Round-up for February 2013

So what’s the outcome for this topic for February 2013?

Push it until it happens.

I *want* this to happen. I want NZ to lead the way. Show the world that it is possible.

It’s up to me to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve committed to improve my own Te Reo Māori skills this year. Next up is extending my skills in te reo Māori, gaining a greater of understanding of tikanga and increasing my waiata repertoire.

And somewhere along the line, I will refresh my NZSL skills.

I need to keep planting the seed to everyone I know in the GLAM industry to incorporate bilingualism into our training curriculum.

So my goals are to –

  • Keep the discussion going.
  • Find out who to lobby, who to influence and who will make this a reality.
  • Find others to be part of this.
  • Start the groundswell.
  • Keep momentum going.

Make it happen.

Great timing – new articles in NZLIMJ Vol 53. Issue No 1

I’m thrilled to see two articles in this month’s NZLIMJ (Vol 53. Issue 1) addressing issues specifically Māori related, which “arise from the need to acknowledge the needs of Māori customers.” As editor Dr Brenda Chawner points out, “there are some aspects of living and working in New Zealand that add new dimensions to what we do“.


This is one of the key reasons why I think the issue of bilingualism in New Zealand’s LIS and GLAM sectors is so critical.

Alastair Smith presents an in-depth examination of the challenges of searching for Te Reo on the Web, noting that whether macrons are used on web pages, and how this is interpreted by search engines, will affect search results.

Spencer Lilley has looked at the extent to which public library websites provide resources for their Māori customers, finding that while some do this very well, there is room for improvement, particularly in the use of Te Reo on the website, and in the ways in which Māori collections are described.

Quoted from the editorial “Distinctively New Zealand?” by Dr Chawner.

Ka pai. For me, this is a great end to an interesting month-long look at the issue of bilingualism, official languages, Te Reo Māori, NZSL, making languages a compulsory part of training. It’s also given me plenty of ideas for future research topics!

What would a bilingual workplace look like?

I have worked in a bilingual organisation. I had to learn a new language (NSZL), and with it, a new cultural paradigm (Deaf culture). It opened my eyes up in different ways than living overseas in countries where English wasn’t the first language of most people.

There’s plenty of interesting resources out there about what bilingual workplaces are like, and what impact bilingualism has for employers, employees and communities.

Two pieces that caught my eye are :

  • Multnomah County Library (USA) working with immigrant communities.”Technical services and bilingual staff have worked together to build library collections in Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese. That work has resulted in a 27 percent increase in library materials in these four languages over the past three years. During that same period, usage of these materials has increased 81 percent.” Usage increase.
  • Research by Christofides & Swidinsky (2010), using Canadian census data, to show that bilingual workers earn more than unilingual workers. There are gender differences, as well as regional/geographical differences. Economic benefits.

While there is some NZ research that addresses language & culture in the workplace (but not so much on bilingualism), from the Language in the Workplace project*, there doesn’t appear to be much recent or public discussion about the issue of bilingualism in New Zealand libraries. While libraries may have documents which purport to a bilingual and/or bi-cultural workplace, anecdotal discussions indicate that this has often not been implemented or integrated into the workplace.

I really do believe that New Zealand could lead the way in commiting to making our cultural & educational institutions bilingual, which may also ensure that our workplaces are also truly bi-cultural, and subsequently more widely aware of other cultures. It is a case of making it ordinary to have more than one language used in the workplace. I remember Andrew Green from the National Library of Wales speak at the 2011 LIANZA Conference about how he mostly uses Welsh in his workplace, rather than English, and that was  ordinary for his workplace.

I believe that making it a compulsory component of future training, we increase the depth of understanding of those of us who are collecting, collating, re-purposing, showcasing and sharing our cultural heritage, as well as increasing access for our customers and encouraging wider discussions about our past, our present & our futures in the GLAM and education sectors.

So I do remain hopeful that we can implement this as part of our current LIS & GLAM & educational sector training, as I do believe that the positives heavily outweigh the negatives. It is a commitment to our current customers, our future customers, ourselves and our country. By learning another language, your increase your understanding through a different cultural lens, which also shows that information & knowledge are created, collected, shared & redistributed in different ways. Awareness of this can only be a good thing.

* Note: I was a casual research assistant on this project in my pre-library life.

Let’s lead the way – Bilingual NZ Librarians

I’ve recently come back from Australia, and it seems that bilingualism for librarians might be more challenging elsewhere than in NZ.

In some cases, a country may not have an no official language. I was surprised to find that this includes Australia and the United States.

In some cases, the number of languages and dialectal variations across a country is immense. Therefore meaning that it may not be practicable to force librarians to be bilingual in at least two official languages, because there are just too many variations to make it compulsory in a curriculum. For instance, India and the Philippines might be in this category.

In some cases, a language might be officially recognised in only part of the country, such as Norway or Russia. Again this presents a challenge to make it enforceable in a curriculum.

However, for those countries, such as New Zealand and Wales, that have at least two official languages, why not make it compulsory as part of the training?

I truly believe that New Zealand could lead the way for this type of bilingual initiative, and not just for libraries. It could be an integral part of the training across the GLAM sector, and also for educators, social services and health services workers.

We could blaze the trail and show the world how it is done. Make it compulsory. Make it flexible. It could be delivered as an integral part of an institution’s existing programme or a number of nationally recognised programmes that already exist could be recognised through prior learning.

In ten to fifteen years time, a basic Māori language course for GLAM may not be as important as many of the new trainees will have progressed through the education system where Te Reo Māori is already mandatory, but it might shift the focus to a deeper discussion of tikanga and tino rangatiratanga. Or maybe we as a country will have already moved on anyhow (she writes ever hopefully).

In terms of NZSL, I see an increase in the number of people who can sign as a big positive, but I haven’t engaged enough recently with the Deaf community to see if this would be welcomed.

So what do other countries do?

There’s plenty of other countries that have two or more official languages. Two that immediately spring to mind are Canada & Wales.

So do they encourage librarians to be bilingual? Do they make it compulsory for librarians- in-training to be bilingual? Or is it commonplace to just “encourage” bilingualism?

Why can’t we just put a stick in the sand here in New Zealand and say, right, in five years time, anyone who wants to work as a [teacher, librarian, social worker] or in the [medical, government, tourism] industry must be bilingual? Get started now. Five years notice. Go.

Perhaps I’m too idealistic about this.

Yes I know that learning another language is hard.

Yes I know that not everyone wants to learn English, Te Reo or NZSL.

Yes I know that we are all too [busy/tired/overworked].

Well that’s too bad. If we are doing [insert various job titles] for future generations, then it isn’t really about us is it?

Our future customers & communities & employers & employees deserve better.

Commit to it. Learn it. Use it. Show your community that you give a damn. Show them it can be done.

Be that change you want to see in the world. It might sometimes feel like an overused cliché, but until we actually show others how and why it can be done, then how can we expect it to be any different?

So let’s just draw a line in the sand – do you want to work in the GLAM sector in New Zealand? Then get yourself at least one official language fluently, another one beyond the absolute basics, and if you added in another language (official or not), then that is a total bonus.

So my mission is to find out this month whether any other countries make it compulsory. And then turn the spotlight on whether we can make it happen here in New Zealand.