Kete Horowhenua : the story of the district as told by its people

This paper was presented at the 2008 VALA conference held in Mebourne 5-7 February 2008.

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Kete Horowhenua :
the story of the District as told by its people

Joann Ransom
Deputy Head of Libraries
Horowhenua Library Trust

Kete Horowhenua is a community built digital library of arts, cultural and heritage
resources. It aims to get the private collections, memories and knowledge of our
community sitting alongside our public collections. Many thousands of hours of
labour have been contributed to the project by our community, resulting in fully
keyword searchable digital images, audio and video clips, documents, comments
and web links. In late 2007 Kete Horowhenua won the 2007 3M Award for Innovation
in New Zealand Libraries, and a Special Mention for North America and Oceania in
the category e-inclusion at the 2007 World Summit Awards in Venice.


7pm one Thursday night in Levin library:

Librarian: Sir ……. The library is closed sorry.
Elderly gentleman: I’ve come to give yer a hand.
Librarian: Oh great, on our Kete project?
Elderly gentleman: Yep – thought I should.

(Move to a computer)

Elderly gentleman:
So what’s this then?
Librarian: It’s a computer.
Elderly gentleman: And this thing – how does that work?
Librarian: It’s called a mouse. It helps you use the computer; it controls this cursor
thing; see the arrow? When it changes to a hand, you can click on something.

(Librarian leaves Elderly gentleman to get acquainted with computer)

Some minutes later...

Elderly gentleman
: I want to make videos of old tractors and stick them on Kete. It's
all learning, aye … can’t be that hard …. I’m a builder.


An hour and a half after entering the library that Thursday night, Charlie was
‘cataloguing’ photographs taken at the 2007 API (Agriculture Produce and
Industry)show, of vintage farm machinery; supplying names of people and
equipment, explaining the significance of the tests and demonstrations ….. on the
live Kete site.

Charlie is the human face of a project we have embarked upon in Horowhenua, and
demonstrates in a nutshell what we have achieved in terms of engaging our
community; our people come to help, they work alongside us, they bring us
information and knowledge we don’t have, are very proud of our project and are
fabulous ambassadors for the Library.

As a library we have had to change the way we connect with our community, forging
new relationships and working in a collaborative manner with community groups so
that we all achieve more and so that the library can remain relevant in an
increasingly digital world.

Setting the Scene
Horowhenua Library Trust is a registered charitable trust established by the
Horowhenua District Council in 1996. The six Trustees are movers and shakers from
the community who apply for the position and are appointed by Council for a
minimum term of three years. They are not Council ors but they are library lovers.
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They usually include a mix of business people, professionals and citizens with
relevant skills or experience.

The Trust receives 85% of its funding from Council and raises the remaining 15%
from user charges, grants and fundraising projects.

While the Trust is a Council Control ed Organisation in terms of reporting, it is largely
self-determining within the generous confines of its Trust Deed. Being outside the
multi-layered government bureaucracy, the Trust is agile in its decision making. A
result of their innovative approach to solving problems was the development of the
award winning Koha, the world's first open source library management system, back
in 2000. This product is now in use on every continent around the world and has
been translated into many languages. Evergreen is a development branch of Koha.

Horowhenua District Libraries serves a population of 30,000 of which approximately
18,000 are in the urban boundaries of Levin. Levin Library is the central library of the
system, servicing 2 smaller branch libraries. The Trust employs 14 FTEs (full time
equivalent staff) and many volunteers who total about 3 FTEs.
Horowhenua region is about 1.5 hours north of Wellington. The mild climate and rich
soils make market gardening, horticulture and farming the mainstays of the
economy. Manufacturing, food processing, construction and service industries are
also important contributors. The population of the area has remained reasonably
static for several decades but is currently experiencing steady growth, which is
expected to continue over the next 10 years.
Our District has higher proportions of retired and young people compared with the
rest of New Zealand and is generally poorer. The people are predominantly
European with about 22% Maori, 3% Asian and 3% Pacific Island. Most students
leave the District for tertiary education and employment opportunities.

The Problem
Our Community had a problem.

The Library Trust has long worked closely with the local historical societies; we are
of the mind that our role is to support the sector – not compete. We were keenly
aware that these groups were struggling. With little professional expertise, little
money and few members, it was a challenge trying to balance the conflicting goals of
enabling access to the District’s resources while preserving and protecting them for
future generations.

Our District has many small, specialised local museum and gallery-like organisations
– and some not so small. Situated near our northern boundary, MAVTECH is the
largest col ection of audio and video technology in the southern hemisphere.
Thousands and thousands of items – and none of it even catalogued! They wanted
to do it but didn’t know where to start or even how.

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As a trusted and known organisation in our community, trust earned through twenty
years of service by individual library staff on various committees, the Library was
looked to for guidance. Don’t ignore that point. For three decades the library has
always had a staff member on the committee of the local historical society and
helped many other groups whenever we could. This involves voluntary work on
weekends and after hours, time given by individual library staff because they are
committed to the Society – not because they are paid to do it. This is how trusted
relationships are formed in our community.

The Library was asked by three different organisations, in as many months, to
formulate a way forward for the heritage sector that would maximize precious
resources: space, money, expertise and especially people. Our community is small
and has to work together.

The local Council was aware of the problems too. In 2004 the Library Trust carried
out an audit of Arts, Culture and Heritage resources for Horowhenua District Council,
to assess the extent of the resources currently held in the District and the long-term
'safety' of these resources for future generations. The findings were not surprising:

• There is a large amount of material in private hands.
• About half may be given to public collections – but half never will.
• Most of it is available for loan or copying.
• Lots of information is in people’s heads.
• Everyone knew someone else with more material and knowledge.
• People really do care about arts, cultural and heritage resources.
• Physical space is a real issue.

A major concern was the lack of access to arts, cultural and heritage information;
Levin has no museum, archive, art gal ery or public exhibition space.

The Library Trust then sat down and talked with a number of focus groups to clarify
and confirm the problems we thought we had identified and to envisage ideal
solutions for each sector: historians, genealogists, artists, students, researchers,
librarians and council staff. We knew we could not solve all the problems but felt sure
we could solve some. We needed to work out which problems to address and come
up with an achievable solution.

We defined the achievable:

• To get public collections accessible by getting them online.
• To get private collections online too.
• To get the stories out of people’s heads.
• To include both historical and contemporary material.
• To create a ‘virtual’ exhibition space for artists and craftspeople.
• To inspire a workforce of volunteers.

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The Solution: Kete Horowhenua
The solution was to build a community-built digital library of arts, culture and heritage
resources: images, video, audio, documents, web-links, encyclopedia-like articles
and discussion threads, with related material clustered together. It would contain
both contemporary and historical content. It had to look gorgeous but not
intimidating, and it had to behave very cleverly and yet look simple and intuitive. We
wanted it to be self-managing and monitoring as far as possible, with no layer of
library expertise needed. ‘By the people for the people’ was our mantra. Our
community would decide what content they wanted to include and would be able to
upload material in any common file format and describe it with common language. It
had to facilitate the building and strengthening of relationships, not just between
items in Kete, but between people as wel . We wanted to use Open source
development tools and release it as an Open Source project, adhere to open
standards and build an online community to support it.

Echoing the Maori proverb of the three baskets, or kete, of knowledge, we called our
concept Kete. We really like what the kete represents. We like that they are ‘honest’,
practical items, woven from found materials, and that anyone can learn to weave
one. We like that they are made from flax, which springs forth from Papatuanuku, the
earth mother. We like the link between the flax and the weaver – the person who
caressed and shaped the flax into a beautiful or useful object. We like that kete are
usually given from 1 person to another, so linking people together, and that they are
usually given to mark an occasion so there are stories that surround a kete. When a
kete is used and taken from one occasion to another, the stories are being told and
the history preserved. The kete is an appropriate metaphor for our digital library, and
the various types of material it contains.

We dreamed of our country covered with local kete, so that users could search
locally or extend their search to their neighbours, or even all kete. We wanted to
build something which we could give away.

We managed to source a significant grant, and this combined with donations of cash
and kind from our community enabled us to get started.

We contacted our friends at Katipo Communications in Wel ington, a small web
development company, who had helped us develop Koha. They were keen to
become involved. We have a long-standing and easy relationship with Katipo and I
am sure this helped a lot with developing Kete. We could – and did – have long,
loud, excited sessions around a white board or over an Indian meal, hammering out
ideas and concepts and relationships and ‘what ifs’ and these resulted in a series of
dataflow diagrams which described the processes and functions that we required of

The Kete team was determined to produce a quality product that did what we said it
would, on time and within budget. We had to avoid feature creep as we were working
to such a tight budget and timeframe.

In thinking big first, and dreaming of how Kete could ultimately look and work, we
were able to ensure that the Kete core would contain all the necessary scaffolding
for future enhancements.
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We were fortunate at that time that a Master’s student of librarianship had recently
inquired about an internship with Horowhenua Library Trust to research Koha. Over
the course of a few email messages, we managed to convince him that Kete was a
much more interesting project. So Pascal came from France, and spent three
months researching Web 2.0 and Library 2.0 initiatives around the world, licensing
options for contributed content, and performing a risk analysis for the Library Trust of
managing a collaboratively-built, open source, digital library.

We advertised for volunteers to help create content: “Interesting work but the pay is
lousy” and were overwhelmed with the response.

It was amazing the resources we found in our community when we asked people to
help us. How many retired legal and medical secretaries do you have in your
community? These people can read handwriting! Fourteen typists worked from home
transcribing handwritten Council and Maori Land Court Minute books and typing out
stories from old newspaper articles which we were having trouble scanning. We had
teams of volunteers transcribing, proof reading, indexing, scanning and cataloguing.
We also ran a series of Thursday night working bees over eight weeks which
concentrated on digitising the Historical Societies’ photograph collections. These
working bees continued for twelve months; I made them take the Summer off! Since
Kete is web-based, workers can easily work from home too, but the working bees do
provide a social element to the work.

The shining star of our volunteers is a newly retired Master of Computing looking for
something interesting to do after an early self-elected retirement. She agreed to take
on the role of Content Manager and took responsibility for coordinating the creation
of digital content and managing the volunteers, leaving the Project Manager free to
work on development of the web application itself.

We were operating to a very tight timeframe with this project, with deliverables linked
to funding cheques. We could not afford to wait until Kete was ‘finished’ before we
created content. As soon as our programmer had coded the basics of a digital
content manager and input interface it was transferred to the live site – warts and all
- and we started creating content. All content was saved into the main database.
Upgrades and new work on the code just meant a prettier interface and increased
functionality, while the content remaining unchanged.

Early on we settled on some Proof of Concept col ections and items that we needed
to test to make sure Kete could cope with variety. These included different formats of
material and file types. The appendix describes the Kete project in detail, including
the development process we followed, the proof of concept work, structure and
feature list etc.

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The Kete database has grown steadily since March 2007 when we asked our
community to help populate it.










M ar-07
M ay-07
Se p-07

Fig 1: Database Items as at 30/10/2007

There are another 1000 images about to be added through a bulk import process;
recent donations to the Historical Society which volunteers have been digitising at
Thursday night working bees.

The site attracts a significant amount of traffic: 167,000 hits in October 2007, which
was about 60% up on the previous month. Analysis of the site statistics shows that
our numbers of unique visitors are climbing too; the chart below counts each IP
number only once, proving that it is not just Library staff generating all that traffic!












Fig 2: Unique visitors to as at 30/10/2007

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Why is it successful?

There are many Kete success stories besides Charlie and his vintage farm
machinery. We have nearly blind, 80 year old Roz, who, though sadly unable to type
any more, still contributes so much by sharing who lived where and what was there
and who to ring whenever we show her a photo. There is the retired engineer, Leo,
who is a whizz at photographing oversized photos and lace camisoles; Gus with the
bedridden wife who indexes 50-year-old newspapers into Kete night after night and
pops in for ‘fresh news’ once a fortnight; the lovely modest quilting ladies who
reluctantly allowed us to photocopy their quilts which cause people to gasp when
they find them on Kete; the manic, camera-mad Phil who seems to spend every
weekend photographing Levin’s old buildings, street scenes and public art; and
grumpy Scottish Ruth, who can’t bear Phil’s near illiterate descriptions and edits his
work every Monday so we can find “that wretched man’s” photographs in a keyword
search; 9 year old Connor who photographed every house in one of the town's oldest
streets – including the pregnant cat sunning herself on the footpath; and Ernie with
his fabulous sepia coloured photographs taken with a Brownie camera depicting
‘farming the hard way’ in the 30s and 40s.

It is the informal content and the dedication of a community that can only ever be
harnessed at a local level, yet add so much to the nation's store of digital content.
Our people are not interested in building a “Kete NZ”. What they care about is Kete
Horowhenua, or Kete Manawatu or Kete Kapiti.

And that leads nicely into the really exciting part of this paper.

National Digital Strategy
The New Zealand Government has done lots of thinking about our digital future as a
nation, and has produced several very significant strategy documents.
The overall Digital Strategy vision is for New Zealand to be a world leader in using
information and technology to realise its economic, social, environmental and cultural
goals, to benefit all its people.
Kete was developed with grants from the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 funding rounds
from the National Digital Strategy: Community Partnerships Fund. This is a
contestable fund established to support community projects that work:
• to realise community aspirations through using ICT
• on ICT content, connection and confidence
• in partnership with others.
These grants contribute seed funding towards initiatives that help deliver the goals of
the government’s Digital Strategy: improving people’s capability and skills in using
ICT, and developing digital content.
The first grant helped fund the development of the Kete Horowhenua web
application. The second grant is helping fund the development of a generic Kete -
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Version 1.0 - which will enable other communities to set up their own Kete easily. It
will also fund the development of an online community offering support to developers
and users.

New Zealand Digital Content Strategy
The New Zealand Digital Content Strategy is a sub-strategy of the National Digital
Strategy. It is the government’s five-year vision for unlocking New Zealand’s stock of
content and providing all New Zealanders with seamless, easy access to digital
information. The Content Strategy has 3 goals with objectives and proposed actions
for each; Kete slots directly into these:

Goal 1 Building digital foundations
Content important to NZ is easy to access, is protected, and kept safe for use by
future generations.


NZ’s digital content is visible,
searchable and easily accessed.
Digital content significant to New
Zealanders is preserved and


International standards for content
Open standards
creation, digitisation and

management of rights.

Content visible and easily
Federated searching
accessible by storing it in

interoperable, standards-based

“digital warehouses”.

NZ content visible to the world
Across-sector strategy for the

preservation of formal digital

Federated content.

Review the institutional form of

organisations involved in the

preservation of, and public access

to, film, video and sound content.

Support Creative Commons license Creative Commons license
Promote protection of intellectual
Rights management
and cultural property rights.

Table 1: New Zealand Digital Content Strategy: Goal 1.

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Goal 2. Unlocking Content
New Zealanders and New Zealand organisations are at the forefront of creating and
sharing digital content.


A content rich society where the
creation, use and sharing of digital
content reflects our cultures,
languages, histories and identities.

A digitally literate and connected
society, where all NZers are able to
engage in creating, sharing and
preserving digital content.


Nationwide digitisation programme.
Kete code freely available
Provide support and advice to
to all.
communities on the standards and
Online community of Kete
tools that enable creation and
developers and Users.
sharing of content.
Content made by the
Support the creation, sharing and
people for the people.
preservation of digital content
Federated searching
through a people's network.
across Kete.

Table 2: New Zealand Digital Content Strategy: Goal 2.

Aotearoa People’s Network
The Aotearoa New Zealand People's Network is about providing free access to
equipment, training and broadband internet services in public libraries so that all
New Zealanders can benefit from creating, accessing and experiencing digital

It is funded through the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund and New
Zealand's Digital Content Strategy, and is a col aboration between the National
Library and the public libraries of New Zealand.

The topmost guiding principle for the People’s Network is that:

“New Zealanders will have free and facilitated access to the internet, digital
tools and services and be able to deposit content into community and national

We are delighted that Kete has been selected as the community repository product
for each of the partnering libraries. Stage 1 will see 34 libraries and 13 local
authorities start filling their own Kete with local, digital content.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License
Kete Horowhenua : the story of the district as told by its people by Jo Ransom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License