“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


The Dangerous Myth about librarians – Laurinda Thomas: OPEN17 LIANZA Conference

OPEN 2017 – the 2017 LIANZA Conference – officially kicked off on Sunday afternoon with a mihi whakatau and kai. Niamh Shaw the MC brought us together after that, and launched an afternoon of dangerous myths, future sounds, and an awards ceremony.

Kelsey Johnstone of Christchurch City Libraries, LIANZA councillor for the Aoraki region, introduced Laurinda Thomas.

Kelsey Johnston
Laurinda Thomas

Laurinda’s well known in library land for her TedX talk The Dangerous Myth about Libraries.

In this keynote, she looked into the dangerous myth about librarians.  This time it’s personal – it’s the things we tell ourselves:

Will we flourish or will we let the weight of that history hold us back from what we could be?

The most important resource in libraries? It’s librarians. And it is librarians that will determine what the future of the profession looks like.

This keynote was packed with ideas and conversations, and emphasised the importance of intentionality  – of knowing what we do, why we do it, and for whom. I’ve picked out some of her key points, and the slides that illustrated her ideas.

Laurinda focused on the here and now, not the future – the real work and real positive outcomes for the people we serve. We were social entrepreneurs before the phrase existed.

Libraries are powerful. They provide internet access and modern life relies on it completely.  Citizens can’t have human rights without access. We are providing people with a human right that opens up employment, communication with family, and democracy. The systematic cuts that UK libraries are enduring in the wake of austerity measures are not a politically neutral act. Cutting library budgets is reducing the education of citizens, and impacting on their rights.

We have power as librarians, and that can make us feel conflicted.  There is a hierachy amongst the people we serve, and the people we report to. These groups aren’t the same, one includes society’s most vulnerable, and the other includes some of the most privileged.

When we use the word “relevant”, we imply the opposite.

When we talk about “saving our libraries”, we signal powerlessness, and the need to be saved.

When Laurinda did her TEDx talk, a woman spoke to her and said the talk made her angry. It was a retired librarian, and she’d been part of the same conversations 30 years ago.

How do we have better conversations? Talk to the people who haven’t been into a library for ten years. Not everyone can afford books, or has a quiet place to go. Not everyone has internet access, or even a home.

Some people don’t give a damn about the social good of the library.

So find out what matters to them, and back up your stories with facts.

Dare to ask about the things we find confronting:

Are you represented?

If the library wasn’t here, what would you do?

Do you know someone who would never come to the library?

The elephants in the room:

  • Misusing numbers – conflating statistics with opinions about value, but really we are more interested in outcomes than numbers.
  • Relying on our “obvious” value (it’s not obvious)
  • Being lazy about biculturalism. (we haven’t moved enough in this area, not by a long stretch)
  • Looking for a single thing to save us (and I bet that thing will also make us “relevant”)
  • Avoiding politics.

Libraries are not ideologically neutral. We  support access to information, lifetime learning, and the social good. Political awareness is part of the job.

Get up there. Do public speaking. Speak from the heart. To be visible is to be courageous.

Make our profession impossible to ignore.

Tweetapalooza at the LIANZA Conference 2015

The LIANZA Conference 2015 was brilliant – loud, proud, full of ideas. And the rowdiness wasn’t just in the building – it was online. I’ve never been to an event where so many people were tweeting, taking pics, and typing on devices. I got to meet plenty of the wonderful library people I connect with on Twitter.

It was a veritable Tweetapalooza – the hashtag #shout15 was even trending on NZ Twitter at various times.

I’ve pulled together a bunch of conference tweets using Storify. It is a good way to get the flavour of Shout! Karanga Rā:

Stuart Palmer  @s_palm did some great analysis of how many #shout15 tweets were published, how they connected, etc.  9561 tweets recorded as at 12 November.

The hashtag #shout15 still has legs, as keynote speaker Ned Potter has shared this frank and wonderful post on what it means to come all the way to Aotearoa for a conference.

I’ve been thinking of another thing to consider about tweeting from a conference – should you tweet as your institution, or as yourself? I made the call to do it as the library. There are pros and cons to that – tweeting as Christchurch City Libraries meant we showed we were in amongst it. But it also meant people who follow @ChristchurchLib got a lot more insider library stuff than usual. It’s open to debate.

Why is Twitter so useful at a library conference?:

  1. A tweet shows ideas that hit the mark, provoked, excited, challenged, surprised. It is like an exclamation marking saying “This!”
  2. You can get a glimpse into the sessions you didn’t go to. Your envy might be mollified (or enhanced) by the way someone tweets about it.
  3. It is a handy aide–mémoire for recalling the ideas that you found most interesting. Makes writing up your notes much easier! You’ve already used the highlighter by tweeting something.
  4. It allows anyone who is not at conference to see what people are shouting about.
  5. You can use the hashtag to hunt out other people’s splendid thoughts. And share them, passionately.

Finally, I’d like to do a shoutout for @leerowe who did something that combined Twitter (digital) and analogue in a deeply appealing way – it is proof that the way you use Twitter at a conference can be idiosyncratic, personal, and filled with character.

Tim Spalding, Tim Spalding, Tim Spalding

Maybe it’s because spring is coming (oops, it’s here!), maybe it’s because I have not had enough sleep recently, but I think I am in love with Tim Spalding, Tim Spalding, Tim Spalding. Well, LibraryThing anyway!

Tim Spalding or lollies?
Tim Spalding or lollies?

LibraryThing catalogs yours books online, easily, quickly and for free” – but wait, there’s more – you can also use it to … [Warning: the following list is a very narrow summary of features that is not truly representative of all of the functionality available within LibraryThing. Existing users of LibraryThing may find this offensive]:

  • See who else has the book, and what they think about it.
  • View and add facts about the book such as character names, awards, or places.
  • View and add reviews, ratings, tags.
  • View and add cover images and a gallery of authors.
  • Look at statistics to see books that you share with other LibraryThing members.
  • Use comments to send a note to other members.
  • Connect to other people on LibraryThing by joining or creating a group.

Is this enough to pique your interest? If it is then sign up for LibraryThing. Go to the home page, click “Join now” and enter a user name and a password in the yellow box. That’s it.

If you have already used LibraryThing, then what do you think?

‘Libraries change lives’ – an interview with Jessica Dorr

An interview with Jessica Dorr – the Program Officer for Global Libraries, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jessica is a  keynote speaker at LIANZA Conference 2009 (she’s on stage at 9.30am this morning and promises a presentation with plenty of photos).

(15.46 minutes, 14 MB)

Jessica recommended this video on Youtube showing how a library project in Latvia, jointly funded by the foundation and the Latvian government, has turned Latvia’s libraries into centres of learning and opportunity by providing better access to information, jobs, and social connections through technology. The grant—which provided public libraries with computer equipment, Internet connectivity, and skilled librarians—is a huge success story and is helping to close the digital gap in Latvia.

(Thanks to Richard Liddicoat of the Digital Library Web Team for his sterling audio work on the interview)