A National Information Strategy for New Zealand: Librarians form partnerships to deliver a knowledge society

Pat Kittelson

Science Electronic Resources Specialist
University Libraries
University of Colorado at Boulder
Email: KittelsonPZ@glinda.colorado.edu

Ko te manu kai I tem Miro nöna te ngähere, ko te manu kai it te mätauranga nona te ao.

The bird who eats of the Miro tree owns the forest; the bird who eats of the Tree of Knowledge owns the world.


When the New Zealand citizens elected a Labour-Alliance Coalition government in 1999, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand – Aotearoa (LIANZA) saw an opportunity to produce and promote the concept of a National Information Strategy (NIS). The intent of the NIS was to offer both the skills of librarians and library networks to the government, to help it create a knowledge society for New Zealand. The timing seemed opportune for such a strategy. The new government was advancing two initiatives. These initiatives, known as e-government and e-commerce, proposed using the Internet as a communication conduit for New Zealand citizens, the New Zealand government, and the business community. Although the previous government had invested in a variety of information technology programs, there remained a lack of integrated planning and national coordination.

Using existing national information policy models from Finland and the United Kingdom, LIANZA, in partnership with the Mäori Library Workers Association – Te Röpü Whakahau (TRW) drew the NIS blueprint. The intent was to respond to the e-government and e-commerce initiatives and to be recognized as a key partner in delivering a knowledge society for New Zealand.

Embedding biculturalism within the document from the beginning was essential. The Mäori legend identifying three concepts of knowledge contained in Ngä kete o te Wänanga (Baskets of Knowledge), provided the structure of the National Information Strategy. According to the legend, the first basket contains ritual chants and prayers, the second basket contains all practical knowledge, and the third basket contains the sources of good and evil. These baskets formed the central points of the strategy and are referred to as the “3 K’s”: Knowledge access (Te Kete Tuätea), Knowledge Content (Te Kete Aronui) and Knowledge Equity (Te Kete Tuauri).

This paper presents the process employed by LIANZA in partnership with Te Röpü Whakahau to create the National Information Strategy, illuminate the biculturalism embedded in it, and report on the impact of the NIS in regards to raising the profile of New Zealand libraries as information providers to New Zealanders.

What is a National Information Strategy?

“A National Information Strategy addresses strategic issues to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to access and utilize a nation’s knowledge wealth in a way that will enhance the social, political and economic well being of that country. It states government position on the creation, management and use of information, and sets direction for government action in support of the strategic goals“.


When New Zealand citizens elected a Labour-Alliance Coalition government in 1999, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand – Aotearoa (LIANZA) saw an opportunity to communicate the necessity for a national information policy. The intent of this national information policy was to offer both the skills of librarians and library networks to the government, in order to help create a knowledge society for New Zealand. The timing seemed opportune for such a strategy. During the Labour Party’s campaign leading up to the successful election, the Party had stated its commitment to a number of issues that had direct connections to libraries and librarians. These issues included the role of the National Library, protection of intellectual property, construction of a knowledge society through information technology, and improving electronic service of and access to Government through online Internet access. The new government set about addressing two initiatives. These initiatives, known as e-government and e-commerce, proposed greater utilization of the Internet as a conduit for communication between the New Zealand Government, New Zealand citizens, and the business community. These initiatives would build a “knowledge economy” for New Zealand.

The concept of a “knowledge economy” comes from the phrase “knowledge-based-economy”. The New Zealand Government has described it as “an economy where the value tends to be created by peoples’ knowledge rather than investment in capital plant and natural resources (such as land or forests), or straight physical labor. It has been described as business at the speed of thought” .

New Zealand citizens also recognized the need to foster a knowledge economy in order to maintain a competitive place in the global market. With a new government that appeared ready to listen, LIANZA mobilized itself to speak.

LIANZA/TRW National Information Strategy Consultation Process

Library and Information Policy Summit 1 – LIPS – December 1999

In December of 1999, Penny Carney, President of LIANZA, called a summit of forty professional librarians to the first LIANZA Information Policy Summit (LIPS). The summit’s objective was twofold; to focus the Government’s attention on library and information issues, and to offer LIANZA professionals as partners in the success of the knowledge society initiatives. Read our LIPS (LIANZA Information Policy Summit)! Messages to the New Government was successful in identifying major issues and drafting those issues into messages that were sent to the new Government.

Keystone for the Information Age – April 2000

Leaders of the National Information Strategy (NIS) from LIANZA closely followed concurrent developments of the National Information Policy underway in the United Kingdom. Chris Blake, Chief Executive Officer of the National Library of New Zealand, attended the “Keystone for the Information Age” conference held in London in April 2000. This conference, organized by the UK Library and Information Commission, the British Council and the UK Library Association aimed to:

  • “raise awareness of how a coherent national information policy framework can help the development of the UK as an information society and knowledge economy;
  • consider the issues to be addressed in the development and co-ordination of such a framework;
  • identify the contribution the library and information sector can make; and to
  • learn from international best practice” .

A coordinated strategy requires underlying principles. The UK’s model was designed around three components: connectivity, content, and competencies– otherwise known as the “Three C’s”:

  • Connectivity - technical standards, integration, and investment to insure wide access;
  • Content - information services that address the real needs of citizens, communities, and businesses;
  • Competencies – cradle-to-grave education and training to ensure that everybody is equipped to meet the challenges and opportunities of the information age.

Blake recognized that many social, political, and cultural differences existed between the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but realized that there were valuable lessons to be gained from this model. In consultation with LIANZA, and with the approval of their government minister, the National Library began writing a national information policy for New Zealand. As well as working with the National Library, LIANZA leaders were committed to following best practice by applying knowledge gained from existing national information policies in Finland and the United States.

Library and Information Policy Summit 2 – LIPS 2 – July 2000

While the first LIPS summit identified the essential issues for creating the NIS and offered the Government LIANZA’s cooperation in addressing these issues, the NIS failed to convey a clear idea of what Librarians wanted. LIANZA held a second summit with the purpose of clearly articulating the National Information Strategy for New Zealand.

Prior to the summit, LIANZA President Penny Carnaby, and Vice President John Redmayne asked LIANZA and Te Röpü Whakahau members to prepare position papers on a variety of information issues. The members identified three prominent concepts: resources, access, and skills. Summit participants matched these concepts to existing Government initiatives.

Progress was underway towards a cohesive strategy. Borrowing from the UK’s National Information Policy model of the “three C’s”, the New Zealand NIS established the “3 K’s” as its foundation: Knowledge Access, Knowledge Resources, and Knowledge Equity.

Te Röpü Whakahau Hui (Gathering) - August 2000

On August 25th, forty members of Te Röpü Whakahau and LIANZA met in Wellington to discuss the National Information Strategy (NIS). Mihi Harris from Te Röpü Whakahau facilitated the meeting and addressed the following questions:

  • Was Te Röpü Whakahau going to get on board with NIS?
  • What were the issues for Mäori?
  • What were Mäori concerns regarding NIS?

The outcome of this Hui was positive. Te Röpü Whakahau members agreed that partnership in the National Information Strategy would be beneficial to Mäori. Input and ownership in this document would provide Mäori information professionals with a framework for discussion whenever meeting with Mäori Governmental Ministers. Te Röpü Whakahau members contributed comments and submitted position papers to the NIS working party for incorporation into the document.

First Draft of the LIANZA/TRW National Information Strategy – October 2000

With input from Te Röpü Whakahau members, the structure of the National Information Strategy was refined. First, it was necessary for the committee to look back to the keystone of information considered as “ancient as knowledge itself.” For the people of Aotearoa – New Zealand “…the keystone was Tane-nui-a-Tangi (bringer of knowledge from the sky) who ascended the highest heavens to retrieve Ngä kete o te Wänanga (the baskets of knowledge) which he spread through the earth to bring us from a state of darkness and ignorance to a state of knowledge and enlightenment” . Thus, from each basket comes one of the “3 K’s”:

  • Knowledge access = Te Kete Tuätea: sources of incantations, karakia and tikanga . These are the pathways by which knowledge is transferred. This basket holds infrastructure and access including telecommunication networks, libraries, schools, and churches.
  • Knowledge equity = Te Kete Tuauri: sources of good and evil. Those that seek good seek equity. This basket includes the access to computers, and information literacy skills that turn information into knowledge.
  • Knowledge content = Te Kete Aronui: source of all knowledge around the world. This basket contains the knowledge resources, knowledge institutions, and knowledge people who create content and contribute to new knowledge.

The first draft incorporated these three baskets of knowledge into the structure of the NIS. A printed copy of the draft appeared in the October issue of Library Life, and members of LIANZA and participants from LIPS 2 made further comments and submissions. Forty written submissions were sent to the NIS working group to be considered for the final draft. An added burst of energy came at the combined LIANZA and Te Röpü Whakahau annual conference in October when Minister Marian Hobbs, who oversees the National Library, addressed the conference participants lending strong support for the draft of the NIS and committing herself to its success.

Final draft of the LIANZA/TRW National Information Strategy – February 2001

The final draft of the NIS was ratified by LIANZA in February of 2001. It addressed issues of skills equity, historical and cultural resources, public resources, infrastructures for resource sharing, access to technology, and technological infrastructures. These issues were linked through the “3 K’s” to current Government initiatives. The diagram below identifies the information issues and these initiatives:

Table 1

(You must have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.)

A Governmental Framework

In addition to designing the NIS, it was necessary to place the delivery of these services within the existing Government structure. LIANZA and Te Röpü Whakahau recognized that the NIS encompassed and affected numerous Government agencies and departments and would therefore require a specialized delivery system. The following scheme accompanied the NIS documents:

Table 2

(You must have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.)

The roles of the participants were described as follows:

  • The Sponsoring Cabinet Minister has an overview of the development of the NIS.
  • The Information Commission develops and implements a NIS. This commission is charged with encouraging the creation of local content, auditing and monitoring standards, and ensuring compliance of the NIS with legislation and policy. The commission is also responsible for managing relationships between central and local Government and preparing a Citizen’s Information Charter.
  • The “3 K’s” form the central body of the framework and are the principles of the NIS. These principles are used to assess the success of the Government’s initiatives in meeting the social and economic requirements of a knowledge society.
  • The Government Initiatives in this document relate to the specific knowledge society initiatives that are currently in progress.
  • The Citizens’ Information Charter defines the rights and standards that all individuals should be entitled to in a knowledge society.

Lobbying Government Ministers

Throughout the process of developing the NIS, LIANZA and Te Röpü Whakahau representatives lobbied members of Parliament and met with the Minister responsible for the National Library, Marian Hobbs; the Ministers of Education, Trevor Mallard and Steve Maharey; the Minister of Local Government, Sandra Lee; the Minister of Science and Research, Pete Hodgson; the Minister of Information Technology, Paul Swain; Minister for Maori Affairs, Parekura Horomia; and the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs, Mark Gosche. The response to the NIS was positive.

Regional groups of LIANZA lobbied their national and local Government representatives. Guidelines and protocols were outlined in a lobby kit that was published in Library Life. Throughout New Zealand, individual librarians became active lobbyists. Local libraries invited Government representatives to visit and to attend special functions. Regional LIANZA chapters invited Government representatives to address their meetings. Many representatives responded to these invitations. Librarians’ roles had suddenly changed and they had new opportunities to demonstrate the effective infrastructure of public libraries in a knowledge society.

Following the release of the NIS in 2001, LIANZA targeted and lobbied more key stakeholders in New Zealand and in the Government including the State Services Commission, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, Department of Internal Affairs, Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand, (TUANZ), Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) representing 86 local government councils, and the 20/20 Communications Trust.

Successful Outcomes

Work on the e-government initiative, the Government’s E-Portal http://www.e-government.govt.nz, progressed throughout 2001. LIANZA sent submissions to the project’s leaders that described the role that librarians and information professionals play in closing the gaps of the Digital Divide and requested that standards of consistency be applied in the design and description of the site. In December 2001…”National Librarian, Chris Blake and E-government Unit Director, Brendan Boyle signed the first Service Level Agreement for transferring an e-government standard into formal operational mode. The Library agreed to be the custodian of the Functions of New Zealand (FONZ) and Subjects of New Zealand (SONZ) thesauri that government organizations will use when describing their information resources and services. In the role of custodian, the Library will continue to work with government organizations to ensure they use the thesauri consistently and that the set of controlled terms continue to meet their needs as services evolve”.

Some success also occurred at the Labour Party’s annual Conference in December 2001, when two remits were passed that could be traced to the NIS. The first remit asked the Government to work towards providing free internet access to New Zealand citizens and the second remit asked the Government to implement a number of strategies towards closing the Digital Divide specifically addressing issues of knowledge access, knowledge equity, and knowledge resources.

Perhaps the most significant outcomes appear to be hidden. These outcomes include unifying librarians and information service professionals throughout New Zealand in a common cause; building understandings of knowledge and use of information through discussion and dialogue between Pakeha and Mäori; raising the issues of access to information with all New Zealand citizens; and again emphasizing that libraries remain an important social, cultural, and political concern worthy of a place on the political agenda.

The National Information Strategy’s Future

Though the New Zealand government has not yet implemented the NIS, the process of its development continues to raise awareness of the need for a unified government approach to creating a knowledge society. As a blueprint, it has attracted interest both overseas and in New Zealand. As governments around the world initiate information policies that exclude the concerns of the “3 K’s”: knowledge access, knowledge content, and knowledge equity, it will become apparent that a coordinated approach is required.

The National Library Bill that is currently before the New Zealand Parliament contains aspects of the NIS. This bill aims to establish a Library and Information Advisory Commission that the National Library will administer. This commission will advise Minister Marian Hobbs regarding information and libraries. Though not the overarching Information Commission LIANZA originally desired, the establishment of this advisory commission marks a step forward.

The principles of the NIS form a knowledge charter that can be put into practice by all organizations, groups, communities, and institutions that claim to adhere to or support the principles of the “3 K’s”.

The NIS will require ongoing updating and editions in order to reflect the results of any local or international initiatives that utilize libraries to create a knowledge society. Already, public libraries in New Zealand are incorporating the “learning center” model from the British People’s Network program. The NIS will reflect these changes in future updates.

LIANZA’s NIS is evolving. It is flexible enough to incorporate new ideas, and its clear blueprint and strong framework are models for other libraries and information organizations.

Ko te manu kai I tem Miro nöna te ngähere, ko te manu kai it te mätauranga nona te ao.

The bird who eats of the Miro tree owns the forest; the bird who eats of the Tree of Knowledge owns the world.

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