On 4th August 1859, the Mechanics Institute opened the Canterbury Public Library for those who wished to further educate themselves. A few hundred books were made available to one hundred subscribers, all set up in a single room at the Town Hall, High Street.
The first books for public use arrived in Christchurch via the Canterbury Association ships, the historic ‘Charlotte Jane’ alone carrying two thousand books in her cargo hold – along with the Lyttelton Times’ pressing press and St Michael and All Angels’ church bell. As the Lyttelton Immigration Barracks began to be used less and less, a room was made into the region’s first unofficial library.
When the Mechanics Institute began to experience funding problems, the library was passed into the care of the Canterbury Provincial Council and the Canterbury College (University of Canterbury) in 1873. By this time, the Library had moved to the corner of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street. It would remain on this site until 1981. In 1948, the C.C.C. became the new caretaker.
On 11th January 1982, with 400,000 books and 90,000 members, the Canterbury Public Library reopened in its pre-earthquake location on Gloucester Street. It was New Zealand’s first library to have an automated library system and the first library in Australasia to have an internet presence.
In 2000, with well over fifteen suburban/mobile branches (Spreydon being the first, opening in 1971), the Canterbury Public Library was renamed to the Christchurch Public Libraries.
A new chapter awaits this popular public service as the media openly seeks the city’s opinion of what our new library should be. As of 2015, with a new design all drawn up, it looks to be part of the rebuild of the new Cathedral Square.
The attached photo shows the ground floor of the Reference Room of the now demolished Old Library Chambers, cnr of Cambridge Terrace and Hereford Street, circa 1930’s.
*Image courtesy of the Christchurch City Libraries – CCL PhotoCD 8, IMG0018 and link to http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/Heritage/Photos/Disc8/img0018.asp*