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Spotlight on te reo Māori in culture and heritage sector

Dr Spencer Lilley will be investigating how well te reo Māori is used in Aotearoa's culture, arts and heritage sector.

The importance of normalising the use of te reo Māori in everyday situations is well acknowledged ¬–so what contribution are galleries, libraries, archives and museums making to its revitalisation? 

This question is at the centre of a new research project by Dr Spencer Lilley, from Massey University’s Te-Pūtahi-a-Toi – School of Māori Knowledge.

Dr Lilley has been awarded a Marsden Fast Start Grant to evaluate te reo Māori capacity of the galleries, libraries, archives and museums, the sector known as GLAMs. The research also aims to identify best practice examples that will help other institutions enhance their services and resources.

Dr Lilley says revitalisation theories state that languages need to be visible not only in education, broadcasting and in the home, but also to have an increased profile in broader society. “As highly-visited cultural institutions, GLAM organisations have an opportunity to promote everyday usage of te reo Māori through their signage, publications, the gallery texts and wall panels that describe exhibits, websites and inter-personal engagement between clients and staff,” he says.

Before becoming an academic, Dr Lilley was a library and information professional for 24 years, including 16 years in the Massey University Library system. “My interest in museums and libraries goes back to my youth when I was a regular visitor to the New Plymouth Public Library and the Taranaki Museum (now conjoined and known as Puke Ariki). “

He says at that time GLAM institutions were distinctively monocultural in nature. This started to change in the 1980s when a commitment to biculturalism started to develop and exhibitions, collections and services informed by Māori perspectives became more visible. However, Dr Lilley says the growth in te reo Māori capacity has been slower to develop and in many institutions it is generally pitched at a relatively low level.  

The research project will involve surveys, interviews and visits to GLAM institutions throughout New Zealand and will allow Dr Lilley to capture visual images that depict best practice so these can be showcased and shared.

There will also be visits to GLAM institutions in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United States and Wales to gain an understanding of how other indigenous cultures incorporate their languages into services and resources. A PhD student will also work with te reo Māori-speaking communities to see if their expectations and needs are being met by GLAM institutions.  

Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Michael Belgrave, says; “Spencer Lilly is at the leading edge of Massey’s aspirations to be a university informed by its Treaty of Waitangi-based relationships. Libraries and museums are critical to our collective memories and they need to be places where te reo Māori must be commonplace.”

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