The Children's Library of Upper Riccarton

Discovering A Need

After twenty years of depression, war, and rationing by the early 1950s New Zealanders were suddenly beginning to sense the dawning of a new prosperity. With this prosperity came, it seemed, a certain loosening of the traditional moral codes. One of these was the spread of cheaply produced and marketed comics. In the early fifties there was, as one commentator put it, "a great uproar throughout the country about the masses of "horror" comics available to our children". Joan Fazackerly, a mother of four children in their early primary school years was among those concerned. The spread of these gruesome and tawdry comics was pervasive, and they inevitably found their way into the playground culture of children everywhere. Whilst attending a meeting of the Plunket Society in the Riccarton area Joan found other mothers there felt as she did about their children being exposed to such trashy publications. The group of mothers discussing the problem "came to the conclusion that their youngsters seemed to turn to comics only when there was nothing better available." Books were far too expensive to buy in quantities sufficient to keep up with enthusiastic demands of young readers. Yet no children's library existed closer than the city centre, a considerable bus journey away and, anyway, a journey impossible for the younger children to make alone. The city library was also not part of their own rating area. Primary school libraries in that era barely existed, with few schools having a complete room dedicated as a library. Such was the energy and interest generated by the discussion about good books for children, six of the mothers decided to start their own children's library! The obvious starting place seemed to visit the only existing library in the area, the voluntary library at Church Corner, the Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library.

This library had been opened in 1919 as a very practical form of memorial to those from the district who gave their lives in the First World War, the first of seven such war memorial libraries built around New Zealand. The site had been a generous gift from John Edward Hanson, given in exchange for the far less valuable site of the old library, by 1919 described as "decrepit". This was probably a building, once associated with the Reverend Tyrell's School (which ran in the 1890s) some distance down Hanson's Lane and too far away from settlement at Church Corner to receive a great deal of patronage. Appropriately enough the War Memorial foundation stone had been laid by Lady Bowen, of Middleton Grange, widow of the man most closely associated with the introduction of compulsory education to New Zealand in 1877, Sir Charles Bowen.

The Upper Riccarton War Memorial Library was run by volunteers, mostly older men, some of them First World War veterans. When approached by this handful of women the men were in equal parts sympathetic and sceptical. "Have you any idea of the cost of books? Don't you realise the hazards and complications of trying to start a library? Who knows better than we do the great difficulties of trying to keep a library going relying only upon volunteers!"

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