The Children's Library of Upper Riccarton

Sharing the Experience Gained

The success of the Upper Riccartion mothers also inspired them to contact a group of mothers in the very new housing sub-division at Hei Hei and offer them some surplus books so they too could start a children's library. The book stock at the J. R. McKenzie library had risen to over 4,000 books making it possible to cull out 400 of the best of the remaining Opawa library books and supply them to form the core of yet another children's library. The Sir John McKenzie team also spent a morning passing on their knowledge and providing a "quite unexpected, delicious morning tea" to the women from Hei Hei, a smaller library the Upper Riccarton women would continue to support in a variety of ways over the years to come. The creation of a library specifically for children may also have played a role in inspiring similar libraries elsewhere. After approaches from parents in Cashmere the Heathcote County Council constructed the Cashmere Junior Library, on Dyers Pass Road, using reserve funds from the adjoining Rhodes estate. This opened in October 1959 with 100 books. A campaign to have a Hoon Hay Children's library was also begun in the early 60s, and one was later established in Hoon Hay Road.

In 1959 an article, written by Joan Fazackerly telling the story of the library and its origins, was printed in "New Zealand Libraries" the journal of the New Zealand Library Association. Describing the system of having all librarians on the committee (there were 25 at that time) Joan wrote "it has been found that by all having an equal say, many good suggestions can be aired in the proper place, the committee room. This has made for a very harmonious relationship…". Wrote Joan, "I do not think there will be one member on the library committee who does not feel she has been enriched by the experience in this local project for youngsters." Joan was invited to speak at a two day seminar organised by the Country Library Service for volunteers working at the smaller libraries around the province, about what the group at Upper Riccarton group had achieved. She was also interviewed on 3YA, the national radio system, and 3ZB, the local commercial station, about the library.

The Children's LibraryOf course most of the energy went into the never ending cycle of tasks common to all libraries. This included purchasing and cataloging new books, and giving each new book a clear acetate cover; repairing books that had been damaged - often several hundred or even over a thousand a year; issuing and discharging books, offering advice to children or parents about relevant books for homework topics or appropriate books for age reading levels. Although the number of issues was never to reach 26,000 again, throughout the 60s most years the number of annual issues hovered between 15-20,000. The one book at a time rule was retained, but for children living in defined rural areas, of which there were quite a few, two books at time were permitted. An added task for this library of volunteers was the offices of the committee, and the pursuit of additional grants and loans with which to buy new stock.

In the early 60s Joan Fazackerley had a further child, and had to reduce her level of commitment and Gwen Mills was elected President. She would occupy this role for almost three decades. After Valerie Clark resigned as Secretary her place was taken briefly by Dorothy Pennington and then by Molly Watson for some years and subsequently Nona Laurie. June Irving was the dedicated secretary from 1972 to the end of that decade. Hazel Blake who joined the group in 1977 took on the responsibility for maintaining the catalogue, and was secretary (and sometimes also treasurer) from 1981. May Britnell remained treasurer from the earliest beginnings right through until 1966, when Ena Gibson took on the role followed by Thora Gates.

A particularly time consuming task was chasing up over-due books, in the first instance sending out notices but also sometimes involving phoning and even making personal calls to the home of the miscreant. Janet Ragg filled this role for many years, and from 1973 Jean MacDonald took it on and served the library for 20 years in this capacity. Tedious it might have been but it saved the library many thousands of dollars over the years in books that might otherwise have been lost forever. In 1969 it was reported only 61 books [including also those damaged beyond repair] had had to be cancelled, this from a stock of several thousand.

A feature of the library was a fish tank, originally with goldfish, later converted to tropical fish - maintenance of this, as well as many other small odd-jobs fell to "Mr Mills" courteously thanked each year by the president in her report - actually his wife, Mrs Mills, Gwen. Christian names did not appear in records until the 70s, as was normal in that era.

Opening on Friday nights was introduced after the library moved into the new building. Although only open for an hour this proved very popular, the busiest time of the week. This made better lighting imperative and here, as in almost every other aspect of maintenance and improvement, the Paparua County Council provided good support, installing first a better spotlight, then later fluorescent lights in 1971 and, some years later, after a burglary, security lights. The Council also re-painted the library inside and out in 1969 and again in 1979. When a plumber's bill, for what appeared a minor job seemed inordinately high, the County Council had their building inspector check it out, and he was able advise the committee all was in order due to added complications which had arisen. As one could walk over the pedestrian crossing immediately in front of the library and be in Waimairi County, obviously many of the young borrowers were drawn from this area. Appreciating that the library also benefited children of their own ratepayers, the Waimairi County Council also sent the children’s library a donation each year.

At the time the library was built, the large area of land on the eastside, between itself and Hansons Lane, was vacant. In fact it had been purchased in 1950 by a major local retailer, Hays Limited. In his overseas travels James L. Hay had seen the trend towards shopping in major suburban centres. Thinking well ahead of many contemporaries he realised that "The key to success of the shopping centre is the car park." It was only in the fifties that car ownership in New Zealand became the norm for almost every family, (the number of cars registered in Christchurch rising by 30% between 1954 and 1957). James Hay bided his time until 1960. In that year the library became neighbour to a large and noisy building site. The largest suburban department store and supermarket ever built in New Zealand to that date was under construction. An unusual aspect was the inclusion of a sculptural work, an abstract but nonetheless recognisable family group, by leading New Zealand artist Russell Clarke, on the forecourt area. It was an appropriate statue for the children's library too, and it eventually outlived the Hay's department store building, which was torn down after only a few decades for an even bigger super-market (and even bigger car park!). When this occurred the statue was moved beside the children's library, building and the librarians in recent years have begun to feel a certain affection and stewardship for "their statue". So much so an offer was made by the volunteers at the library to clean it - definitely not was the response, it requires highly skilled professionals and special techniques!

Another department store in the rapidly growing commercial sector along Riccarton Road in the 60s was the opening a McKenzies branch at Riccarton Mall in 1966 - given the special relationship between the children's library and this generous family, to mark the occasion, the thoughtful Roy McKenzie made a gift of books to the library bearing his father's name. Responding to a request the Paparua County Council had extended the bike stands in 1959, very necessary in the early years but as traffic grew in the last decades of the century, with a busy adjoining car park, it became increasingly difficult for children to ride directly to the library. Formal school parties sometimes made visits with the library being opened in the morning especially to facilitate this. In 1967 a request for 25 application forms came from a teacher at Russley School, with the comment "the children have the need for a wider reading material".

In 1968, ten years after opening in the new building, issues stood at 19,719, book stock at an estimated 4,369 titles and membership at 2,306 children - 377 financial members at, [now decimal currency had been introduced] 75 cents per year and 1,929 free members who paid 3 cents per item borrowed. New carpet was installed with help from the County Council and one of the husbands made a far more effective book return bin for after hours returns.

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