“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


Read your way into the local profession – subscribe to the Aoraki LIANZA blog

It’s well worth Ōtautahi librarians subscribing to the Aoraki LIANZA blog.  Check out some recent posts:

LIANZA event An evening with Ilona Kish

Ilona took the stage to speak of her current projects as the Director of Public Libraries 2020. She spoke of her key areas of focus:

Building positive perceptions and increasing the visibility libraries for policy makers. Sadly many policy makers haven’t set foot in a library for 10-20 years.

Help librarians connect internationally – to build on the sensibility that it’s really important to talk to people outside of your back yard, leverage your resources, find and connect with others. Keep a sense of what’s going on in your bigger picture.

Some of the challenges Ilona’s considering are:

What will happen to Public Libraries 2020 after Gates Foundation funding ends, they’re spending $150 million over 5 years there is only one of those 5 years remaining.

Hope to capture all the learnings of the last 4 years and make sure they’re picked up by the next generation.

Ilona Kish

Read more of Remy’s post

More interesting recent posts:


The Future Sound of Libraries- Matt Finch: OPEN17 LIANZA Conference

Ah. Matt Finch’s keynote. He gave us Chris. Or should I say “Chrises”.

Then this.

We danced to this … and danced a library.

… For Alex and for the power of remembrance.

We visited a mobile library, and I borrowed one of my favourite books: When the wind blows by Raymond Briggs. (read this, and watch the Brit tv series Threads – the two perfect artefacts of  80s nuclear fear)

We met Bowie and Jobriath and Ann Magnuson.
Your collection is a springboard to creativity.

We designed a new exciting event and programming for our libraries.

We sung Oma rapeti.

And we met librarians from Australia and New Zealand doing awesome stuff.  Lesley Ahwang Acres, Field Officer with Indigenous Library Services at the State Library of Queensland (here she is at her session).

Amy Walduck and Sally Turbitt.

Rachael and Hamish talked about the important and life-changing work Auckland Libraries is doing with the streeties community. (read A home for the homeless: Rachael Rivera and the Auckland Library Streeties).

And we finished with a lineup of these awesome GLAMR peoples.
Kia ora. Bravo. Inspirational. Thanks.

More Matt


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.

A selector’s view of the LIANZA Conference

I am excited about going to the LIANZA conference on Tuesday. I will be focusing on three strands that are important to me as a selector for Christchurch City Libraries. Broadly speaking they are:

  • Customer experience
  • eBook usage and licensing agreements
  • Being open to indigenous knowledge.
Kim Tairi keynote
Kim Tairi keynote. LIANZA Conference 2015. Flickr LIANZA-2015-IMG_0843

The way we present the library content we select with great care is all important. I would like to explore new ideas of presentation and customer interaction at the conference.

I will be wearing my e-hat when going to the session on eBook usage and licensing agreements. Will this help me in the future to better explain to self-publishing authors why I can’t buy their eBook from them direct?

As the selector for New Zealand nonfiction I also make the decision which books will be shelved in our Ngā Pounamu collections. I hope to get a lot out of the paper that gives an overview of how other non-Māori librarians are making sense of Māori knowledge.

  • Visit the LIANZA Conference page for more information.
  • Follow the #open17 hashtag on Twitter for conference-related tweets.

Cornelia Oehler
Selection & Access Librarian