Wellington City Libraries

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c1893 Wellington Public Library 
(first Council owned Library on the corner of Mercer and Wakefield Streets)

Te Hītori o Ngā Whare Pukapuka o Te Whanganui-a-Tara History of Wellington City Libraries

The library struggled, as its settlers did, in establishing itself, but with commendable perseverance, continued in a variety of places with a variety of operators. In 1893 it found a permanent home in a building on the corner of Mercer and Wakefield Streets financed by the ratepayers of Wellington through the Wellington City Council. From then onwards it has continued to grow in size and number. New buildings have been built or refurbished to support the growth of branch library services in Wellington.

1840: Dr Frederick Knox was appointed Librarian.


The Port Nicholson Exchange and Public Library opened in a raupo hut at the foot of Charlotte (now Molesworth) Street.


The Library closed and the books were presented to the Mechanics' Institute who bought the raupo hut and continued services with subscriptions set at a lower level. This was known as the Port Nicholson Mechanics' Institute, Public School and Library. In October 1843 the Library closed. The Library collection was stored in the offices of the New Zealand Company where it suffered damage from damp and rats.


The Library known as the Wellington Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institute opened near Plimmer's Steps in a small house and was operated by the Athenaeum.


Public Library Act was passed. Its terms outlined how local bodies could finance a local public library, with reading rooms free to the public.


A petition was presented to the Wellington City Council for a free public library.


The Library re-opened in the premises of the Athenaeum, Lambton Quay.


A public library of sorts was housed in Adelaide Road, Newtown.


A proposal was put forward to Council to establish a public library and institute in South Wellington and there was continuing demand for a public library in Wellington city.


c1940 Wellington Public Library

Impetus for the foundation of the Wellington Public Library came with a monetary gift from Mr W. H. Levin, a local merchant, to the city, for the purposes of building a library in the city. A poll taken by the Council for direction on whether to work within the Public Library Act prompted their decision to fund the first public library building.


The Athenaeum offered the book stock from their subscription library to the Council for purchase. The collection was purchased and became the base stock for the lending service.


The first Wellington City Council owned public library building opened on the corner of Mercer and Wakefield Streets. Thomas William Rowe was appointed as the City Librarian (1893 - 1904).


The Newtown branch library was opened after lobbying to the Council by the South Wellington Literary Institute.


Herbert Baillie was appointed as City Librarian (1904 - 1928).


The Brooklyn branch library opened.


The children's section commenced in the Newtown branch and then at the central library.


c1940 Wellington Public Library

The Karori branch library opened under the City Council. It had previously been run by the local borough council.


Joseph Norrie appointed as City Librarian (1928 - 1946).


The Ngaio branch library opened.


The Wadestown branch library opened in Pitt Street.


The Miramar branch library opened.


The Lyall Bay branch library opened.


c1940 Wellington Public Library (first purpose built Library showing Rongotai College boys transferring books from the first Wellington Public Library to the purpose built one on Mercer Street.

A purpose-built public library opened on Mercer Street.

(Left, Rongotai College boys transfer books from the first Wellington Public Library to the new purpose built one.)


Stuart Perry appointed as City Librarian (1946 - 1973).


The Mobile service began.


The Wellington Public Library service moved from subscription-funded to a free service with a rental section.


Island Bay and Khandallah Branch Libraries opened.


Newtown branch library moved into new premises.


Brooklyn branch library moved into new premises.


Johnsonville branch library moved into new premises.


Karori branch library moved into new premises.


Brian McKeon appointed as City Librarian (1973 - 1994).


Johnsonville branch library building extended.


Lyall Bay branch library moved into new premises in Onepu Road and renamed Kilbirnie branch library.


Miramar branch library moved into new premises in Miramar Avenue.


Wadestown branch library opened in new premises.


Cummings Park branch library opened, replacing the former Ngaio branch library, in new premises.
Mervyn Kemp branch library, formerly Tawa Borough Library, joined the Wellington Public Library as a result of local government reorganisation.


A new Mobile Library is designed-purchased.
Newtown branch library moved into new premises.


The current Central library opened on Victoria and Mercer Streets.


Jane Hill appointed as City Librarian.


The Wellington Public Library renamed as Wellington City Libraries.
Kilbirnie branch library moved into new premises.


Kilbirnie branch library renamed as Ruth Gotlieb Library.


New Karori branch library opens.


Wellington City Council votes to end the Mobile Library service.

Further reading:

c1877 Library in Athenaeum building on Lambton Quay.

Bristow, Allister, "A Place of Books was a Pioneering Necessity." Evening Post, 6th October 1973, p43.

McLeod, N. L. and Farland, B. H. (editors) Wellington Prospect: Survey of a City 1840-1970, Wellington, Hicks Smith & Sons, 1970.

Ronnie, Mary, A History of Wellington Public Libraries: Administration Report 1952, Wellington Public Library.

Stevens, Joan, "Brother Fred and the Two Cultures: New Zealand's First Librarian." New Zealand Libraries, 31:175-198, 1968.

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