Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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“It's not just a professional development thing": Non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa New Zealand making sense of mātauranga Māori.

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posted on 2021-12-08, 23:47 authored by Kathryn Oxborrow

Libraries in Aotearoa New Zealand have their roots in Western worldviews and understandings of knowledge which are distinctive from those of the Indigenous Māori population. These differences can lead to cultural clashes where traditional library approaches and values are incompatible with the needs of Māori stakeholders or collections, including approaches to access, cataloguing and classification and working with the Māori language. Given these differences, it is appropriate for non-Māori librarians to look for ways to extend their understanding of Māori knowledge systems to address some of these topics.   The central focus of this research is how non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa learn about or engage with (make sense of) mātauranga Māori (a basic translation of which is ‘Māori knowledge’). To address this question, learning about and engaging with mātauranga Māori was conceptualised as a form of information behaviour, and a methodology based on Dervin’s Sense-Making was developed. Twenty-five non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa were interviewed about their own experiences of learning and engagement in terms of the key facets of Dervin’s model: Situations, Gaps, Bridges and Outcomes, and also with a particular focus on factors which helped or hindered them from bridging their knowledge Gaps (Helps and Barriers). Three focus groups of Māori librarians were asked about their experiences with their non-Māori colleagues’ engagement with mātauranga Māori in order to present a more balanced view of the current situation.  As well as emphasising the large scale of their knowledge Gaps in relation to Māori knowledge, interviewees highlighted Gaps in the areas of Māori and Libraries and Language and Cultural Protocol. Bridges identified were Courses, Books and Text Resources and People and Situations. Both Helps and Barriers consisted of significant internal aspects, where elements of interviewees’ existing knowledge and experience or aspects of their personalities were either things that helped them proceed or acted as potential Barriers. These were in some cases closely related; for example, Fear was a potential Barrier in a lot of cases, but having the strength of character to push past that fear was also something that helped some interviewees. Focus group participants highlighted a number of similar Helps and Barriers that they had observed in their non-Māori colleagues.   A significant finding of this research was the lack of external impetus for non-Māori librarians to engage with mātauranga Māori within their professional contexts. In the majority of instances discussed by interviewees, they spoke of not having any problems because of what they did not know. Alongside this, interviewees and focus groups pointed out a tendency for non-Māori librarians to rely excessively on their Māori colleagues for cultural support, even when they could use their own reference or searching skills to find answers for themselves or clients.   Both interviewees and focus group participants were questioned on the topic of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) Professional Registration scheme and the inclusion of mātauranga Māori as a mandatory element in the Body of Knowledge. None of the interviewees were deterred by the inclusion of mātauranga Māori as a mandatory element and many commented that it was important. However, in the view of both interviewees and focus group participants, LIANZA Professional Registration is not playing a major role in encouraging non-Māori librarians to engage with mātauranga Māori in a meaningful way.   This study also had a methodological aspect, considering the appropriateness of Dervin’s Sense-Making as a suitable conceptual approach to the study of non-Māori librarians learning about and engaging with mātauranga Māori. Due to a number of factors including the strong Anglo-American orientation of the model and the differences between some interviewees’ conceptualisations of their journeys of learning and engagement and the Sense-Making approach, it is concluded that Dervin’s Sense-Making is not the most compatible framework for conceptualising non-Māori librarians’ processes of learning about and engaging with mātauranga Māori. This could not be resolved by suggesting an addition or alteration to the existing model, and so a practical model has been developed for non-Māori librarians who wish to find ways to move their engagement forward. 


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Information Management

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Information Management


Goulding, Anne; Lilley, Spencer