Te Rōpū Whakahau | Māori in Libraries and Information
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site last updated
11 July 2012

Tips on How to Succeed at Academic Study
nā Ruth Ivey

Te Rōpū Whakahau Mahi Ritenga presentation
Hui-ā-Tau 2004, Te Rau Aroha Marae, Bluff

Te Rau Aroha Marae, tēnā koe
Te whare e tu nei, tēnā koe
Ngā rangatira mā, koro mā, kui mā, te whānau o Te Rōpū Whakahau, tēnā koutou.
Mihi mai nei i tēnei rā
Takitimu te waka
Aoraki te mauka
Aparima te awa
Oraka Aparima, Waihopai, Kati Huirapa ki Puketeraki, Moeraki me Waihao ngā rūnaka.
Ko Ruth Ivey ahau, o te whānau Hunter raua ko Goodwillie o te iwi o Kai Tahu.
Nō Kirikiriroa ahau
Kei te mahi ahau ki te Whare Pukapuka o te Whare Wānanga o Waikato.
Tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

The aim of this presentation is to encourage anyone who wants to get a formal library qualification: a diploma, a Bachelor's or Master's degree. When I told a colleague of mine that I'd been asked to talk about my personal journey from primary school teacher to librarian, to my current position as Information Services Team Leader and the process of studying that I've been through to get the Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS), he said that I should prepare some harakeke and weave it as I talk to provide an illustration of how the strands of my work experience have been woven with my study and how one has built on the other to get me to where I am now. I didn't have enough time or luggage space to follow Charles' suggestion but it was a great idea and I will weave some raranga principles into my presentation to illustrate the main points.
I will also share some valuable tips that I've picked up during nine years of part-time study while working. In fact these ten tips will form the basis of my presentation and my story will unfold as I share them.

  1. Never underestimate your own intellectual ability
  2. Investigate all your options to find the programme that suits you best
  3. Don't assume that you need to have an undergraduate degree
  4. Plan your study programme carefully
  5. Choose courses, papers and assignments that interest you
  6. Look for the smartest way to do your qualification or assignment
  7. Don't go it alone
  8. Have a plan and manage your time carefully
  9. Don't take it too seriously
  10. If possible, work in a library while you're doing library studies

1.   Never underestimate your own intellectual ability  

The raranga illustration is, when sorting your harvested harakeke, don't discard the mottled sunburned leaves because they add interest and colour that can't be achieved with commercial dyes.
When I left school and well into my adult life, I had no ambition to go to university or to do academic study. I didn't see myself in that role. I hadn't even completed my sixth form year when I left school. I was a school teacher but in those days teacher training was more practical than academic. So it was late in my career, about eleven years ago, that I found myself doing a distance course through Auckland College of Education (ACE) that led to a Diploma of Information Studies.
That first paper was pretty scary, learning how to speed read, participate in tutorial discussions and do assignments. Later on, when I was doing a Diploma of Management Communication at the University of Waikato, I faced the even scarier prospect of exams.
What I've learned though is that it is more a matter of good time management, attending lectures and tutorials, participating in discussions and doing assignments to the best of your ability. In other words, it's hard work but you can do it, regardless of your background or age. If I can do it, anyone can! And if you do the work and get good marks for assignments, the exams don't really matter. You need to do them but getting high marks is not so crucial.
When I started the MLIS, I told myself that I only needed to pass each paper. I thought I'd be doing really well to do that. Imagine my amazement when I graduated to find that I'd passed with distinction.

2.   Investigate all your options to find the programme that suits you best  

The raranga illustration is, suss out where to find good harakeke. Approach people who have flax bushes that need pruning to see if they'd like you to do it for them.
Depending on your circumstances and the way you prefer to study, there's a wide variety of options for getting a library qualification. The Diploma of Māori Information Management through Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa is a great option if you want to focus on that aspect of library work and especially if you want to learn more about your īwi, hapū and reo. This course covers practical aspects of information management and the diploma can be extended to a Bachelor of Māori Information Management if you want to carry on.
Another option is the Library Diploma programme offered by the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, which is very popular. These diplomas are not as expensive as some other options and as long as you complete a paper within a semester, you can take as long as you like to finish a diploma. You can also do a bachelor's degree majoring in library studies. The papers tend to be quite practical and they have a cataloguing paper which sounds much more comprehensive than the MLIS equivalent.
The Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS) through Victoria University of Wellington is recognized internationally and is particularly valuable if your goal is to work at management level. This is a Master's programme so it's expected that people will have a degree before applying to do it. But if you think you have something that could be recognized as equivalent and you want to get into the MLIS programme, you should talk to the programme director. You can find out who this is and the 0800 phone number from their website. They used to interview applicants but now you're asked to write a letter. This application letter is very important because it's the only way to sell yourself. They don't accept everyone that applies but they want more Māori in libraries, so go for it, if that's what you want. My advice is to follow the instructions carefully, talk to someone who has already done it and get your manager to write a letter of support.
The reason I chose the MLIS was because I needed a degree as well as a "real" library qualification. By doing the MLIS, I could get both in one go, in four years. To do the same through the Open Polytechnic would have taken a lot longer.

3.   Don't assume that you need to have an undergraduate degree before you can do graduate or postgraduate studies  

The raranga illustration is, once you have the basic raranga knowledge and skills, you can be as creative and ambitious as you wish.
Sometimes your work experience or prior knowledge is sufficient. Talk to the Dean or Programme Director of the course you want to do and have your prior knowledge assessed. I've met people doing graduate or postgraduate diplomas as their first university study and I didn't have an undergraduate degree when I applied to do the MLIS. I had been doing graduate studies and some of the papers were similar to MLIS papers, so they were satisfied that I could cope with that level of study and they let me in.
When I came to work in the library in 1996, as a part-time Library Assistant in the New Zealand Collection, I soon realized that I'd need a degree and a "real" library qualification if I wanted to get a better job (the Diploma of Information Studies is recognized as a library qualification by LIANZA but my colleagues saw it as something for school teachers). So I spoke to the director of academic studies at the School of Education to see how many papers I needed to upgrade my Diploma of Teaching to a Bachelor of Education. It was quite a lot and the papers I had to do (e.g. principles and practices of teaching) didn't interest me as I had a lot of successful, practical experience.
He asked me what I wanted it for and as I talked to him I realized that I didn't want to study what I wasn't interested in just to get a piece of paper. When he asked what I was interested in studying and I told him that I'd really like to do a Diploma of Management Communication through the Waikato Management School he encouraged me to do it.
As it turned out, that was a wise move because it provided a good basis for doing the MLIS and the things I learned have been very useful in my work. The papers I did were Interpersonal Communication, Business Communication, Organizational Communication, Introduction to Marketing, Public Relations Campaigns and Introduction to Strategic Management. It was also a wise move to study something I was interested in. Although it stretched me, I had a positive attitude towards it, it was practical and I did well for those reasons.

4.   Plan your study programme carefully. Choosing which course to do at a particular time is important  

The raranga illustration is, choose what you're going to make carefully because once you've started you must finish the item. It's not a good idea, therefore, to begin weaving an intricate pattern or begin a kete late in the evening unless you're an expert or a fast weaver, or intend to weave all night.
There is a limit of four years to complete the MLIS. You can do it in less but that's not easy if you're working full time. If you do it over four years, look at the papers that are offered each trimester and plan your whole course at the beginning so that you can do the papers you want to. They tend to offer papers in the same sequence each year and some electives are only offered occasionally. So if you see an elective that you really want to do, do it, because it may not be offered the following year.
It's also a good idea to do the research methods paper just before you do the research project because if you find a good topic you can use it for your research project and a lot of the preparation is already done.

5.   Choose courses, papers and assignments that interest you, and that are relevant to your work or personal life  

(Don't do it just because you think you should, or just to get the piece of paper. It’s not the piece of paper that gets you a job and many people have lists of degrees that prove this. It's how you apply what you learn that counts, your real experience.)

The raranga illustration is, choose the right sort of harakeke for what you're going to make. If you want to make a kete, look for short harakeke because long blades are harder to work with if you're making a kete.
I have enjoyed the study that I've done mainly because I could apply what I was learning to the job I was doing at the time, or it was relevant to my work or personal life.
I often used real life examples from my own experience and projects or new innovations that were happening in the library. This made the assignments interesting and I was able to talk to people in the library about some aspects.
For example, one involved a library about the same size as the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. The scenario was to investigate the pros and cons of joining a consortium with five other libraries, which would mean purchasing the same library management system. At that time, our library was in the process of purchasing a new library system along with three other university libraries in a consortium venture.
I had a lot of fun with some assignments where I could choose my own scenario. One I really enjoyed was when I had to invent a library and then use it for three assignments which I could choose from a range of five topics. I did an iwi library and chose assignments on developing the collection with attention to preservation of resources and budgeting; an architect's brief for the outside of the library building; and developing and promoting a new information service.

6.   Look for the smartest way to do your qualification or assignment  

The raranga illustration is, look for harakeke near where you live, care for the bushes by harvesting a complete bush at a time and keeping them tidy.
Build on what you've already done. You may have some papers that could be cross-credited (e.g. I could have cross-credited some of the papers I did for the Diploma of Management Communication to the MLIS if I hadn't completed the diploma). Qualifications that have been superceded by others can be cross-credited. For example, people who did the Library Diploma through Victoria University can upgrade to the MLIS by doing some more papers and people who did the Library Certificate (which ceased in about 1996) get credits towards Library Diplomas through the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.
Some people who did the Library Certificate have had papers cross-credited towards a Master's degree in Library studies through Charles Sturt University in Australia, which is also recognised internationally. Jeanne Reihana is one of those and she told me that Charles Sturt is a really good option. They gave her more credits than Victoria would and she's ended up with a qualification that is just as good as the MLIS and which may give her a competitive edge because it's from Australia.
People who have the Library Diploma or MLIS can do one-off MLIS papers and have them credited as Certificates of Proficiency, another way to build on knowledge and qualifications.
Another smart idea is to use local resources, such as books, journals, databases, local experts, library colleagues and managers. This often means tailoring assignments to fit what's available locally and seeking out people who have the knowledge or experience that you need. For example, when I was doing an assignment on archives management I visited a Librarian at Hamilton Public Library who is passionate about archives. When I was doing my research project, I designed it to make sure I'd have people available for interviews when I needed to do them. Usually there are options for assignment topics and I'd have a couple of ideas I was interested in and then I'd browse the resources to see what was available. This is much easier than settling on a topic and then struggling to find resources.
Take advantage of assignment topics that are similar to something you've already done, something that's happening at work or something that needs to be done in the context of your work. You may be able to do some of the work in work time but at the very least you'll be able to draw on real experience and local expertise.
It’s also a good idea to buy and sell second hand text books whenever you can. I used to advertise on the student e-mail list and turned my books over each trimester. Sometimes I was able to borrow a text from our own library and I have a colleague at the moment who borrows them on interloan, but this is a bit risky as they can be recalled by someone else.

7.   Don't go it alone  

The raranga illustration is, learn from someone who knows the tikanga and principles of flax weaving. My first attempt was by using a book, Mick Prendergast's Maori Basketry for Beginners, an excellent book but I needed to be physically shown. It's also really good to weave with others from time to time so that you develop your knowledge and learn new skills.
It's the same with studying. Before I began studying in the Waikato Management School I did a New Start course, which covered essay-writing and provided an introduction to various aspects of university study.
Another helpful thing to do is to develop a network of other students doing the same course. When I was doing the Diploma of Management Communication, every paper had group assignments. I was also part of a study group during one paper and that was really helpful. When we prepared for an open book exam we shared the research load. Throughout my studies I've had at least one other person doing the same paper that I could share ideas and problems with. It was especially helpful to have this kind of support during the MLIS when we needed to use new technology, as distance students are unable to meet with tutors or attend workshops.
It's a good idea to use the library experts in your area. I made appointments to meet with people who specialised in things like cataloguing, archives, budgets, consortia, and information technology and they were very happy to help me. The library benefited from this as well as well as me because I shared completed assignments with the people who'd helped me if they were interested.

8.   Have a plan and manage your time carefully  

The raranga illustration is, plan your kete or whatever you're going to make and prepare the harakeke thoroughly.
I'm convinced that careful planning and time management were the main reasons for my success. As I've already said, I'm not a great intellectual but I am a good organiser and a hard worker. I also like to be in control of my life and to be available for my family. In fact my family came first most of the time I was studying but my garden suffered a bit and my own time was often study time. I studied when I had no other demands on my time. For example, I did my course reading during my lunch hour and in the evenings.
I tried to get started on assignments early, sussing out the available resources and deciding on my topic. I'd try to get a rough draft done well before the assignment was due and learned to develop them on the computer, rather than writing a draft and then typing it up. It was quicker and easier to make changes on the computer. I'd begin by drafting a framework of headings, then put ideas under them and turn them into paragraphs. My ideas don't always flow logically so I'd cut and paste some parts but I always printed the finished work for proof reading.
When I was doing the research project, I developed a detailed timeline for the entire project including a schedule of telephone meetings with my supervisor. This worked really well and meant that I kept on track during the two trimesters which is quite a long time to keep motivated. I was amazed at the amount of work involved but it was manageable and the report was submitted on time without a panic at the end. I really learned the value of a timeline and sticking to it.

9.   Don't take it too seriously  

The raranga illustration is, if you've made a mistake and discover it when it's too late to correct it, disguise it or make it a feature by adding a piece of fun or decoration, such as plaiting harakeke and adding a shell.
Advice that I was given by my first university lecturer and have followed ever since is to read recreational books and never read course work in bed. It's hard enough getting to sleep if you’ve been working on an assignment and you need to relax with something light.
Have fun with assignments whenever you can. During the Interpersonal Communication course, we had an assignment where we had to study how people communicate through some form of media and then do a presentation to the class. My group decided to use comedy films. We studied different types of comedy. Someone chose Shallow Grave, another chose Jim Carrey and I chose the Marx Brothers. We had a lot of fun and were amazed at how funny the Marx Brothers still are.
When I had to write reports and proposals that needed the writer's name on the title page, I created names that amused me because we could only put our real names on the back of our assignments. For example, if a scenario called for a Māori author, I used the name Moana Whitiora (apologies to any real people with that name). I chose it because it was totally anonymous, could be male or female, and because Auntie Gussie Whitiora was like a mother to me when we lived in Kāwhia. I also love the moana. I grew up in Whangamata and can't stay away from the sea for long periods.
Celebrate your successes. The people I studied with used to go out to eat at the end of the trimester or year. Three of us who'd studied together for the duration of the MLIS went down to Wellington for our graduation and that was a real highlight. We did the whole thing - street march and lunch afterwards, graduation ceremony, drinks and dinner together with our families.

10.   If possible, work in a library while you're doing library studies  

The raranga illustration is, learn raranga in a holistic way, including the traditions, tikanga and reo as well as the principles of weaving. If possible, do a raranga course through Te Wānanga-o-Aotearoa, Unitech, or whatever raranga course you can find.
The benefits of working in a library while studying in that field are enormous. As well as being able to apply a lot of what I was learning, I would often hear people talking about things I had read or discussed in class which made my study very practical and real.
A huge benefit was that most of the resources I needed were readily accessible, free of cost, and I've already mentioned the willingness of librarians to answer questions and share their knowledge.
Another benefit of having a library job is that some libraries will subsidise your course fees. Our library paid a quarter of mine and allowed me two hours study time each week.
They also recognised that I was serious about a library career and, during the four years that I was studying in the MLIS programme, I applied for and won three different jobs in the library. The first was a part time, fixed term position while the General Instruction Librarian was on parental leave. It was a great opportunity for me because I had the teaching experience and it fitted with my existing position to give me a full time job. So I was working at two different levels, librarian in the morning and library assistant in the afternoon.
The next was to a newly created position of Information Literacy Librarian. This was exciting because I'd studied information literacy for three years while I was doing the Diploma of Information Studies and it was a promotion from library assistant to librarian.
Then, in December 2001, I won the position of Information Services Team Leader which is also exciting because it focuses on working with people (library staff and customers) which I have discovered is my passion. I'm back to the same level of position that I was in when I left teaching. It took me four and a half years to make the change and I love it. The secret is to look for opportunities that you're interested in and that your previous work experience can be transferred to. None of the jobs I've had in the library were highly popular but I've been able to develop them because they were newly created positions.

Where to next?  

I'm still studying and following another of my long-term ambitions. I'm doing Te Ara Reo Māori through Te Wānanga-o-Aotearoa and loving the change from academic study. It's a totally different learning style. I don't care how long it takes me. There's no pressure to do it in a particular timeframe but I'm determined to learn to converse in Te Reo Māori.  Te Rōpū Whakahau | Māori in Libraries and Information

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