Web Magazine for Information Professionals

A quantum jump from information to transformation - mātauranga Māori based library services

Lidu Gong gives us an over view of how the Mātauranga Māori view of knowledge and culture are applied in the library service of a tertiary level college in New Zealand. This cultural foundation is fundamentally different to that found in most Western cultures, and demonstrates how an academic library can cater to the specific needs of their local population.

Background: TWoA (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa) is a Māori institution, the second largest tertiary institution in New Zealand. The vision, mission and goal of TWoA are based on mātauranga Māori embedded in TWoA values and practice. The vision is ‘to provide holistic education opportunities of the highest quality’, and ‘to encourage all learners to learn and achieve to their fullest potential’. The mission is ‘whānau¹ transformation through education’. The values are Te Aroha (love), Te Whakapono (beliefs), Ngā Ture (rules), and Kotahitanga (unity) (twoa, 2016). The goal is to become the greatest indigenous development organisation on this planet’ (Winiata, 2016).

Mātauranga Māori based library service is transformative through heart service which has double-edged functions: inspiring the heart as well as informing the mind, knowing values as well as knowing facts, knowing self as well as knowing the world. The transition of library service from being informative to being transformative is a quantum jump².

The transformative nature of mātauranga Māori based library service is explored through answering these questions: What is mātauranga Māori? Why is mātauranga Māori based library service transformative? How is mātauranga Māori based library service implemented?

Qualitative research is used in forms of interviews informed by literature reviews and my lived experience as a librarian in TWoA library.

What is mātauranga Māori?

Mātauranga Māori as Māori knowledge system that ‘encompasses all branches of Māori knowledge’ with spirituality as its most important feature: ‘The tapu aspect of Māori ties it firmly into the system of beliefs and values of the Māori people’ (Mead, 2003, pp. 305-6). This is confirmed by all Māori and indigenous scholars in my literature reviews. Browne calls indigenous knowledge ‘organic intellectual’ experiences and ‘flax-root’ theory’ ‘which makes room for transformative learning’ (Browne, 2005, p. 6 & 15). Holmes brands it ‘heart knowledge’ and ‘blood memory’ (Holmes, 2000, p. 40). Meyer claims that ‘knowledge that endures is a spiritual act that animates and educates’, and ‘spirituality is at the core of what knowledge is’ (Meyer, 2014, pp. 154-5). The spiritual aspect of mātauranga Māori makes it ontologically and epistemologically different from ‘knowledge’ in the western paradigm where religion and sociology has long been separated, and people take it for granted that academic work has nothing to do with spirituality. For Māori, spirituality runs through everything they do in form of mauri (life force). That is why they pray every morning before work, meals and other events. That is why they believe that ‘everything has a wairua (spirituality)’ and “There is a ‘divine spark’ in everything” (Patterson, 1992, p. 77).

Findings: The following differences between mātauranga Māori and ‘knowledge’ as commonly used in mainstream education dominated by western ideology are identified:

Summary: Knowledge is one-dimensional unfinished mātauranga Māori while mātauranga Māori is multi-dimensional finished knowledge. That is why Māori people always start speeches with prayers, chants and songs to apply mātauranga Māori in its full force engaging the whole person, cognitive and affective, intellectual and behavioural, rational and emotional, corporal and spiritual, and knowing and being. Mātauranga Māori is not so much as something I am to define as something I am defined by; it is not so much as something I study on as something I am being oriented towards, drawn into, and identified with; it is not so much as something to be observed objectively as what engages me as a participant and co-constructor; it is not so much what I know about it as how I feel about it; it makes more sense to act with it than to talk about it; it is more relevant to ask what I am than to enquire what it is. ‘Ideas are only as important as what you can do with them’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. Foreword). Mātauranga Māori is a new world to me, not merely the world as I see it, but the world as I am seen through it; it is not so much as a product I eventually possess as a process that ends up possessing me – being transformed. In short, knowledge informs and mātauranga Māori transforms.

Why is mātauranga Māori based library service transformative?

The transformative mechanism of mātauranga Māori based library service lies in the interrelationship between spiritual worldview, relational epistemology, and heart pedagogy. The spiritual aspect of mātauranga Māori is embodied in relationships. ‘An indigenous paradigm comes from the foundational belief that knowledge is relational’; and ‘these relationships … include interpersonal, intrapersonal, environmental and spiritual relationships, and relationships with ideas’ (Wilson S. , 2008, p. 74). ‘We are, therefore I am’ (Mbiti, n.d.). This popular saying in TWoA synchronises with the most frequently quoted Māori proverb: ‘What’s the most important thing in the world? It’s people, it’s people, it’s people’. ‘Knowledge (in the sense of mātauranga Māori) is given through relationships and for the purpose of furthering relationships. It surpasses the intellectual realm, and lodged in the emotional realm’ (Holmes, 2000, p. 41). ‘Knowing something is bound by how we develop a relationship with it’ (Meyer, 2014, p. 154). One linguistic evidence of taking relationship as the ultimate reality’ (Wilson S. , 2008, p. 73) is the lack of equivalent word in English for whakawhanaungatanga (establishing relationship).

Heart pedagogy distinguishes Māori way of teaching and learning from that of mind-based mainstream education. ‘There is a common centre from which all mauri emanates and from which everything draws’ (Pohatu T. , 2012). This centre is the heart as the motor of learning. That’s why Marsden calls for the double-edged education that inspires the heart as well as informing the mind: ‘By meditation in the heart … Knowledge is transformed into wisdom. This is essentially a spiritual experience’. ‘Knowledge is a thing of the head’ while ‘the heart is often wiser than the mind’ (Marsden, 2003, p. 59 & 28). This double-edged education finds its echo in many indigenous scholars’ works: ‘Knowing must touch your heart’ (Fred, 2009, cited in Akhter, 2015) as ‘the heart has wisdom and love that must be used in building one’s knowledge’ (Akhter, 2015, p. 47). ‘The Heart is the school where love and enlightenment grow’ (Royal, 2008, p. 13).

Spiritual worldview and heart pedagogy are also gaining weight in western world in recent decades with the advent of postmodernism: ‘The postmodern world celebrated the importance of the spiritual dimension of existence (Graham, Coholic & Coates, 2006, cited in Akhter) (Akhter, 2015, p. 47). Heart-based learning is also advocated by some western scholars. Healthytarian Movement claims: ‘The Healthytarian lifestyle combines mindful and heart-centered living’ (Ochel, 2016). The book The Methodology of the Heart states that ‘education without ethics, without sentiments, without heart, is simply soulless’ (Pelias, 2004, p. 1). ‘I am a teacher at heart’, and ‘human heart that is the source of good teaching’ (Palmer, 2007, p. 1 & 4). There are also scientific supports based on experiments: ‘The heart is also an information processing centre … and can have profound influences on our brain. “Positive feelings of love, care, appreciation and other uplifting emotional qualities long-associated with ‘heart’”. (Childre, D., Martin, H., Rozman, D. & McCraty, R., 2016, p. 6 & 8 ). A life story is more convincing about how the heart functions as the information centre: One young girl began having nightmares of murder after her heart transplant. Her dreams were so vivid that they led to the capture of the murderer who killed her donor (Bruce, 2004, p. 161). TWoA library as a dynamic learning centre undertakes the mission of its organisation – transformation through education - through heart service.

Findings: Heart service model is justified by the feedbacks from the interviewees³:

Asked about library services, the interviewees think that our library should:

Summary: The name of TWoA library says it all – Te Pātaka Māramatanga (The House of Enlightenment). The name embodies Māori expectation of their library and their way of dealing with information: Our libraries are more than information repositories, but rather people-centred Wānanga where people get enlightened and transformed. Using an interviewee’s words, ‘for Māori the power to name is an important transformative act and … opens the possibility of applying Māori thinking, values and practice, as we humanise our world and realities’ (Pohatu H., 2007). In short, mātauranga Māori based libraries are learning centres that feed the centre of our being.

How is mātauranga Māori based library service implemented?

The journey from information to transformation - from head service to heart service - reveals itself through a series of transitions in practice:

Summary: The transition from information to transformation is surrendering mind-based service to heart-based one, from duty-bound to passion-driven, and from how-we-serve mentality to how-they-should-be-served as default service mood. There is no such a thing as a good service, there are only good servers. We don’t deliver information; rather we deliver who we are through dealing with information. Who we serve is more important than the service provided. We don’t need to worry too much about customer service strategies. A good heart does it all. What is in our heart serves better than what is in the library. The relational aspect of information and the affective side of our patrons always come first. Heart service motto is: open the heart before opening the mouth. Once the heart is activated, every inquiry is an entry point to deeper level communications; every encounter is an opportunity to establishing a lifelong relationship; every transaction is an occasion to make a difference to the patron’s life; every word from us is a medium to create a ripple effect with lifelong impact; every smile is a message to express our passion and inner values; every interaction is an ako moment; and every action is a boomerang that comes back to feed us to become better servers. Heart service is self-service.


Mātauranga Māori based transformative heart service pedagogy is rooted in TWoA values and indigenous worldview, but its application is not confined to indigenous institutions. Human nature is inherently good; and human potential for growth is unlimited. Individuals are free and autonomous and are capable of making personal choices. Library service transition from informative to transformative is not a change of recipe, but reprogramming librarians’ inner blueprint. We ‘are conditioned, but not determined’ (Freire, 1998, p. 12). We are all products of our genetic, social, cultural, and educational environments, all of which forming a ‘maze’ for us to run our lives inside like the mouse chasing cheese, but ‘the problem is not that the mouse is in the maze, but that the maze is in the mouse’ (Malhotra, 2013, p. 66). We librarians have to make a quantum jump from one dimensional being, living and working to another dimension – from mind-based to heart-based ones. Only the enlightened can enlighten; only the transformed can transform; and only the heart can activate the heart. Librarians’ quality is the library patrons’ quality. ‘If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself…the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.’ (Holthaus, 2013, p. 44).


1. ‘Whānau can be multi-layered, flexible and dynamic’ (Walker, 2014). Here ‘whānau’ in this context refers to group (family, community, and can be extended further) development.

2. Quantum Jumping is an advanced visualization technique where you visualize yourself jumping into alternate universes, and communicating with alternate versions of yourself. The term “quantum jump” is commonly referred to as ‘atomic electron transition’. I use it here as an analogy to describe a radical shift from information-based (resourced-centred) to transformation-based (people-centred) library service Kaiako is usually translated as teacher in English in everyday communication.

3. All the interviews were sound recorded and transcribed here by the researcher with the interviewees’ names concealed.

4. Kaumātua refers to the knowledgeable elders in Māori world and function as transmitters of traditional knowledge and are responsible for making important decision in Māori communities.

5. The first space is home; the second is work; and the library as the third preferred place with humanized home-coming social environment.


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