Empowering Students To Achieve

Improving equity of access in the Tai Tokerau Library, University of Auckland
R.Cherie Tautolo
NZLIMJ, Vol 52, Issue No 4, Aug 2012
Publication date: 
Mon, 2012-08-27


R.Cherie Tautolo is Te Tai Tokerau Librarian, Te Tumu Herenga, The University of Auckland Library.


The University of Auckland Equity Policy states that equity groups require the removal of “barriers to improve access, participation, retention, progression and success” (McNaughton & University of Auckland Equity Office, 2009, p. 1). Students from identified equity groups are at high risk of not completing their qualification. University study can be a daunting experience, particularly for students who have no family experience of tertiary education. Many students begin their academic journey with a passion to make a difference, (for example, as a qualified teacher) in their community. However, some encounter obstacles in the academic environment which can affect their tertiary success. At the Tai Tokerau Campus, Whangarei, Māori and mature aged students are two groups recognised as being vulnerable to barriers to successful academic outcomes. Mindful of this, the Library provides a safe and welcoming environment for users. Initiatives implemented to tailor library services to our students’ particular needs include: information literacy workshops; a relevant collection; increased accessibility to Māori language readers; and a new library layout. Underpinning these initiatives is a library team committed to a kaupapa of empowering vulnerable students to achieve their academic goals. Students from these equity groups now leave feeling confident and ready to work in their communities as qualified teachers.

Mere’s Story: A fictionalised account

The librarian screwed up his face like a dried-up lemon. “What do you mean? Don’t you know how to use the catalogue? I taught you that last semester during library orientation”, he growled. Mere cringed with embarrassment, looked down and sighed. “It’s ok, never mind,” she mumbled, as she left the library.

It was July 2007.  Mere had borrowed her brother’s car and driven one and a half hours from Kaikohe to get resources for her assignment. Having plucked up all her courage to ask for help, she was told that she should already know how to use the catalogue. If she had known that would be the response, she wouldn’t have wasted her time nor the petrol required, driving to Whangarei. She had spent most of the previous night in Kawakawa Hospital with her asthmatic daughter, but made the trip because she knew that she needed to get into the library.

Mere began the Bachelor of Education (Teaching) degree with the cohort based in Kaikohe in 2006. In 2007 she transferred to the Tai Tokerau campus when the course in Kaikohe was disestablished.  She deferred in 2008 to have baby number four, resuming her studies again in 2009.  Against the odds, Mere was extremely committed to completing her degree. She was passionate about making a difference for Māori children by becoming a qualified primary school teacher, despite having left school aged 14, and having no previous university study experience. No-one in her family had ever completed school to the end of Year 13, let alone a tertiary qualification.

When Mere arrived back at the Tai Tokerau campus in March 2009, she was determined not to let her fear of the library stop her from following her dreams, and achieving her goals.  She held her breath and walked through the library door. Some changes were immediately noticeable. Just then a friendly face approached her. It was Rangi, her old friend from Kaikohe. “Kia ora e hoa. Welcome back. Come and meet the others,” Rangi said. Mere was surprised to see such a busy place, and even more so, that a number of the students in the library were Māori. That was a contrast to what she remembered from 2007. She followed Rangi over to the photocopier, glanced around the room for the librarian, and discreetly asked, “Hey, is that battleaxe still in charge?” “Nah, he’s gone,” was Rangi’s reply. “They sent someone from Auckland.” Just then the photocopier jammed, and a librarian, whom Mere didn’t recognise, materialised. “Are you okay there? Let’s see what’s wrong”.

“The wairua feels different in here”, thought Mere to herself. She looked around, noticing a number of changes: new librarians who smiled, and greeted students by their names – and one of them was brown, no less!  The layout was different. There were separate areas for quiet study and open tables for discussion. The coffee table and chairs had a study group discussing their group presentation. That ghastly and depressing painting was gone, and a huge tapa cloth had taken its place.

Above all, the atmosphere in the library had changed. It was welcoming and more relaxed. Mere listened further, noticing something else: chatter and laughter. Those voices made her feel more comfortable; the surrounding environment seemed less threatening, less formal. The librarians seemed to encourage students to seek assistance and were happy to help. In turn, students were comfortable to ask questions and ask for help.

Mere took a deep breath and nervously wandered over to the counter. With her face burning in anticipation, she hesitated: “Excuse me, I haven’t been here for a while. I wouldn’t have a clue about how to use anything. Can you please show me how to find books about globalization and schools?”  “Sure, no problem” was the reply. “Tēna koe, my name is Sarah. What’s yours? “I’m Mere”, she whispered. “I’ll tell you what,” Sarah continued, “instead of leaning over this desk, let’s go over there to a computer. You log on and we’ll go from there”. The librarian smiled and moved around the desk. Mere sighed with relief. She turned towards the computer carrels, and thought, “I might just be able to do this.”

With the enhanced support provided in the library, most of Mere’s cohort worked together to overcome the hurdles of their third year study, graduating BEd the following March, in the local town hall.  By then, Mere was teaching in a local school, making the difference she had so keenly sought in her family, her community and her own life.

University study can be a daunting experience, especially for those without a family experience of tertiary education. University systems are multi-faceted with enrolment, student services, academic support, library and other systems in place which students encounter as part of their academic journey. The first semester can be harrowing as students familiarise themselves with the complexities of those systems. Stories like Mere’s are not uncommon on our campus. Consequently, our library has identified the importance of adapting library services to better support student needs. Such support includes tailored information literacy workshops, a relevant collection, and a user-friendly library layout.

I have been a librarian at the University of Auckland Library for 20 years. In January 2007, I arrived in Whangarei to relieve a staff shortage for five weeks while a new librarian was appointed at the Sylvia Ashton-Warner Library, Tai Tokerau Campus. We refer to our library as the Tai Tokerau Library, to make a distinction between the Whangarei and Epsom branches of Sylvia Ashton-Warner Library. Five years on, I am still here. I have enjoyed the experience in Whangarei because it has enriched both my personal and professional lives and I have been moved by the support of both staff and students during some difficult times. My personal experience of libraries began as a five year old public library user. I was a very shy child, but with time and familiarity, my confidence in using library systems grew. As a middle-aged woman of Pasefika descent, the quest for Western cultural capital, and opportunities made possible as a result of formal education, are amongst the reasons my ancestors made the socially and economically perilous voyage from their island-nation homes to Aotearoa. Joining the public library and reading ‘the classics’ was part of that quest, as was the academic journey that followed, which culminated in becoming a qualified librarian. Because I have felt comfortable in libraries for so long, as a librarian, I strive in my professional work to help others achieve that sense of ease too, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Tai Tokerau Campus in Whangarei, was established in 1992 as a campus of Auckland College of Education (ACE). In 2004, ACE joined the University of Auckland, making Tai Tokerau, the most distant University of Auckland campus. The University of Auckland library provides services across 5 campuses to 40,379 students. At the Tai Tokerau Campus, the student population is comprised of 868 students, with 197 on-campus students and a further 671 extramural students. However, despite the student population differences between Auckland and Whangarei campus locations, some student experiences are universal. Those common experiences may include the complexity of the university system, feeling unwelcome at times, the need for culturally safe spaces, and the formality of libraries (Tuhou, 2011).

Student retention is a key goal for every academic institution. Kelly (1995) as cited in Mezick, (2007), argues that libraries are an integral part of the college experience and identifies academic libraries and librarians as playing a pivotal role in the education and retention of students. Librarians, acting as teachers and counsellors, address student needs on a daily basis. Through their observation of and interaction with students, they are aware of deficiencies in student skills that may be indicative of high-risk students. Smalls (1987) observed that library services can provide a diverse and personalized approach to meeting differences in information-processing capabilities and ability levels of students. She believes that programs designed to meet individual needs and abilities are essential to effective retention strategies (p. 562).

Findings in the research literature, and my own experience, support the belief that access to library resources is critical to academic success. In Mallinckrodt & Sedlacek’s) study of multicultural student retention (1987, cited in Martin 1994), campus amenities including the library are definitively linked to academic achievement and retention. “The strongest relationship [in the study] was between African-American student retention and use of the undergraduate library” (Martin, 1994, p. 3).

Students from identified equity groups are at high risk of not completing their qualification. The University of Auckland Equity Policy states that equity groups require the removal of “barriers to improve access, participation, retention, progression and success” (McNaughton & University of Auckland Equity Office, 2009, p. 1). Of the 197 Tai Tokerau on-campus students, 51% are Māori. Having a large proportion of Māori students on campus reaffirms the relevance of providing appropriate services for Māori students. Of this 51% Māori cohort, 51% are at least 30 years old. This older Māori cohort is approximately ¼ of the Tai Tokerau on-campus student population. In terms of age distribution, approximately 48% of the on-campus student group is under 30 years and 52% over 30 years old. The sizeable over 30 years group (with little family experience of tertiary education) may require further IT support for less experienced computer users, and more academic skills support for those whose formal education ended some time ago.  The University of Auckland Equity Policy also includes students from rural areas and students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Our student population has members from both those groups thus providing a further impetus for equity driven initiatives.

Information barriers

Six principles of ‘information seeking behaviour’ are identified by (Harris & Dewdney, 1994) to highlight an organizational approach to help-seeking research.  The principles are:

  1. Information needs arise from the help-seeker’s situation;
  2. The decision to seek help or not seek help is affected by many factors;
  3. People tend to seek information that is most accessible;
  4. People tend to first seek help or information from interpersonal sources, especially from people like themselves;
  5. Information seekers expect emotional support; and
  6. People follow habitual patterns in seeking information

Principle 1: Information needs arise from the help-seeker’s situation

Information needs arise from a specific context, people’s perceptions of their situation and their expectations of the information which will achieve their goal (Harris & Dewdney, 1994). In the vignette, Mere’s visit is driven by the need to get to the library. She borrows her brother’s car and drives an hour and a half, motivated by the goal of acquiring resources so that she can complete her assignment. Part of the library’s role is to understand Mere’s situation and motivation in seeking help, be aware of approaching student assessments and assist as required. Tamaira (2007) investigated the information seeking strategies of Māori whakapapa researchers in public libraries. The information need was to gain an identity or sense of rootedness with their research and a connection with their iwi/Māori heritage. 

Principle 2: The decision to seek help or not to seek help is affected by many factors and; Principle 3: People tend to seek information that is most accessible

Help seeking is required when a person does not internally know the answer to a problem (Meyers, Nathan, & Saxton, 2007). Family and friends are perceived as the most helpful sources of information over institutional and media sources, even when the source may be unreliable. Issues of control are central in this principle because the seeker can decide when to seek help and when to end the search (Harris & Dewdney, 1994). However, when students are enrolled in an academic institution, their library access may be controlled by institutional rules which determine; library opening hours, borrowing rights and fine limits. These are rules outside the control of the help seeker and can thwart the quest for information. Principle 3 advocates that people seek the easiest way possible to resolve problems and supports the need for “information [to] be physically, psychologically and intellectually accessible” (Harris & Dewdney, 1994, p. 23). The library’s responsibility is to provide electronic access and a relevant physical collection. Other barriers such as unsuitable opening hours, discrimination, and institutional regulations must also be considered if students from identified equity groups are to be adequately supported.

Principle 4: People tend to first seek help or information from interpersonal sources, especially from people like themselves and; Principle 5: Information seekers expect emotional support

Prior experience and knowledge is sought by help seekers from those who “are socially close and/or who are like themselves” (Harris & Dewdney, 1994, p. 25). The support of Māori staff is key to addressing Māori students’ needs at the Tai Tokerau Campus (Auckland City Libraries & Worth, 1995; Lilley, 2008; Szekely, 1997; Tamaira, 2007; Tuhou, 2011). That said, non-Māori staff must also form relationships with Māori students with the view to increasing library user confidence. Our library team prioritises this objective. Principle 5 relates to the “value [of] support and sympathy as much as information in resolving the difficulty…[explaining] why interpersonal sources are valued more highly than mass-media sources” (Harris & Dewdney, 1994, p. 26). In the vignette, Sarah the librarian attempts to remove barriers in her encounter with Mere, by introducing herself, smiling, moving around the desk toward her, and working together in a shared space. Sarah’s behaviour provides emotional support to Mere and establishes rapport between them.  

Principle 6: People follow habitual patterns in seeking information

Unless dissatisfied, users will continue to visit a past source of information. Information is sought from sources which are accessible, and interpersonal rather than institutional - unless there is a need to avoid an interpersonal source (Harris & Dewdney, 1994). Similarly, satisfied library users are likely to revisit the library. At the Tai Tokerau Library, we strive to offer a service which encourages patrons to return by, offering appropriate information literacy workshops, providing a relevant library collection, building relationships with patrons, and creating a welcoming environment.

Creating a welcoming environment

Kravity, Lines & Sykes (1991 as cited in Martin, 1994) state that because of experiences of racism and marginalisation, libraries may be perceived suspiciously by some people of colour. Consequently, with a 50% Māori student population at the Tai Tokerau Campus, library services and staff training must be developed in light of those historical experiences.  “A welcoming, inclusive environment leads to student persistence; …students who are engaged are more likely to persist and graduate from college; more interactions lead to stronger engagement” (Emmons & Wilkinson, 2011, p. 146). Supporting a sense of belonging for library patrons is made possible by providing a welcoming environment. Strategies to achieve this include, firstly, evaluating the physical facilities. This means providing a library layout which reflects the backgrounds of ethnic minorities, and an inclusive library collection to serve a diverse population. The vignette describes the tapa cloth which now hangs in the library. Mere notices the tapa cloth and it (along with other changes) makes her feel more at ease.  Haro (1981) (as cited in Adkins & Hussey, 2006) investigated themes which deterred Latinos from using libraries, highlighting “the influence of cultural hegemony on the library as members of the community do not see their own views and needs reflected in the institution” (p. 462.)

At the Tai Tokerau Library, distinct areas were created to serve particular purposes and improve the library layout. The public space around the lending desk, copier and printer was cleared of shelving. A reading area was created in the corner away from the congestion of printing, laminating and copying queues. In the back part of the library, a group study space on open tables was established. Those with laptops often congregate there. Beyond the group discussion area, at the back of the library, separated by shelving, is a quieter space, with eight study carrels. Study areas closer to the lending desk are generally spaces where quiet discussion is tolerated whilst silent study is encouraged further back in the library.

At the same time, more engaging staff practices have been implemented. These include expecting staff to make efforts to be friendly to patrons, to use Māori greetings, correctly pronounce Māori names and words, and practice a personal approach to helping patrons. These practices combine to result in more confident users and higher rates of return patronage (Auckland City Libraries & Worth, 1995). Using te reo Māori is particularly relevant on our campus. By acknowledging patrons in culturally appropriate ways, those patrons feel respected and culturally valued. Long (2011) investigated Latino students' perceptions of the academic library, concluding that Latino students frequent libraries where they feel culturally validated and are more likely to seek support from librarians who are seen to be of the same ethnicity. Mere’s experience of a librarian who is friendly, greets her in te reo Māori, shows interest in her problem and offers support in resolving it, gives her confidence that she can complete her studies. Non-verbal behaviours - such as smiling, looking up from work, and moving away from the desk to engage better with the patron are equally as important as other considerations (Stock, 2010).

Cultural capital

Long (2011) describes the dominant ideology which libraries represent as ‘cultural hegemony’ in terms of the languages of signage, book selection, appropriate noise levels, and types of acceptable and discouraged activities. Cultural hegemony may be manifested in institutional goals and influenced by the value judgements and backgrounds of librarians who select collection material, serve patrons and determine the culture and vision of the library (Adkins & Hussey, 2006). Librarians must be conscious of their role as part of the dominant cultural value system and provide those who are unfamiliar with library systems with the tools to negotiate that unfamiliar pathway. Many Latino students in Long’s study did not use the library until later in their undergraduate education. “[A student] explained that his lack of knowledge of the library’s purpose and his late usage of the library were consequences of educational inequities” (Long, 2011, p. 5).

At the Tai Tokerau Library, I experienced a similar situation with a mature aged first year student who shared that he used only the public library to find resources for university assignments. At the end of semester one, when we were better acquainted, I asked him why he did not use the university library. He said that the university library was unfamiliar and he did not know what was held there whereas the public library was well known. His comment reflects the importance of making the purpose and role of the academic library and librarians known to patrons. I reflected upon his feedback and amended my practice with year one students. Long (2011), believes that “the academic library is arguably alien and does not translate easily to [student] personal experiences with libraries in other contexts of their lives. This might explain [some student] detachment and relatively late use of the academic library” (p. 7).

Information literacy workshops

Information literacy workshops give librarians the opportunity to show the scope and usefulness of library resources in a contextually relevant and practical application. The optimal approach is when an information literacy workshop is shortly followed by a tailored academic skills workshop (or vice versa) so that students are equipped with the required academic expertise to effectively research and write their assignments. “Success for information literacy initiatives lies with librarians, especially in building effective relationships with teaching faculty” and convincing teaching staff to gift class time for further information literacy workshops (Julien & Pecoskie, 2009, p. 150). Workshops should be contextualised with related search strategies and examples from actual assignment questions.  An inclusive teaching environment is encouraged by a non-authoritarian approach which invites input from the group, thus making the session more relevant and building rapport. “Librarians who recognise that they are both learners and teachers can create nurturing, sharing, inclusive instructional settings which are enabling and supportive of joint investigation”(Huston, 1994, p. 88). Whilst library workshops at the Tai Tokerau Library are held with groups of up to 20 students, those who require further support are encouraged to arrange an individual follow up at another time.

Library collections

With the exception of the Post Graduate Diploma in Business, (Māori Development), the courses taught at Tai Tokerau campus are predominantly from the Faculty of Education. They include a Bachelor of Education, (primary teaching) in both English and Māori, and a Graduate Diploma in secondary teaching. Distance students include early childhood and post graduate students across all faculties. In view of the qualifications offered, the library collection must reflect the needs of students enrolled in those courses.  An extensive Māori collection exists to support the requirements of students and extra shelving has been installed to accommodate this growing area. Currently, a project is underway to reclassify the Māori junior readers using Ngā Kete Kōrero, a literacy levelling model. The framework is designed to increase user accessibility by providing a more meaningful way for identifying Māori junior reading levels.  Apart from the Tai Tokerau collections, students have access to, and are able to request resources from the other 15 University of Auckland library collections.


Building personal relationships with library patrons has been instrumental in improving the profile of the Tai Tokerau Library and helping to shape library services. The focus on building these relationships has meant being able to personalise the approach to patrons. For example, after forming a relationship, the librarian can seek answers from patrons. This question was asked of an older Māori first year student. “I have not seen many of your class in the library this semester? Can you tell me why that is? Is there something I can help with?” An honest answer followed. “I feel embarrassed because it’s often really busy in here and everyone looks like they know what they are doing and I don’t.” Without the already established rapport and trust in our relationship, neither of us would have comfortably shared their thoughts. I then proceeded to conduct a library tour with the student, encouraging him to seek assistance if required and assuring him that with time he would feel confident in using the library. To my surprise, he returned ten minutes later with a classmate and with his new found know-how, confidently showed his friend around the library. I promised to organise a class library tour very soon. After that encounter, I noticed more regular library attendance by those older students and with time, a sense of ease when they were in the library. “According to Mellon’s theory, library-anxious students feel that other students are adept at using the library, while they alone are inept; their incompetence is a source of embarrassment and consequently should be kept hidden; and asking questions reveals their ignorance” (Jiao, 1996, p. 152).

Relationships between library and non-library staff are equally important in improving equity of access and the success of the library. I have consciously worked on establishing good relationships with all staff. Targetted information literacy workshops have been scheduled during lecture time because of good relations and academic favour. If faculty staff cannot allocate in-class time to library workshops, I approach the student leaders of the class and organise a suitable time for the workshop to be held in a time outside of class. The response from students is positive and most attend. Fortunately, I have not experienced “faculty [who]…regard user education as an ‘extra’ rather than an integral part of students’ education” (Julien, 1998, p. 308).


The advantage of a small campus is that it is easier to form close relationships with staff and students. By actively forming and nurturing those relationships, patrons have responded positively, they feel more welcome, relaxed and confident. I believe this has been the cornerstone of the library becoming viewed as the ‘campus hub’. A friendly greeting and willingness to know the names of patrons is appreciated by all library users. One of the comments in the 2011 Faculty of Education student satisfaction survey endorsed this point, stating “[library staff] are always understanding and remember our names”. In the time taken to build rapport, students particularly, are establishing confidence in using the services offered and approaching library staff. The first librarian in the vignette destroyed patron confidence with his chiding remark that the student should already know how to use the catalogue. In the vignette, Mere valiantly returned to the library - but in reality many patrons do not. This sentiment is echoed in Szekely (1997) whom describes a small group of Māori in a public library being ‘growled’. Such abrasive inter-personal dynamics are easily experienced as a clash of cultures, which quickly and often irretrievably destroys rapport between library staff and Māori patrons. The embarrassing shame of being scolded by librarians results in a negative experience for the group which may result in members choosing not to return.  According to De Plevitz (2007) and Liuvaie (2008) (as cited in Tuhou 2011), if students hold adverse views and experiences of the university library, they are less likely to return after a setback. 

Silence in libraries                                                                                              

Some people struggle with the norm of libraries being silent places. Both Dunker (2002) and Szekely  (1997, p. 54) concluded that "libraries were perceived to be places of silence and were variously described as ‘dry and unexciting’, ‘clinical’, ‘not welcoming’, ‘cold’ and ‘too formal.’” The vignette describes Mere’s observation of allocated spaces for quiet study and group study and this model is echoed at the Tai Tokerau Library with the intent of providing different areas to fulfil different purposes. The survey conducted by Auckland City Libraries and Worth (1995) endorses that “there’s too much quiet space and few gathering places, Māori like to talk and this is against Pakeha notions of libraries” (p. 10). Mere is comforted by the sound of chatter in the library because it quashes the feeling of formality and creates a relaxed atmosphere which is likely to encourage her to return to and use the library. 

Māori staff and Māori students

A key factor in helping patrons feel culturally safe is a Māori specific library, with assistance from Māori library staff (Tuhou, 2011). In the vignette, Mere notices more Māori students when she returns to the library and she feels more at ease. Her surprise at seeing Māori patrons in the library is echoed by Auckland City Libraries and Worth’s survey (1995), which says that “one of the major reasons that Māori feel uncomfortable is the lack of Māori staff and other Māori patrons” (p. 10). As a member of an ethnic minority group, I have known similar experiences in other contexts and I know the unsettling sentiment of ‘feeling out of place.’ Consequently, it is essential to normalise a presence of Māori students (and staff) in the library so that when Māori students look around the library they see other Māori students and staff. Teaching staff at our campus reinforce that normalisation by: bringing their students to the library to show them particular resources, holding small group discussions in the library, integrating library workshops into the class timetable, suggesting particular readings and encouraging students to seek library assistance. “Indeed, it appears that when teachers confer in the library with beginning researchers, these students develop positive attitudes towards library research” (Jiao, 1996, p. 160). The library’s significance in the students’ journey is thereby validated by that academic endorsement for “observing faculty in the library [gives] students the message that the library is an important resource” (Jiao, 1996, p. 160).

A University of Waikato study examined the library metaphor in a Māori context, investigating how Māori use libraries, computers and digital libraries. The findings suggest that unfamiliar situations with unfamiliar people can be a barrier to patrons accessing libraries, and inexperience of how information is organised in a library system affects the user experience of not only the physical library, but also the digital library too (Duncker, 2002; Tamaira, 2007). Participants shared that they were “more likely to learn how to use the library more efficiently if another (usually Māori) person took a hands on approach in showing them how to use the resources and orient them in the environment” (Tamaira, 2007, p. 11). A preference for personal support over technological aids was found in a further study of Māori public library users and Māori staff. (Simpson, 2005 as cited in Tamaira, 2007).

Sometimes however, (and even when library staff are Māori), Māori patrons may not readily ask for help for fear of bothering the librarian and being a nuisance (Duncker, 2002). Swope and Katzer (1972, cited in Jiao, 1996), believe that the main reasons “students with specific needs would not ask for assistance from a librarian were that they did not want to disturb the librarian; feIt their questions were too basic; or were dissatisfied with the previous service of the librarian” (p. 152). Library staff must be mindful of those anxieties and encourage a safe environment for patrons to feel comfortable to seek assistance. At the Tai Tokerau Library, we purposefully ask patrons whether they require assistance as soon as they enter the library, assuring patrons (if they apologise for taking up our time) that helping them to resolve their information need(s) is our job. In the vignette, Mere is understandably demoralised when she is dismissively scolded for seeking assistance from the first librarian. 

Integration into campus life

Working as one part of a small campus sometimes requires collaborative support in areas which are not traditionally core library services. Participation in campus life further reinforces relationships between students, Faculty of Education staff, other university staff and the library, and strengthens the larger Tai Tokerau community. On our campus, library staff actively support and attend Education faculty initiatives such as powhiri for new staff and/or students, the faculty student orientation programme, Huarahi Māori student celebrations and campus graduation. The library also participates in university equity initiatives such as New Start, a preparatory course for intending university students.

Furthermore, I have shown my personal support by attending tangi, student hui and sharing (as part of a lecture) my experience of Pasefika education in Aotearoa. Supporting these events builds a personal rapport with individuals, profiles the library, and strengthens its role in campus life, as well as affirming an important aspect of tikanga Māori. It also upholds my personal philosophy about, and commitment to, supporting staff and students during times of success and personal loss.

Relationships and reciprocity

I have also benefitted from the rapport and relationships built over the last five years at the Tai Tokerau Campus. There are two events which are particularly memorable to me. The first one happened when students on campus gathered outside the library one particular day at 11am. They had discovered that it was my birthday and equipped with guitars, assembled on the steps of the library to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, first in English, then in Māori. A tower of cream puffs and chocolate sauce appeared and was distributed. It was a very special moment, and I was humbled when told that that has never previously happened for any staff member on campus.

The second incident occurred when the first year Huarahi Māori class (at the time) unexpectedly presented me with a beautiful handmade card. They discovered that I was seriously ill and wanted to show their aroha and support. The card itself was a thoughtful gift, along with the messages conveyed, but the korero and especially beautiful waiata accompanying its presentation were even more touching. These gifts are only two examples of the love and kindness I have received from students and staff in the last five years and I am very humbled by that support.

Undoubtedly, the happiest day of the academic year is graduation day, held annually in March. Graduands, (some donned in korowai) and campus staff (including librarians) march through the central Whangarei streets toward the town hall flanked by friends, family and well-wishers. Upon reaching the hall, participants are greeted by a powhiri, and staff and students file in to commence the formal ceremony where well-wishers karanga and voice their support. At 2011 graduation, for the first time, graduands were Faculty of Business students as well as those from the Faculty of Education. Graduation day celebrates a culmination of student achievement, community celebration and campus success. Graduands, like Mere in the vignette, are now qualified to become registered teachers and serve their families and communities.


I wish to thank my friend and colleague, Bernd Martin, for his encouragement and support in preparing the LIANZA conference presentation and this paper. I appreciate the support of other academic colleagues who shared insightful advice in developing this article. He mihi nui ki a koutou katoa; ngā tauira me ngā hoa mahi o te Tai Tokerau Campus, University of Auckland. 

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