Newly appointed National Librarian, Rachel Esson, gave her first public talk in Palmerston North yesterday. We are delighted to share this transcript of her inspiring talk.
Rachel was welcomed by LIANZA President, Anahera Morehu, Te Rōpū Whakahau Tumuaki, Anahera Sadler, and past Te Rōpū Whakahau Tumuaki, Cellia Joe-Olsen.
Rachel began her talk by saying:
"It’s an absolute pleasure to be here this evening and as you may have picked up from my pepeha, the Manawatu and Papaioea - Palmerston North is somewhere that is very special to me. I spent a lot of my childhood here. My father was a scientist at the research station stations out here and his speciality was cicadas, which is why I had an image of one accompanying my pepeha.
This is my first official talk as National Librarian outside of the National Library and it feels very appropriate that it should be here."
A transcript with accompanying slides follows:
Acknowledging the Past
In this picture you can see the previous National Librarian, Bill Macnaught with myself and the current LIANZA President, Anahera Morehu. This was taken at the LIANZA Conference in 2019. We are presenting Bill with his Fellowship. I love this photo because of the colour and the smiles but also, it is about acknowledging the contribution that the National Librarian makes both in their role to libraries in Aotearoa and their personal contribution to supporting professional associations, like LIANZA. (Applause)
Another photo acknowledging the past is this photo of me with my parents, it was taken when we were shifting to Nelson. Although I was born in Palmerston North we did move around a bit but we did keep coming back and that was there they ended up. We did just, at the end of last year, sell the family house they were in. So, it’s bitter-sweet being here in that regard. The caption for this photo reads something like “Jim and Angela Esson and little Rachel”. (Laughter)
[The caption from this Nelson April 1966 photo news issue reads “Jim and Angela Esson and little Rachel, have come to Nelson from Wellington. Jim is an entomologist with the D. S.I.R.”]
Role of the Pouhuaki – National Librarian
It is a real privilege to be in a role that has a unique title (Pouhuaki). This title came about through Kommiti Maori who have been an established group since 1989, providing advice and support to the National Librarian. The chair of the committee, Evelyn Tobin, was asked for feedback on the job description and from that sent through a suggestion for the title. It’s inspiring, it’s a privilege and it comes with significant expectations to be a mentor and a stalwart; to protect, preserve and share the nation’s memories for the people of Aotearoa and beyond. And I will do my utmost best to live up to that
Kōkiri, kōkiri, kōkiri!
Whakarongo ake au ki ngā reo o te motu
E karanga mai ana
Huakina mai ngā tatau o tō whare
Kia Mahi Tahi tātou, kia inu ai mātou
I Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
The message from the people clearly asks us to open our doors so that we may work together and share the information held in Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. The title is a unique and original compound word that illuminates the role of the National Librarian as on the slide.
When I began in this role on December 17, I was welcomed into it with a whakamana - an uplifting. Because I already worked with the national Library it wasn’t appropriate to have a whakatau so I was really privileged to have colleagues around me that could develop the tikanga around this whakamana. How it worked was that there were a number of people and we sat around He Tohu with te Tiriti, He Whakaputanga and the women’s suffrage petition. It felt very appropriate to be there and I really did feel the wairua of those documents. Dale Cousin’s karanga sent absolute chills and we could feel the wairua of being there.
Then I asked my colleagues to do the same, particularly to be honest and courageous because when you are in a role like National Librarian you can’t do your best if you are working in isolation and if people aren’t telling you the things that you need to hear.
This photograph shows Honiana Love, Pou Ārahi of Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, and Courtney Johnson who’s the CE of Te Papa, and myself. I think it signals a change – it wasn’t that long ago that those roles were filled with a different demographic.
The National Library is more than just a concrete bunker in Wellington; it’s more than just the services that we provide; it is part of a network of libraries in Aotearoa (I like to think it is a vital part); it’s part of an international network of libraries. The national Library was built in 1965. It amalgamated the Alexander Turnbull Library, School Library Services, and the General Assembly Library. It’s currently structured into five areas: Content Services; Services to Schools, DigitalNZ, Alexander Turnbull Library; and our public engagement team, who connect the knowledge in the collections with communities.
According to the National Library Act, the purpose of the National Library
Purpose of National Library is:
to enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchanges with other nations by, as appropriate,--
(a) collecting, preserving, and protecting documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and making them accessible for all the people of New Zealand, in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga; and
(b) supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand; and
(c) working collaboratively with other institutions having similar purposes, including those forming part of the international library community
Looking to the Future
We have strategic directions. We developed these a few years ago. Turning Knowledge into Value and Looking Forward to 2030 talks about our aspirations and they are grouped into three key themes:
Removing barriers to sharing knowledge and ideas if we are to increase innovation, solve real-world problems and generate economic value; improving literacy to boost social participation and provide skills to work in a high-productivity economy; and addressing issues related to social cohesion and discrimination that stem from a culturally diverse population, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of that diversity.
Tāhuhu – a series of programmes the government is funding including a new archives building that will be next door to the National Library and joined with an air bridge.
There is also a shared regional repository. It gives us an opportunity to have some of those conversations about how we manage collections across New Zealand and continue to have those discussions about documentary heritage – where are the gaps? Where are the overlaps? What are our priorities? How do we make sure that things are being well looked after and well preserved?
Reading – the Nation of Readers strategy. This is something where the National Library has a really key role to play but we know we are not the only ones. The Ministry of Education, PLNZ, School Librarians. We know there are a whole range of people with a vested interest in supporting reading throughout New Zealand. The reason it is important to support reading because literacy, reading for pleasure, is one of the things that give good outcomes regardless of socio-economic situation in studies across a whole range of measures as helping with success in life. New Zealand’s literacy rates are not great at the moment so we need to invest.
Alongside our Nation of Readers strategy we have our Reading Ambassador role. The nominations for that have just closed. We had a significant number of nominations. It’s going to be really exciting – seeing who is appointed to that role. This is run through the Te Puna Foundation. The role will help go out with some of those messages but also help connect some of the work that’s being done across the sector.
The One Knowledge Network – one of the key things about this is digitisation but the other important part of it is the NZ Libraries Partnership Programme. This comes from the COVID recovery money that the previous government and Minister, Tracey Martin, who was really instrumental in advocating for the role of libraries and the importance of libraries in supporting communities post-COVID.
We know that in times of economic downturn, public libraries see an increase in use, particularly supporting people who are job seeking or up skilling. The Government has invested significantly.
We have over 100 librarians that are going to be in positions around the country in public libraries working in areas like community engagement, digital inclusion, working with iwi Maori and really uplifting what public libraries are aiming to provide to support their communities.
We are very conscious that this funding is for a limited amount of time so we are asking – what are the discussions we can have now – the plans we can put in place now so we are ready when that funding comes to and end it isn’t just a cliff that people can fall off. So, we will be starting to have some sector discussions all around the country and with different kinds of libraries (not just public libraries)
(1AA)The National Librarian has all the powers necessary to perform and carry out the functions and duties imposed on the National Librarian by or under this Act.
(1) The functions of the National Librarian, in achieving the purpose of the National Library, are--
(d) to promote co-operation in library matters with authorities and other persons in New Zealand and elsewhere;
Areas to consider could include supporting the development of nationally organised and funded infrastructure and creative programmes; revising nationally co-ordinated monitoring and evaluation in relation to a hybrid service; sharing guidelines and best practice on the delivery of new or emerging services; exploring the potential of the regional; setting out the pros and cons of certain functions sitting at national, regional, local and hyperlocal levels; and exploring the potential of a national body to co-ordinate e-book licensing and lending.
LIANZA & IFLA
Last year was supposed to be the year that we hosted the IFLA World Library Congress (WLIC). Wow… However, it is important that we remain connected to the global library community. There are things that we can do together as a global library community that we can’t do on our own. LIANZA is our connection to IFLA, it is the important professional body in New Zealand, it’s the way you get to know colleagues across library sectors and where you get to learn to chair meetings, it’s where you get to do presentations in a friendly environment and it’s where you get your professional development.
So, I really encourage you to keep your connection with LIANZA, keep being part of that community and then, look out beyond Aotearoa and make those connections through the international opportunities with IFLA. We haven’t given up, it may not be a WLIC and it may not be any time soon but there will be other IFLA opportunities.
And so, to wrap up, although our context is so, so different I couldn’t help but be struck by the words of the young poet Amanda Gorman who recited her poem The Hill We Climb at President Biden’s inauguration – her message of unity and working together is what I will strive for as Te Pouhuaki, a mentor and stalwart to protect, preserve and most importantly share so that we can achieve together.
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn't mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colours, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside