Tal Rogoff, pictured below, is a Kaitiaki o ngā pukapuka/ Information Consultant at WSP. She reflects on how being part of the Whiria te Tāngata programme has helped her grow; in more ways than one.
Growing up Jewish, learning is closely associated with books and formal, didactic educational learning.
There’s a reason we’re referred to as People of the Book (not sure who coined it, but it’s not wrong). Further, Israel (my birthplace) sits between the sites of the world’s oldest university (Aleppo, Syria) and the world’s most ancient library (Alexandria, Egypt), respectively.
Add to the mix a very European pedagogical system that was adopted in the 1920s, and it’s not a big leap to libraries and the idea of books as the way to disseminate knowledge.
To this day, my first reaction to a question or a subject I don’t know is to see if I can find a book about it.
Understanding cultures of communications
It’s almost embarrassing to admit this, but though I knew, that there were cultures who didn’t have written language until it was introduced (or imposed), I was slow to make the connection with libraries as a colonising institution.
I don’t remember exactly when that proverbial penny dropped for me, but as I’ve spent time in recent years trying to understand more about Te Ao Māori, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of mātauranga Māori. Through this, libraries were almost demoted in my mind to a way to disseminate knowledge, and one that badly needs updating to include and bolster mātauranga.
Once again, my first reaction was: ‘ok, I need to find a programme that will teach me everything relevant so I can study Library Studies further and apply what I learned!’ (Ironic?)
What a corporate library looks like
All this is to explain the excitement I felt at the opportunity to sign up for Whiria te Tāngata.
Coming to this as the only cohort member from a private sector, corporate library has been an interesting and new challenge.
Being in the private sector means that the company does not have the same obligations to te Tiriti o Waitangi that a governmental department does – this is further complicated by the fact that our organisation is a global one with headquarters elsewhere, so that te Tiriti is not a natural part of their conversation or awareness.
Being a commercial body also means that at the end of the day, it’s about the Bottom Line and reasons other than “it’s the right thing to do” need to be presented for changes and policies to be made.
The library, in this context, is a small cog in a larger machine that is often overlooked (even if people know it’s there) and does not have the same sort of spaces to engage with its readership as a public library might. In our company, the library is mostly digital, supporting multiple offices across the country without face-to-face interaction. The physical library collection is a smallish one, with limited access (to avoid things disappearing off the shelf), which I visit about once a week to fill out various requests.
My greatest opportunity to support and include mātauranga Māori is through providing materials and suggestions to teams for their office shelf – doesn’t feel like much! But in the grand scheme of things, my library is going to be able to provide services that are better informed to support our company’s mahi across te motu because I will have gained more understanding of mātauranga and te ao Māori.
What Whiria te Tāngata means to me
Whiria te Tāngata is already teaching me which questions need to be asked, such as: what does sustainability in my library, as a solo operative, look like? How do these kaupapa translate into a library set within a corporate, private sector business that is part of a global organisation? And what role does (or can) my library play in advancing the kōrero, in both my sectors (i.e., the private and libraries, respectively)? We met in person for the first time in August, and one of the first things that impressed me was the laughter. I think it contributed greatly to the bonding of the cohort, and I look forward to our upcoming meetings so we can get to know each other better yet.
There’s a vulnerability to learning, or rather admitting your ignorance and willingness to learn. It isn’t always easy to find a safe space where you don’t fear being mocked for what someone else’s experience might interpret as a stupid question.
It’s humbling and yet bolstering to know that our cohort already holds a safe space for us to share our own journeys and to encourage the other members along theirs.
So, what will I be taking away from all this and applying to my sector?
Good question. When I know the answer to that, I’ll be singing it from the rooftop!