Is this your library?

What does your library look like? Does it look like the pictures below? Stately edifices, cultural icons of a civilised society, full of shelves of books?

Or are they modern spaces representing this rapidly evolving environment and changing needs of the community, with striking building designs, open light-filled spaces, and places to create and play.

Maybe your library is small and cosy, less intimidating in its size and scope. Where every item is within reach, users are familiar with the collection and loan periods are irrelevant because everyone knows who’s got what book and you can just go get it back off them.

Did you, like me, gaze in wonder at the Library in Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast, share in Sam’s excitement as he saw the Citadel Library for the first time in Game of Thrones, or nod in agreement when Morgan Freeman expressed his disbelief that the security guards of the New York City Library would prefer to play poker than explore the world of knowledge at their fingertips in the movie Se7en?

Google search “libraries” and the resulting images are what you would expect, floor to ceiling shelves of books and publications of every size and shape.

But before you lock that image into your head, think carefully about why you are really going into a library. Most people would reply “I’m looking for book.” But that is not true at all. You are seeking answers to a question. You are seeking evidence to support an argument you would like to express. You are seeking resources to educate yourself in a particular subject area. You are seeking information, knowledge and entertainment.

If we conceptualise libraries in those terms, to me, a library also looks like this.

Kauwhata Marae, Awahuri.

Just like our conventional views of a library, this structure is also full of stories, knowledge and information. It’s also a museum, rich in artifacts and treasures. It is an art gallery, showcasing the creative talents of the people. It is an archive, an historical record of community activities.

A multi-purpose, multi-user, multi-functional space.

As researchers, when we seek good quality, scholarly literature, we look to our University Libraries and research collections to fulfil that quest. As an academic librarian, I completely endorse that approach. But as indigenous researchers, we cannot ignore that we have knowledge repositories that extend beyond the predictably recognisable structures that populate our research institutions.

And as librarians, we also need to incorporate these structures within the traditional and contemporary information environment, both in form and concept, because it shouldn’t matter where the knowledge lives. It is all taonga.

So I ask you again, because I’d really like to know. What does your library look like?

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