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Public libraries in Christchurch have come a long way in 150 years

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29 January 2009

It’s fair to say that when libraries were introduced to Christchurch 150 years ago they were pretty much just about books. But certainly not any more.

Since the city’s first public library service started in 1859, Christchurch City Libraries Ngā Kete Wānanga-o-Ōtautahi has come a long way, with close to 1 million items in its collection and more than 70% of residents signed up as members.

Tomorrow – Friday 30 January – marks the start of the 150th anniversary year and Libraries and Information Manager Carolyn Robertson says we have a lot be proud of in our public library service.


Canterbury Public Library, circa 1903-1907 (before the YMCA was built on the other corner in 1908).

“From its beginnings, the public library in Christchurch has provided residents with the precious resources of recreational reading and information along with comfortable public spaces in which to enjoy them,” said Ms Robertson.

“It was this reputation for excellence that inspired me to come and work here in 2003. I wanted to be part of this dynamic and successful public library.”

Since its beginnings in a single room in 1859, Christchurch City Libraries have clocked up some impressive ‘firsts’.

It was New Zealand’s first public library to introduce a computerised lending system in 1975 and introduced the country’s first Books for Babies programme in 1990.

Reflecting on development of the service, Ms Robertson says she is always struck by how well it has adapted to the physical, social and technological changes that have impacted our community over the years.

“This ability to adapt and evolve alongside the community has kept Christchurch City Libraries relevant and accessible throughout its history.

“I am proud that Christchurch City Libraries is a leader in the provision of online services and digital content through its website.

“I also strongly believe the ongoing place of technology and digitisation across our services will continue to improve access for customers as well as provide greater recreation and information choices.

“Our library buildings now provide places where we can browse, relax, learn and meet friends for coffee.

“These attractive vibrant spaces provide a ‘living room away from home’ giving customers more reasons to stay and enjoy their libraries for longer. We really have come a long way!”

The anniversary celebrations will swing into gear tomorrow with the launch of a dedicated website and online competition to win a Dell Laptop computer. will carry many colourful and quirky stories from the Libraries’ archives and outlines what’s in store in the lead up until the official anniversary month of August.

During the year the Christchurch City Libraries will play host to a range of competitions, events, exhibitions and displays throughout its network of 20 library branches.

Entries for the online competition to win a Dell Laptop computer close 20 February.

For more information phone Communications Advisor Robyn Fennell on 941 8762 or 027 236 9054.

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