Temporary branch closure

Ngā Puna Waiora | Newtown will be closed for essential work from Monday 15 July, reopening on Monday 29 July. Read more information.

Online Payments

We are currently experiencing an outage to our online payments system. Check other payment options.

History of Wellington City Libraries

Wellington City Libraries - in various forms - has been a part of the Wellington community since 1841.

Rongotai College boys transfer books from the first Wellington Public Library to the new building in 1940.

The library struggled in establishing itself initially, but persevered, running out of a variety of places with a variety of operators. In 1893 the library 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 that time, the library network has continued to grow in size and number, with new buildings built or refurbished to support the growth of branch library services in Wellington.

Chronology
Year

1840.

Dr Frederick Knox was appointed Librarian.

1841

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

1842

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.

1850

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.

1869

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

1874

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

1877

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

1888

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

1889

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.

1890

The 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. A poll taken by the Council on whether to work within the Public Library Act prompted their decision to fund the first public library building.

1892

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.

1893

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).

1902

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

1904

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

1905

The Brooklyn branch library opened.

1910

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

1920

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

1928

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

1930

The Ngaio branch library opened.

1932

The Wadestown library opened in Pitt Street.

1933

The Miramar branch library opened.

1936

The Lyall Bay branch library opened.

1940

A purpose-built public library opened on Mercer Street.

1946

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

1947

The Mobile library service began.

1951

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

1953

Island Bay and Khandallah Branch Libraries opened.

1957

Newtown branch library moved into new premises.

1960

Brooklyn branch library moved into new premises.

1965

Johnsonville branch library moved into new premises.

1969

Karori branch library moved into new premises.

1973

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

1983

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

1984

Miramar branch library moved into new premises in Miramar Avenue.

1988

Wadestown branch library opened in new premises.

1989

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.

1990

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

1991

The current Central library (Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui) opened on Victoria and Mercer Streets.

1994

Jane Hill appointed as City Librarian.

1997

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

1998

First library website and online catalogue launched, with customers able to reserve.

2002

Customer catalogue made available in Te Reo Māori.

2005

New Karori branch library opens.

2006

Wellington City Council votes to end the Mobile Library service.

2011

Digital collections were expanded to include downloadable eBooks and eAudiobooks.

2013

John Stears appointed as the Libraries and Community Spaces Manager.

2016

Chris Hay appointed as the Libraries and Community Spaces Manager

2018

Laurinda Thomas appointed as the Libraries and Community Spaces Manager

2019

Central Library building closed for earthquake strengthening. Interim CBD branches Arapaki and He Matapihi were opened. Johnsonville Branch Library moved into new premises at Waitohi, including the libraries’ first Makerspace, the HIVE.

2020

Interim CBD branch Te Awe was opened. A Collection and Distribution Centre was established to store Central Library collections and serve customer requests.

2022

Wellington City Council votes to end library overdue fees.

Further reading:

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

Dale, Sue, Opening Windows on the Wide World. Wellington City Libraries, 1998.

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.

Wellington City Libraries. Photographs. (Wellington City Recollect)