Barrier to Maori Usage of University Libraries

I could see my mate’s eyes glazing over well before I finished the title with “ An exploratory study in Aotearoa New Zealand” and so was not surprised when he asked.

“So what’s it about?”

“Where are all the Māori?!”

There was a smile a nod and then “Now that’s something I would read!”

So… where are all the Māori? That’s what I wanted to know from my Masters research.

The answer plain and simple is they’re not here!

Why not? A lack of capacity and capability and at times I think the disinclination to encourage, support and engage with Māori be it student or staff.

Things are never ever black and white when it comes to the real world, it will be hard for you to read and it’s even harder for me to say but sometimes the institution actually isn’t actively plotting our demise. Sometimes they really are blinded by normality. What I mean here is that when you are part of all that is considered normal you will assume that the whole world acts, perceives and behaves just like you so you literally cannot see beyond the world in which you exist.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote about education as a means of social reproduction, so don’t believe the press or the sentiment that education is the great leveler or that with an education you’ve got a chance it’s not there for our betterment it is there to keep us in our place.

There are three concepts in his theory and they are the factors I used to determine where all the Māori were.

  • Capital or cultural capital these are things like tastes (in music, fashion etc), language use or accent (Westie, PI, Hori etc), attitudes, behaviours.
  • Habitus these are the things we take for granted or what we would call “common sense” the things we consider normal or natural or how the world is, and the way that this impacts on the way we talk, act, interact with others and are imposed indirectly through group mentality.
  • Field these are the institutions of the society in which we live, in the case of Aotearoa a mono-cultural western society and the institutions that make it up.

The decision and policy makers formulate policy, rule or decisions based on their own “normal” world view without necessarily thinking about how that same decision might negatively impact on the rest of us who do not. Naivety or ignorance which ever you chose to believe is happening in this instance is still no excuse for the continued acceptance of this narrow view especially when there are voices unheard or ignored screaming “what is normal for you is not normal for us!!!”

Physical spaces and building design impacted on where Māori students chose to be, culturally safe places such as Māori studies or other Māori specific common or study spaces were well used, my focus groups also mentioned their own lack of cultural awareness about the Library almost to the point that some students weren’t even sure they were allowed to be there, and lets be honest it is very institutional but you add a guard at the entrance and it could be the entrance to a low security jail.

The world of Academia and the environment that it fosters is in reality quite alien to those who do not come from a solely western european world view. The focus on the written word, the researcher as individual and the idea of objectivity. Māori, polynesians and some asians come from traditionally oral cultures where discussion, debate and working together as a group are an integral part of learning and problem solving.

Despite this, Māori are resourceful and by using the electronic resources of the university, mini whanau libraries made by Aunty or Uncle buying the text books when they were mature uni students (you all know the ones I mean!) resources gathered from lecturers and other staff, and sharing the resources that we have amongst ourselves we have managed to avoid being in the library or in those places where we feel most out of place.

So, “Where are all the Māori?”

I guess the answer then is also not as black and white as I led you to believe in the beginning

You may not be able to see them and there may not be a large number of them but they are there, navigating their way through the alien and often hostile (to us) environment that is academia.


  1. Abigail McClutchie

    Kia ora Ngati Porou. Thanks for this enlightening post. Great masters topic and I’m picking a few more of us would have read it if it got the other name. I’ve been to the library once this year! Luckily I found the other Maori in the library…knew I’d find her because she works there. Got her to help navigate me around the place. But I’ve got to say I love that I can access most stuff online. No matter what I always get caught out with them pesky fines. While it is pleasant enough in there, I just don’t think it’s the place for me. However, I like our little community libraries in Manurewa and Manukau – there are a lot of students like me there.

    Liked by 1 person

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