“We’re LIANZA” – Tomo reports from LIANZA Conference 2019

Va is the space between, the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things. (Albert Wendt, a Samoan poet and writer who lives in New Zealand, retrieved from nzpec)

 When I applied this profound concept, a lot of things shared at the LIANZA Conference 2019, held under the theme of ‘Our families, our communities, our libraries’, suddenly all made sense to me. “We’re LIANZA” – the conference began with a passionate cry of LIANZA president Rachel Esson. Behind her was a map of New Zealand and Pacific Islands. When seen from Va perspective, the oceans become thoroughfares connecting countries, instead of something that divides them. In a smaller scale, Va connects families with communities, and communities with libraries.

LIANZA president Rachel Esson
LIANZA president Rachel Esson

I could not help thinking this holistic approach of Pasifika is something that reinforces what we do in the libraries, and whether libraries can stay relevant in the future hinges on this. It was interesting to hear the keynote speech by Dr Monique Faleafa from Le Va, sharing the success of Auntie Dee – a free online tool for anyone who needs some help working through a problem, which was specifically designed for Pasifika youths. However, it turned out that the online tool was used more by non-Pasifika people, implying that there is a potential in adopting the holistic values in the libraries.

The topics presented at the conference echoed with the concept of Va, from which I identified three emerging themes:

  • Co-design
  • Diversity
  • Dialogue

Each of the theme is integral to each other and I’d like to share my thoughts on them.


Mark Buntzen’s statement “It’s not about buy-in, it’s all-in” expresses the idea of co-design well. He facilitated co-design workshops at Christchurch City Libraries recently which brought lots of disruptions, in a good sense. My take on the whole idea of co-design is that it’s about flipping the conventional thinking of ‘libraries exist for the community’ to ‘libraries exist in the community’. In other words, we do not exist without the community – libraries are communities, and communities are libraries. If so, why are we not talking to them and finding out what they would like to see in the libraries, rather than providing what we think they want.

Hamilton City Libraries’ success with their ‘Kit’ collection was one excellent example of libraries evolving based on the changing needs of the community. The Kit collection includes, but not limited to, sewing machine, electric guitar, impact driver, telescope, coding robots etc. They have become their second highest turnover and highest performing pay collection.

Nelson Seed Library  is another good example of library finding its place in the community, by accommodating the community resources within Nelson Public Libraries, which became the first of such initiatives. A mantra of ‘that’s what we have always done’ will put us in danger of being left behind by our communities.


Our community is diverse. To embrace them, we have to be inclusive. The term diversity is often discussed around different races or cultures. At least for me, that was the case. The conference went beyond that. Rhion Munro in his Trans*and Gender Diversity 101 session taught the audience all the different terms used to describe LGBTIQ community. It was profound to learn the revered position held by Takatāpui within both the takatāpui community and wider Māori community as holders and transmitters of ancestral knowledge. Auckland Libraries have well-established LGBTIQ community among the staff, who are proactive in increasing the awareness and promoting related events.

South Taranaki Libraries are leading the way by organising Rainbow Storytime despite criticism. Cath Sheard, the Libraries and Cultural Services Manager, shared how the event helped her and the library team to go back to their whys – which was to provide a safe and welcoming space for people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and walks of life; to provide all who come through our doors without prejudice, free access to information and help, and a warm welcome.

Age diversity is another hot topic for me at the conference. I’m so proud of our own Steffi Marshall sharing about Gen Connect, a unique programme for a unique community at Upper Riccarton Library. More than half of the students at Riccarton High School are not New Zealand-born, suggesting that the majority of them do not live close to their grandparents. The programme presents them an opportunity to develop their empathy and connect with senior citizens, who are also feeling isolated. Recently the programme has been rolled out to another library.


Everything starts with dialogue. Talanoa is a Tongan/Samoan/Fijian translation of dialogue, and is considered a precursor to establishing effective and ongoing reciprocal relationships. Vaoiva Matagi from Manukau Institute of Technology shared how she and her staff used Talanoa to make Pasifika youth library users feel comfortable, so that they can approach staff and make enquiries.

Without that relationship, the youth customers would feel ‘out of their comfort zone’, as asking questions to a stranger is equal to admitting they are not smart enough. So they would avoid the interaction as much as possible by, for example, Googling their questions first. To overcome this, the staff embraced the concept of Teu le Vā  – cherishing for the Vā, the relationships. Library staff are no longer strangers as they got to know the customers better by talking to them casually and maintaining the relationship.

“We can only travel at the speed of trust”, a quote shared by Dr Monique Faleafa resonates powerfully here – the speed of our improvement in library services is in proportion to the level of community engagement.

We all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the same applies to our fellow human beings. The theme of dialogue was also incorporated in the conference through the Human Library. Participants can ‘check out’ a book for 20 minutes. The book I borrowed was titled A Colourful Life, and I was totally immersed in the richness of his life stories through dialogue. Read the full report.

Tomo Shibata
Acting Team Leader
Spreydon Library

More about LIANZA Conference

Read conference tweets #LIANZA19

More about LIANZA


Three wicked problems and one set of strategic directions

One of the benefits of attending a LIANZA Conference is the opportunity, as the cliché says, to broaden your horizons. True to its name, OPEN 2017 did this in spades for me, with a variety of practical workshops and big idea keynotes.

A session that particularly reminded me of the wider importance of our profession was the talk by National Librarian Bill Macnaught. Bill highlighted the National Library’s Strategic Directions to 2030, a document that first saw the light at the end of 2016, but which I had shamefully not been aware of (bad librarian!).

Turning knowledge into value - Strategic directions to 2030
Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa – National Library of New Zealand, Attribution 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY 3.0 NZ)

Yet the three themes (aka in Bill’s words the “wicked problems”) of the Strategic Directions  — Taonga, Knowledge, and Reading — are crucial to the future not just of the National Library but of our country as a whole. You can read more about them on the National Library’s website, but here is my summary for those who like me tend to fall into the tl;dr category.



  • Are we collecting the right things that we want to share for posterity? Are we doing so collectively across the country?
  • Are we looking after these taonga in a fit manner? How do we mitigate the risks to these treasures? (A very pertinent question, given that the very night before Bill spoke there had been a fire at the National Library: the very building that houses our important documents of Nationhood)
  • How do we ensure that the resources that are being preserved digitally will be easily accessible to New Zealanders in a hundred years’ time?


  • How do we make it much easier to share knowledge across New Zealand? How do we overcome the legacy of thinking of our own institutions first?


  • How do we create a nation of readers? According to the Tertiary Education Commission, almost half the adult population struggles with the written word. Functional literacy is not as good as it needs to be to ensure a prosperous and healthy Aotearoa.
Book "whare" in children's area
Book “whare” in children’s area, Christchurch City Libraries. Flickr 2016-01-20-IMG-1205

Focus areas

The Strategic Directions highlight the following areas as key goals:

  • New Zealand’s collections of documentary heritage and taonga will be well-managed and consistently cared for, regardless of format, and readily available.
  • All collecting organisations will have access to expertise to use new technologies and tools, so that digital preservation will be integrated into their collecting policies.
  • New Zealand institutions will act as one knowledge network, with seamless access points.
  • New Zealanders will be engaged with these resources and inspired to create new knowledge, especially resources in te reo Māori.
  • Collections will reflect the diversity of people in New Zealand and the Pacific, and the importance of Māori as tangata whenua.
  • A national campaign of reading for pleasure will improve New Zealanders’ functional literacy levels.
  • New Zealanders will have the digital literacy skills to access and use knowledge.
  • Te reo Māori will be revitalised and used throughout Aotearoa.

Key success factors

Bill identified these key success factors:

  • Collective impact approach and mutually reinforcing activities (e.g. through enabling and demonstration projects that we can all focus on).
  • Acknowledgement that we have common agenda.
  • Shared measurement – we need to be clear about what success look like for all parties.
  • Backbone support from the National Library.
  • And that usual supect: continuous communication.

Do you agree with the themes, issues and focus areas of the National Library’s Strategic Directions to 2030? Or perhaps you have a brilliant idea to help us achieve these?

If so, please spread the word (remember the importance of continuous communication…) and/or email NatlibFuture@dia.govt.nz

P.S. Want to read more about OPEN 2017? Check out Kat’s A LIANZA #open17 Bibliography.

Vinh Giang – Open Your Mind

Heading to a keynote speaker who is a magician and entrepreneur, I did not know what to expect – particularly at a library conference.  However, Giang truly did open my mind!

Vinh Giang's keynote at LIANZA Conference 2017.
An audience volunteer with Vinh Giang during his keynote.

As you know librarians love a story. Giang shared the personal tale of how his parents risked their lives to escape Vietnam to start a new life as refugees in Australia. They worked very hard to ensure the family got ahead. This resulted in Giang and his brother being left at the local public library while their parents worked long hours.

The library staff embraced the family with “love and kindness” and played card games with them. One day a library staff member showed 11-year old Giang a magic book. This book and the card games were clearly life influencing and would eventually lead to a unique career.

Years later, Giang decided to drop out of university to become a magician. The hardest thing was telling his parents because he felt he had been brought up to achieve academically. Surprisingly, Vinh’s parents were very supportive. They said they didn’t risk their lives to start a new life where he had to do something he didn’t want to do. They wanted him to be happy and have opportunities.

His father encouraged him and stated,

“jump as high as you can in life. As long as I am alive boy, I will forever be your net.”

A relieved Giang then cheekily asked his parents to help finance his proposed business using their investment property. Giang and his friends consequently started the Encyclopaedia of Magic, an online business.

Setting up this business was a risk and required a lot of hard work. Giang recognises the help and support he has received, particularly from family. Despite being very successful he endeavors to remain grounded and shared a Vietnamese saying,

“When you eat the fruit, always remember those who help you plant the tree.”

Illustrating some tricks Giang showed the audience that magic is the problem you can’t solve because of perspective. He highlighted the importance of looking at something from a different point of view, a different perspective. A filmed card trick shows one perspective, whereas a trick in real life shows another perspective.

According to Giang if we generally want to change what we are doing we need to consider completely different perspectives.

“Gather as many perspectives as you can. Perspective is power.”

“We don’t innovate by what others are doing in our industry.”

All of us in the GLAM sector can clearly learn a lot from each other. We should collaborate more – share successes, failures, ideas and findings. We should also look outside our industry for inspiration.

A sllide from Vinh Giang's keynote
A sllide from Vinh Giang’s keynote illustrating the possibilities inherent in gaining a different perspective,

A passionate Giang clearly illustrated his belief that when you improve individually, you improve professionally. He believes,

 “…you are the direct reflection of the top five people you spend time with.”

Giang pestered entrepreneur Matthew Michalewicz until he agreed to spend an hour with him. They are now best friends and Michalewicz is Vinh’s mentor. To reach full potential you have to feel good. If you feel you are lacking a skill or attribute bring someone into your top five. For example, you may need a public speaker.

According to Giang,

 “…your beliefs dictate you actions.”

Clearly, it is important we are positive and know where we are heading as a profession. It is good to set some individual goals and put your hand up to participate in project work. Learning new skills and being adaptable is essential in today’s workplace.

Giang emphasised the importance of taking the first step in processes and surrounding yourself with positive people.

After hearing Giang speak, I think it is important that we all learn to believe in ourselves. It is fundamental that we GLAM professionals develop a stronger voice and illustrate our worth in society. We should take pride in stories such as those of Giang who was clearly empowered by library staff. We are highly skilled, noble workers who come to work every day for the common good of helping other citizens.

Try not to be overwhelmed by projects and opportunities.  Gather different perspectives on the way and remember to take one step at a time!  Be prepared to change perspectives and look at other opportunities around you.

Being open

My intention with writing a post about attending OPEN17, this year’s LIANZA Conference was always to pick a session or two of interest and report back on them… however as often happens at these kind of events, what you think going in, and what you think coming out, are vastly different things. Some sessions I thought would fire with me didn’t, others that I didn’t expect much from resonated. You just never can tell from an abstract, I guess.

And just as important as the individual sessions is the way that themes and ideas from different ones can interact with each other in your mind, achieving a kind of cerebral synergy. So please bear with as I attempt to un-knot some of these intertwined ideas and explain their relationships to each other.

In terms of keynotes there were two that really got me thinking; Laurinda Thomas – The Dangerous Myth about librarians – and Vinh Giang – Open your mind. The appeal of the first was not so much of a surprise to me. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Laurinda in the past about some of the issues she touched on in her presentation so I was fairly sure she and I would be on the same wavelength. We both believe that libraries have fallen into the trap of helping perpetuate narratives that do not serve our industry well. That we chronically undersell ourselves and use language that belittles us. That we need to be bold and open to change and think about ourselves in a completely different way.

"Words have power" slide from Laurinda Thomas's keynote
“Words have power” slide from Laurinda Thomas’s keynote

Vinh Giang’s presentation was very different from this (as you would expect from a motivational speaker/magician) but in common were the ideas of changing your perception to change your reality, how the words you use (what he called “linguistic influence) can have a powerful effect, and self-belief. In many ways Laurinda’s talk was the “what that might look like in a library context” other half of Vinh’s session. He also talked about taking the blinders off and actively looking for opportunities. Advice that I took during conference myself, to great effect (more on that later).

Vinh Giang gives his keynote
Vinh Giang gives his keynote

Creating opportunities was something that came up in Hana O’Regan’s keynote too – namely how her determination to reclaim te reo created opportunities for her to learn her own history. Without this skill the Māori world would be largely closed off to her, the discovery of a Māori literary heritage (in the form of Niupepa) would not have been accessible to her and the ability to deconstruct the myths that Māori hold about themselves would have been greatly diminished. Hana spoke with great heart and it was clear that much of what she has achieved in building te reo capability within her own children is through sheer bloody-mindedness and – there’s that word again – self-belief.

Away from the keynotes some of the smaller sessions contained gold if you looked for it too. In particular I was very taken with Jane Cherry’s session, An Open Smile, which looked into the science and research behind smiling and why frontline staff should absolutely be doing it despite their many reservations – all of which were voiced to sometimes rather comical effect by Jane – including a stubborn determination to not be as friendly as “a shop”… for some reason. I found this session brought up many of the themes as discussed above, including the rather limiting “that’s not what a library does” perception still held by some.

Jane Cherry presenting at LIANZA conference 2017
Jane Cherry presents at Open 17. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

On a personal level, I decided to be open to opportunities in a most practical fashion – despite never having bothered with it before (partly because I am deathly afraid of having awkward conversations with salespeople) – I undertook to get my conference passport stamped at all the vendor stands in the exhibition hall, and then enter the prize draw. This turned out to be quite the mission, though not too onerous, and in the process I acquired “swag” that has resulted in sunflower plants starting to grown in our garden, returning to the office bestowing gifts like the King Midas of pens, and my toddler now has a new favourite bedtime pal aka a little stuffed lion (courtesy of the generous folk at Emerald Publishing). I also entered every vendor competition I came across.

Result? I won a Fitbit that I didn’t particularly want but which I am now borderline obsessed with and a nice bottle of wine. Keep your eyes open for opportunities and amazing things (and free plonk) can happen!

A LIANZA #open17 Bibliography

Kat, Kim, Sally & Amy
Kat, Kim, Sally & Amy. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License

Want to find out more about the #open17 conference which took place at Addington Raceway, Christchurch 24-27 September 2017? Then take a look at this list of blogs and videos…

  • October’s edition of Library Life is a great place to get a number of people’s reflections from conference.
  • To see recordings of keynotes and sessions from the main plenary head to the LIANZA GigTV site. Please note it will ask for your name and email address. Keynotes will also be uploaded to the LIANZA YouTube channel.

If you know of anything I’ve missed or anything new do let us know!