Community Contributed

A review of the Kete Project

Kete Horowhenua2020-03-23T16:51:41+00:00
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. This article includes material presented at the Bridging Worlds Conference in Singapore, 16-17 October 2008.


Kete Horowhenua is a digital library of images, documents, audio and video files which are about, collected and catalogued by the Horowhenua community, and is developed by Horowhenua Library Trust. Links can be made to web resources and the community are encouraged to write or add to written articles or topics, or to participate in discussion threads. is an Open Source Project whereby other communities, throughout NZ and the world, are encouraged to download the code and fill their own Kete.

Kete was presented to the Bridging Worlds Conference in SIngapore as a case study; a practical hands-on example of how our public library responded to the challenges and opportunities presented with the so-called ‘web 2.0' technologies. These tecnologies enable Kete users to particpate with a web site rather than just read. Kete users can interact with kete in many different ways: search, view, RSS, contact others, edit, discuss, upload, write and link.

Kete was different to the other ideas and topics being discussed in track 4 of the conference. My fellow speakers were all working with big ideas at the national and global level: conceptual, visionary, inspirational stuff. Kete on the other hand, is about a small public library system in a District of 30,000 people.

The Problem

Kete was the solution to a problem.

The Library Trust has long worked closely with the local historical societies. We were keenly aware that these groups were struggling, with little professional expertise, few members and very little money. 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.

As a known and trusted organisation in our community, the Library was looked to for guidance. We were asked by three different organisations, in as many months, to recommend a way forward for the heritage sector that would maximize precious resources: space, money, expertise and especially people. 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.

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.

The Solution

The solution was to create 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 well. 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.

How it works

Kete contains a range of different records, including ITEMs and TOPICs.

ITEMs are files uploaded and ‘catalogued' in common language by Kete users. They may be in any common file format:

  • images
  • documents
  • audio
  • video
  • web-links
  • discussion comments

Items may be stand alone, or LINKED together into meaningful clusters with a TOPIC. A Topic is like an encyclopedia entry about any subject, person, place, event or thing that someone wants to write about. Kete is an amalgam of Wikipedia, and Flickr, and YouTube and discussion lists - plus some other stuff.

Kete is very do-able; you need a web server hosting the database and internet access. And it doesn't matter where in the world you are (administrators and users). You just register online and then start using it.

Why call it Kete?Source:

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 one 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.

Is Kete successful?

How do you measure the success of a web 2.0 site? Is it based on the numbers of contributors who actually make use of the web 2.0 features: creating content, making changes, posting comments, emailing other contributors or repurposing the content? How much weight do you attach to the numbers of readers who continue to interact with the material in the old fashioned way - simply reading. The 90:9:1 rule was suggested a few years back that for every 90 people you have looking at your site, 9 might add a wee comment and 1 will actually create new content. Certainly our statistics would support that model of partipation.

Kete has been really successful in our community, and we are proud of how many people are using Kete. The chart counts each ip number as a unique visitor to the site for the month - our best month so far is over 4000 unique visitors - who generated about 300,000 hits!

Some months Kete Horowhenua attracts nearly 300,000 hits, although the vast majority of the people who visit the site just look, although some do participate.

The extent of material added to the database has steadily increased over the year since it was launched. The core collection came from the historical photographs of the Foxton and Horowhenua Historical Societies, but community created content is regularly added. Many contemporary photographs around and about our District have been added by Trevor Heath and Phillip Williams and local artists are well represented. These include individuals like Wendy Hodder, Janis Burbery, Karen Ann Daly, Ricky Lee Ette, Yvonne Symonds as well as clubs like the Town and Country Quilters, Levin Pottery Club and Horowhenua Embroiderers Guild.

Levin War MemorialKete Horowhenua has been particularly successful in joining enabling connections to be made between descendents of local identities. Hector McDonald, Amos Burr and John Ransom are three examples of note. The hugely successful Adopt an Anzac project has attracted nationwide success for remembering our fallen soldiers and much of the material on the site has been generously shared by families.

Kete has enabled our local heroes to be celebrated, people like Joan's dad Jack, who built a plane and flew it briefly along Waitarere beach ... in 1932. Joan told his story in Kete, then was invited to speak at a Horowhenua Historical Society meeting, which led to the Vintage car club recreating his plane in the library, complete with a Model A Ford engine, a segment of the wing and an original propeller, and the crowds who flocked to the library to see it, and the subsequent radio interview, and the public meeting one Sunday which saw the library fit to bursting...

Why is Kete successful?

We are at a place now where we can catch our breath, stand back and review why it has been so successful. In many ways I think it boils down to the fact that it is "ours". Its local and therefore not only approachable but appropriate to be involved. There is a real sense of community ownership, and people want and like to contribute: its human nature where people like to help if they are asked. Kete volunteers do real work of value to society, and people want to share in the work. Its part of our Kiwi nature too : pitching in to give a hand - whether its laying a garage floor, erecting a fence or building a database. The library is non-threatening; we are considered to be approachable and open to teaching IT virgins ; the partnership with Seniornet made this so. Kete appeals to the 'personal' : "I can save MY stuff" and Kete users find it easy to find stuff about people and places that they know - its strikes a very personal cord. WE find too, that when people don't find something, they set out to be helpful by hunting around for stuff they might have around the place

It is also addictive!

Web 2.0 is NOT a silver bullet

It is not simply a case of ‘build it and they will come'. Launching a web 2.0 application for a library is not a guaranteed way to engage with your community. We made a decision after the first 12 months of creating inspirational digital content to step back in order to avoid provider capture. There was a real risk that we were dominating this ‘community' space with librarian-created content which, while generally of a high quality and gorgeous to look at, was actually quite intimidating to the average user who didn't want to spoil it by editing or adding to it. This was exactly the opposite of what we were trying to achieve.

We shifted into marketing mode instead. With such a diverse community to try and engage we had to use targeted marketing techniques, devising campaigns for specific sectors within the community. We thought long and hard about the "what's in it for me" question in relation to different groups: clubs, returned servicemen, genealogists, community event organisers, artists and craftspeople, businesses, historians, the performing arts and schools. We now do a lot of visits in the community delivering audio visual presentations that showcase a very narrow range of Kete content that illustrates how well Kete could help a specific audience achieve its particular goals.

Quality in a community repository is a tricky issue. If you make it too hard to ‘play' by imposing standards or barriers that restrict people they just won't participate. But not everything added to the site is worth keeping. Who decides and how do you remove inoffensive but essentially unwanted content added to the site by people whom you have invited to contribute?

When considering how successful a web 2.0 library application is, I wonder, too, whether it matters who is using the site? What if a large proportion of your audience is international? Is it still a service you can claim to be providing to your local community?, and what is your local community in a borderless world? Is a measure of success in the web 2.0 world how "Google-able" your content is? If you are not visible then do you even exist in a digital world?

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 of 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, while the second one funded the release of Kete 1.0 as an open source project so other communities around the world could set up their own Kete easily.

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. It has 2 goals:
1. Building digital foundations: content important to New Zealand is easy to access, is protected, and kept safe for use by future generations.
2. Unlocking Content: New Zealanders and New Zealand organisations are at the forefront of creating and sharing digital content.

Aotearoa People's Network

The Aotearoa New Zealand People's Network (APN) is a key initiative in achieving the goals of the Content Strategy. It 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 content.
It is funded through the Digital Strategy Community Partnership Fund and New Zealand's Digital Content Strategy, and is a collaboration between the National Library and the public libraries of New Zealand.
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.

The World

I think Kete can be bigger still.

For digital technologies to become pervasive in our societies, breaking through the digital divide, they need to be relevant to people at a personal and local level. They have to provide real value to people's lives and sense of being. Community and belonging are really, really important. This concept of community is especially relevant today, in an age where families, cultures and societies are torn apart for a wide variety of reasons. Kete can be a gathering point for sharing traditional knowledge and history and experiences and memories. Refugees may have nothing of their culture except what they carry in their hearts and heads.

I view history as being a cluster of points of view, a nebulous collection of differing truths. Imagine having a whole range of personal perspectives to sit beside the official authored version of the Russian incursion into Georgian territory, or Tianamen Square, or the experiences ravaging Africa and the Middle East right now.

Kete 1.1

We have had lots of inquiries about the Kete Project, both within New Zealand and from overseas. We won a Special Mention for excellent e-content from our region (North America and Oceania) in the e-inclusion section of the World Summit Awards held in Venice late in 2007, and also won the 2007 3M Award for Innovation in New Zealand Libraries.

The Kete developers, Katipo Communications, have been commissioned to install 3 new Ketes: 1 in Orange County, Florida, USA which, like Kete Horowhenua. is a geographical Kete. Maori in Taranaki, the have a Kete which they are using to manage their local language, specifically local dialectal variations, and in Auckland the Chinese community is building another Kete which relates to their particular ethnic group. Each of these groups has paid for work to be done developing enhancements to the core Kete code or towards the configuration interface. This is the beauty of Open Source: sharing the cost of development.

Other Kete include the Mental Health Commission, The Six O'Clock Swill theatre company and artist Marci Tackett.

The Aotearoa People's Network will see another 34 Kete established - and yes, they too have funded development work for the benefit of us all. Everything you need to download, install and configure a Kete of your own can be found on the project site: The code is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL). The site gets a significant amount of traffic - 4000 unique visitors a month - and the place to go for averything to do with the Kete project.


Kete has created fabulous ambassadors in the community for our library; excited, enthusiastic people who can't wait to tell others about the work they are engaged in for the library. Our people love that they are doing work, real work, which adds value to the society they are a part of. They love working alongside library staff, learning new skills and bringing us resources and knowledge which they have hauled out from dusty shoeboxes under the bed or pulled from long forgotten recesses of their minds. For Horowhenua Library Trust, taking advantage of web 2.0 technologies has enabled us to connect with our community in a whole different way. We are experiencing a lovely blurring between the virtual and actual worlds, when what starts in Kete ends in the Library.