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Tikanga Māori, open source and libraries


Rōpū kohinga care for collections through technology and see synergies between te ao Māori, open source and libraries

Catalyst Rōpū kohinga is responsible for caring for collections through technology. The team uses their expertise in open source library management solutions, like Koha, to ensure libraries have the right tools to facilitate connections for decades to come. As standard, the team also adopt a te ao Māori approach to building relationships and collections solutions with the library community.

In October 2023, Aleisha Amohia, Technical Lead in Rōpū kohinga, and Chris Cormack, Kaihuawaere Matihiko presented ‘ka mua, ka muri’ at the LIANZA conference. The presentation focused on answering a question they are both passionate about: what harmonies are there between libraries, open source and tikanga Māori? Technology solutions, after all, should work for people, not the other way around.

Check out their insights below.

The synergy between tikanga Māori, open source, and libraries

Te ao Māori and technology solutions

Firstly, Chris and Aleisha highlighted how open source is a concept promoting the free exchange of ideas and knowledge sharing. Specifically, in software development, it means:

  • Making the source code accessible to everyone so, they can see it, adapt it and update it.
  • Sponsoring and sharing code improvements for others to use.

The open source model is founded on the power of community supporting a collective good – a principle also seen in te ao Māori.

Technology has the potential to be democratised in open source and this creates a playground for software collaboration and growth.

To bring this to life they used Koha as an example.

Koha is just one of the open source library management solutions Rōpū kohinga use to support organisations across the world requiring a collections solution. It’s also the most widely known library solution, currently supporting over 18,000 libraries worldwide – and it started right here in New Zealand. In fact, Chris was one of the original developers. But, Chris and Aleisha highlighted the success of Koha for libraries isn’t solely based on its functionality. Instead, it’s due to the global community supporting it and improving it for others every day. Whether it’s finding and fixing bugs, writing documentation for others to follow, or sponsoring new features and enhancements, it’s about sharing, learning, teaching, and growing - this is open source in action.

Building connections and global support

Reflecting on nine years ago, Aleisha shared her first experience on the Koha project as a student at the Catalyst Open Source Academy. Here, she was introduced to a community who supported her in learning how to code and patch within Koha. By the end of the Academy, Aleisha became the 247th developer to have a patch pushed to the Koha project. And, whilst Aleisha’s experience has evolved, her perspective on open source remains the same – she sees many Māori values reflected within the model.

Whanaungatanga is one of these values - the essence of relationships and shared experiences. This forms the foundation of open source projects like Koha where global contributors come together, bringing varied perspectives and knowledge. Therefore, Aleisha sees whanaungatanga reflected in the open source ethos, and acknowledges it allows a project to be sustainable.

Respecting, Giving, and Caring

Next, Aleisha detailed how manaakitanga, defined by respect, generosity, and care, helps shape Rōpū kohinga through:

  • Team dynamics: Collaborative decision-making, knowledge sharing, and open communication during the process of contributing to Koha and other open source collection solutions.
  • Library engagement: Libraries sponsoring fixes to the upstream Koha project exemplify manaakitanga. Essentially, they contribute to improvements for the benefit of the global community.

Additionally, manaakitanga is also about the items within the collection. It requires creating space to understand the organisation’s values, culture, history, and lineage. In doing so, open source solutions can effectively care for and provide respect for the items long-term.

Building reputation through community

'Mana' is a commonly used te reo term in New Zealand. Typically it’s associated with ‘respect’ or ‘prestige’ (as a loose translation). Chris highlighted a quote by Michael P. Shirres, expressing the idea that true personhood is found in unity with one's people. This emphasises the depth of connection as the essence of "mana tāngata."

Therefore, mana tāngata offers a unique perspective on reputation – it doesn’t come solely from individual actions but from being part of a community. In the context of open source projects like Koha, the reputation is not merely a personal achievement. Instead, it’s a collective recognition of the community's strength and values.

Teaching, learning, and celebrating

Kaiakopono, encapsulates the spirit of teaching, learning, and celebrating - a principle Rōpū kohinga seeks to continually live by. Ultimately this helps to nourish both the library and open source community. To bring this to life, Rōpū kohinga:

  • Host development days, hackfests, and peer programming strength sessions.
  • Share lessons learned and updates with the community through documentation, newsletters, meetings, and more.
  • Celebrate with the community with kai and attend industry events like LIANZA, GLAMR meetups, and KohaCon. They also promote the unsung hero community contributors.

Through kaiakopono, libraries and the open source community, evolve together.

Fostering communication and consensus

Next, Chris and Aleisha discussed some of the ‘challenges’ of open source. For example, open source communities, like Koha, tend to be global. That means effective communication is needed to overcome diverse time zones, backgrounds, and languages. But, by demonstrating kōrerorero and whakaaro whānui can overcome these challenges:

  • Kōrerorero: the art of collective discussion, empowering the community to address issues, make decisions, and expand ideas.
  • Whakaaro whānui: a general consensus, ensuring progress with collective wisdom, incorporating diverse perspectives.

Together, kōrerorero and whakaaro whānui enable a collaborative open source development process and in turn, create stable, inclusive solutions for library collections.

Aroha for the community

Lastly, Chris and Aleisha focused on how libraries and open source are both guided by aroha – love and compassion for the community, the project, and the future. Sometimes tech can fail to feel human, but if libraries are by the people and for the people, then why can’t the systems supporting them be that, too? They finished their presentation with a well-known proverb, "He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata" – the most important thing in the world is people.

Rōpū kohinga are here to help you care for your collections, and create trusted technology solutions to protect your items and taonga for generations to come.

If you would like to learn more about Rōpū kohinga, or get support for your collection, contact the team.

Chris and Aleisha: Ko wai māua, Who are we?

Aleisha Amohia, Technical Lead, Rōpū kohinga Catalyst

Aleisha Amohia

Aleisha Amohia is a passionate young advocate for diversity and equity, sparked by her experiences as a young Māori-Asian woman in the technology industry. Aleisha is the Technical Lead in Rōpū kohinga at Catalyst, where she started as an intern in 2014. She has spent her nine years at Catalyst working on the Koha library system and other open source collections technology. She is also a Victoria University of Wellington graduate with a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence) and a Bachelor of Commerce (Management and Information Systems). Aleisha holds a bunch of other roles in the community (and has done for years), with organisations such as the National Council of Women New Zealand, Wellington Alliance Against Sexual Violence, InternetNZ, Victoria University of Wellington Women in Tech, and more.

Chris Cormack, Kaihuawaere Matihiko at Catalyst IT Limited

Chris Cormack

Chris Cormack (Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe) has 24 years’ experience working in the ICT sector, with 21 of those being in the Library ICT sector. He was one of the original developers of the Koha library management system, started in Horowhenua and now used by over 18,000 libraries worldwide. Chris started his professional career working for Te Pūtahi a Toi at Massey University after completing his studies for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Māori Studies and Mathematics. He programmed the backend of the Toi te Kupu system (a catalogue of resources in te reo Māori and for the teaching of te reo Māori) Chris is now Kaihuawaere Matihiko at Catalyst IT and He Māwhitiwhiti Matihiko ki te kākahu o Hine-Raraunga at Te Kāhui Raraunga