Crisis - The Children's Library of Upper Riccarton


So much of the energy and drive of the children's library, had been maintained by Gwen Mills and when she became terminally ill in 1993, Hazel Blake, the secretary-treasurer, herself due to move away from the area, called a meeting, with Erina Parks attending on behalf of the Canterbury Public Library. Only six were present and most of these were now elderly women and unable to extend their contribution of time or energy. All felt they "had done their bit" (surely an under-statement!) and that the closing of the library had seemed inevitable for some years past. A motion was put to meeting "That the library committee voluntarily wind up the operation of the Sir John McKenzie Memorial Children's Library, the last day of operation being 23rd April 1993". Erina Parks and Hazel Blake agreed to visit Gwen Mills immediately after the meeting to inform her of the decision. Understandably it was a very distressing situation, for all involved. Gwen Mills, who had given 40 years to the library, not surprisingly, found it very difficult to fully accept the finality of the committee's decision.

The City Librarian, Dorothea Brown, also felt deeply concerned. Although a major new library was planned for the Avonhead/Upper Riccarton area, other areas requiring libraries had been assessed as having greater priority The Upper Riccarton area was unlikely to see a new library for at least a decade and the Sir John McKenzie children's library filled an important role for children in this area. Dorothea Brown felt a concerted attempt should be made to help get the library back on its feet.

The remaining volunteers decided with Gwen's passing it was indeed the end of an era and decided to retire. With the help of Trish Heaton from the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library (across the road and still going strong) a campaign was started to attract new volunteers. Posters and news statements were widely distributed, including to local school newsletters. A local newspaper, The News Advertiser, printed a photo in a prominent page, with a caption saying "Helpers Urgently needed at children's library once or twice a month between 3 pm and 4.30 pm"

On the evening of Tuesday 6 July 1993 a meeting was held in the children' library building. Reflecting the difficulty the former committee had had, the turn-out was small and mainly composed of city library and community board representatives. Nonetheless the genesis of a new committee was there, with Trish Heaton taking on the role of president, Bob Dolan the task of treasurer and Ann Whitnall agreeing to be secretary. Through their efforts further volunteers and committee members were attracted.

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