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Life as a librarian in the Māori community

Nearly 700,000 New Zealanders are of Māori descent, with most Māori living in the North Island. Hastings is a city on the North Island, and Hastings District Libraries is made up of three libraries –Flaxmere Library, the Havelock North Library and Community Centre, and the Hastings War Memorial Library which was officially opened in 1959 after the original building was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.

Moana Munro is a librarian specializing in Māori services at Hastings Public Libraries in New Zealand. We spoke to Moana about her life as a librarian focused on the Māori community.

Oxford University Press: How and why did you become a librarian?

Moana Munro: I was never much of a reader as a child and didn’t enter a library until my mid 30s when I had a BA to study towards. Twelve years later, here I am working as a librarian with an emphasis on Māori services, or Kaitiakipukapuka Māori. I felt it was important to offer an indigenous viewpoint, within a Western-driven service. Like many indigenous nations, colonization has taken its toll, with a loss of cultural identity, loss of land, urbanization with an associated loss of traditional tribal connections, and Te Reo Māori (Māori language) sidelined.

I wanted to make a difference and support a growing shift to acknowledging and reclaiming Māori language, history, traditions and culture. Meeting new people every day is always a pleasure. Helping people toward a better understanding of their Māori ancestry is also really rewarding.

OUP: How do you feel your work at the libraries benefits the Māori culture in the Hastings area?

MM: There’s a huge variety of tasks in the work I do, assisting people from all walks of life who are interested in finding out about Māori. People don’t want a know-it-all specialist; they want someone who can point them in the right direction and share a heartfelt experience. It is important to stay relevant as a librarian; there are so many new resources. A push to learn Te Reo Māori has produced many more websites and publications that we can assist our customers with.

We have a wide collection of literature which explores all things Māori, including many out-of-print books which can only be read in the library. Emphasis is given to any material of a local nature, particularly Ngāti Kahungunu (a Māori tribe).

No two days are the same and interruptions are frequent, but over the years I have come to cope by maintaining connections with the community and by calling upon some traditional Māori principles, including Te Reo Māori (Māori language), whakapapa (Māori ancestry), manaakitanga (traditional Māori hospitality), wairuatanga (spirituality), kotahitanga (working together) and kiatiakitanga (guardianship). This plus common sense usually produces good results.

OUP: How do you engage with the local community?

Image credit: “Storytime at Pou” by Moana Munro. Used with permission.

MM: Due to my work as a Kaitiakipukapuka Māori, I have made many connections with local iwi (tribal groups) and their marae (community spaces). There is a growing awareness that libraries are not just about books; they are community spaces where people can share, learn, and engage with each other. Supplying free Internet access has brought in many people from all cultures who may once have seen libraries as a particularly Western resource.

The uptake has been huge and our libraries have never been busier. As library staff we have all had to upskill in many unexpected and challenging directions to meet the needs of the community and provide something of value. Keeping things lively and vibrant is key. We host all kinds of community groups, from knitters to computer gamers, creative writers to artists, makerspaces and even children’s parties. This, as well as offering space for people to meet in a safe, non-judgemental environment (including social workers and parole officers), has helped encourage more people to see the value in their library.

I also like to get out into the community and engage with people on their own turf. One council initiative in which I am involved is the Street by Street programme. We visit at-risk streets in poor neighbourhoods to tell them about services that can help them, including libraries. We listen to their stories to see how we can help.

We are currently developing an annual schedule of Māori focused programming. We run Te Reo Māori events parallel to other programmes, particularly at times that are significant to Māori , for example Matariki. This is the winter solstice, sometimes known as Māori New Year. We include stories about Matariki for our preschool ‘story time’ events, and crafts in our after-school programmes. Each library has a Matariki display. Our reading challenge has been a great success; encouraging children to read books for which they receive stamps on a pizza card which can then be redeemed at a local pizza outlet. The children can read in English or Te Reo.

OUP: Outside the library you have Ngā Pou, a powerful installation of large, carved statues. Can you tell us a bit about it?

MM: On 26 July 2013, Hastings District Council and Ngā Marae o Heretaunga worked together to install Ngā Pou o Heretaunga as a heritage statement right in the centre of town, conveniently at the forefront of this library. Standing as Kaitiaki (guardians) are 19 Tupuna Pou (ancestral posts). Welcoming people, locals and visitors, each Tupuna Pou faces towards their affiliated marae. The whakakairo (ornate patterns) tell their stories.

OUP: It was recently Māori language week, “Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori” – what events did you put on for this?

MM: We read stories to children in Te Reo Māori sang songs and did crafts. We also had Māori language displays and featured Te Reo in our social media. It has been rewarding to see several of our staff taking advantage of council-sponsored courses in Te Reo also.

OUP: Finally, a bit about your reading preferences! What book are you reading at the moment?

MM: I am reading a book called Ka whawhai tonu matou (struggle without end). It is the first history of Māori by a Māori writer. It is by Ranganui Walker, who is a favourite author of mine.

Featured image credit: “Pou” by Moana Munro. Used with permission.

Recent Comments

  1. Maureen Tripp

    Wow, inspiring work! Makes me proud to be a librarian.

  2. Christine Kidwell

    Beautiful Mona.You always help me when I come to the library.love your approach.

  3. Priscilla Hunter

    I’m a new subscriber to the OUP blog and now, within about four days, I have read two blog.oup articles–one on the value of studying dance and one on the life and work of a Maori librarian–and both have touched prophetically on comments on the “good” literary translation I’m preparing to present to university translation students and others at a conference in Oregon next month. Dancers (like one of my daughters) and librarians (like another of my daughters)–and I dare say jazz guitarists (like the third of my daughters)–are also skilled in the business and art of producing good translations of truth and reality that move individuals in new directions, benefitting our world and doing it in beautiful ways.

  4. Rana Atama

    Keep up the good mahi e hoa!

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