Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

A PhD in Librarianship: how are non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa making sense of mātauranga Māori?

The PhD journey (so far)

Kia ora e hoa mahi ma, I’m Kathryn I am originally from the UK and moved to Aotearoa just over six years ago.  I have been working in and around libraries for the past ten years, and I currently work at the University of Otago Medical and Health Sciences Library in Wellington.  I am passionate about professional development and have been on the LIANZA Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui committee for several years.  In 2014 I decided to extend my skillset in a different direction and sign up for a PhD part time alongside work.  I’m studying through the School of Information Management at Victoria University of Wellington, and my supervisors are Professor Anne Goulding and Dr Spencer Lilley (Massey University).  It has been hard work so far but I’ve learnt a lot already and I’m just about to embark on the data collection phase of my project.  Doing a PhD brings with it some great opportunities such as undertaking courses on research methods and processes, taking part in conferences and PhD student workshops, and meeting others who are doing interesting research in similar areas. The research process itself also offers numerous opportunities for learning and development which are useful additions to my skillset as a librarian.

My research

I am interested in how non-Māori librarians in Aotearoa engage with and make sense of mātauranga Māori, broadly defined as Māori knowledge (e.g. Mead, 2012, p. 9).  This research was motivated partly by my own journey of beginning to learn about Māori knowledge and culture and how that interfaces with libraries and librarianship, and a desire to learn about the variety of processes by which non-Māori librarians seek to engage with and attempt to make sense of Māori knowledge.  This project is using the Dervin model of Sense-Making, which uses the analogy of bridging a gap to conceptualise the process of figuring out how proceed in a situation requiring new knowledge. 

Because of our profession’s focus on information and knowledge, there are many different ways that librarians may find themselves working with indigenous knowledge. These include cataloguing and classification; stereotypical or inaccurate depictions of indigenous people in literature (see for example Debbie Reese’s informative blog; repatriation and digital repatriation of items originally belonging to indigenous communities that have come to be located in libraries; and the complexities around ownership and copyright.  Because of these and the many other ways in which libraries and librarians work with indigenous knowledge, it is a key area of professional development.  LIANZA recognises this by the inclusion of Body of Knowledge 11: Indigenous Knowledge Paradigms in the Body of Knowledge requirements for Professional Registration.  

The research will consist of two phases, firstly interviews with non-Māori librarians, looking at different events in their personal journeys of learning about or engaging with mātauranga Māori, and discussing what led to this learning and how it helped them to move forward.   The second phase will be focus groups with Māori librarians to ask about their views on the progress the profession is making in engaging with mātauranga Māori. 

I am about to begin the interview stage of my research and am currently looking for participants.  I’m interested in talking to librarians whatever their sector or level, whether professionally registered or not.  Interviews will be face-to-face and I will travel to your location.  If you are interested in taking part or would like some more information about the project, please get in touch with me at

Kathryn Oxborrow MCLIP ALIANZA

PhD Student, Victoria University of Wellington


You can find out more about Dervin’s Sense-Making at

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