I went into the Fulbright experience wanting to expand my understanding of culture as it relates to identity and education. I intended to apply this understanding to the creation of the school library as a cultural space, one that supports the many ways of learning, knowing, and making meaning that exist within linguistically and culturally diverse student populations. Looking at these concepts in the New Zealand context was relevant to my work in Anchorage, Alaska because of several similarities: the demographics of the students, the lingering impact of colonization, and the struggle of schools to provide a successful education for minoritized youth.
So far I have been mostly reading, listening, and thinking about the theoretical and research supported foundation for practice. Specifically, I have been collecting ideas, strategies, and models for:
Based on this learning, and a new critical eye toward the need for decolonizing research methodologies, I developed a site-based inquiry project as the next step.
I developed a process tool for collecting data directly from students about how they see the library meeting them. I invited Pasifika students at five New Zealand Schools to participate in a focus group: together, we will design a library, including physical space, collection, services, events, and staff qualities. The result will be titled: The Library for Pasifika Students: What Do They Want?
I start on it this week in Auckland!
This process started with changing my original ideas for research based on the reality in New Zealand, a closer look at research methodology, and the need to get ethics approval from Victoria University.
Decolonizing methodology shares the position of power between the researcher and the participants by critically acknowledging the assumptions, beliefs, and system of knowing that underlies the research process. It is characterized by a focus on reciprocity, transparency, and relationship. Victoria University favors this approach to research.
New Zealand school libraries - a different context. Many primary schools have minimal library space and programs. Intermediate and senior school libraries tend to be focused strictly on getting kids to read, and librarian positions are filled with para-professionals. Many of the roles played by school libraries in the USA are covered by different aspects of education in New Zealand: the classroom curriculum allows for more teacher autonomy and the inclusion of project based work, while the National Library provides direct loaning of curriculum related materials. Due to the different contexts, my original plan of interviewing teachers and librarians about the culturally sustaining strategies and model they use in the school library was no longer relevant.
A lively conversation with a principal during one of my initial school visits in Auckland sparked an idea for my project. The school was in the process of planning a new library space and eager for new ideas to foster student and family engagement. With the guidance of Linda Hogg, my University of Victoria adviser, I developed a research project entitled--What Makes a Good Library for Pasifika Students. The project involved conducting structured focus groups with students to document their own voices about what would make the library space, collection, services, and staff “better” for them as users. The project was further refined as it went through the Victoria University Ethics approval process and identified five specific school sites, representing all three urban areas, to conduct the focus groups. It was clear that the data collected could be of use to the individual schools, but it was less clear how relevant this data from Pacific Islanders in New Zealand would be to the many American Samoan students at my home school. Bridging this potential gap is the idea that the focus group process developed can be replicated with any unique user group to gather data on their preferences and needs regarding information access.
I packed up all my supplies in Wellington for the flight to Auckland - a whole suitcase.
Wish me luck!
A side note about Pacific Islanders that immigrate to New Zealand - in numbers:
Total population demographic numbers based on 2103 census (last published):
74 % European
14.9 % Maori
11.8 % Asian
7.3 % One or more Pacific Island Ethnic Groups (Pasifika)
48.7 % Samoan (former Western Samoa)
20.9 % Cook Island Maori
20.4 % Tongan
8.1 % Niuean
46.1 % Pacific Island People in New Zealand are under 20 years old
92.9 % Live in the North Island
62.3 % Born in New Zealand
65.9 % Live in Auckland
12.2 % Live in Wellington Region
Growing both in total number and proportion of the population
Anticipated that by 2016 will be 10% of population
Almost two thirds of Pacific People are born in New Zealand