea in Australia. They just don’t toot their own horns as much as we do here in the States. Kudos to you for helping to do it for them.