A Home For the Library - The Children's Library of Upper Riccarton

A Home For the Library

Confronted - indeed "startled" - by such passionate commitment and success the committee of the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library agreed the women definitely had the start of a Children's Library. It was decided to make available a new room, which had recently been added to the back of their library, as a site for this. Although not huge it did have the advantage of facing north and being warmed by plenty of sunshine. Mind you it had to be shared. It was used twice weekly by the Plunket Society, and three times weekly by a bank. It was also used as a depot for collecting payments of Power Board accounts, and often hired out for evening meetings and socials. If it was used as a children's library all records and inappropriate items, etc would need to be cleared away after each library session. Nonetheless the women were delighted to have a space to call their own. There were obviously real advantages, too, of being located in an existing library building. Perhaps a little overwhelmed by the women's energy, the War Memorial library committee also granted independence to the former sub-committee and gave them the blessing to operate as a completely separate committee and to run their own affairs, as the Upper Riccarton Children's Library.

Meanwhile the headmaster of Riccarton Primary School (whose committee would raise ten pounds towards the project) inspired by the women's efforts, had initiated a book drive inviting all parents to offer one book to the new library project. (His only comment to the women was, "As no long as there are no silly space rocket books", concerned such books gave children the ridiculous idea that one day people were going to be able to travel to the moon!). Some of the books went straight to the rubbish bin but there were gems and genuine quality donations amongst them too. Other books were offered by those who had heard of the project, steadily adding to the original 700. Few of these books were "an answer to a librarian's prayer" but the Canterbury Public Library did come to the women's assistance in one respect. For a very small charge the Canterbury Public Library sent out two members of their bindery staff to teach the women how to repair and recover books, and provided samples of the requisite materials. And then came back out a second time when the children's library group said there were still things they weren't sure about. Part of Maurie Fazackerley's car repair workshop, at the Church Corner end of Yaldhurst Road was obtained as a place to store the books and used as a workroom for repairing them.

The six women themselves were inspired by how much they had achieved, as were two other women who joined them. The founding mothers of the new library were May Britnell, Margaret Allingham, Margaret Doody, Flo Thompson, Valerie Clark, Joan Fazackerley, Ivy Cameron and Gwen Mills. Although Joan Fazackerley was acknowledged as the natural leader and spokesperson there was little hierarchy and much team spirit. Everybody who participated in the work was perceived as being a committee member. Strong bonds of friendship that would last a life-time were created during the long hours of working together. Each book in the large stacks, was assessed for its literary and educational merits and physical condition. Any torn pages and loose bindings were patched and repaired, worn books were supplied with a new linen spine, and all books given a catalogue number on page 31 and the title details entered on to a catalogue card. The women rapidly developed the skills to repair books to quite a professional standard.

The mothers on the Children's Library were not wealthy women with time on their hands but hard working mothers often with families of three, four or more children. At that time, according to the census, almost half the population of New Zealand still did not own an electric stove, washing machines or fridge. For some on the committee washing was done by firing up the copper in the wash-house. There were nappies of the younger ones to be washed and hung, children to be breakfasted and packed lunches made, for mother as well as the children, and a dozen other household tasks completed before they even stepped outside the door of their house. Then it was a case of seeing the older kids off to school and pushing the preschoolers in the push chair, or carrying them on the child-seat of the bicycle, down to the workroom in the garage. The mothers gathered regularly about 8.30 or 9.00 am and set about the task of selecting and repairing and cataloguing books, in between chatting, laughing and dreaming up ever more ingenious ways to raise funds for new and better books, stationary, shelving and equipment. And then, with the afternoon crowding in, off to meet up the older children, cooking tea for husbands and children, bed time baths and stories and the other endless demands. There were long hard days but they were exciting nonetheless. Especially as the designated opening day drew close.

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