Free reading for one and all

22:41, Sep 24 2012
library street view
Looking from the Perth St intersection to the Public Library and Municipal Buildings on the corner of Latter St and King George Place, circa 1938.

South Canterbury is now a click away from the library. And late fees could also be a thing of the past after the roll-out of electronic books started last week. Publications will be available for users to access on their eReaders, tablets, smartphones, iPods, laptops or PCs. Past Times looks back at the early days of the Timaru library. --------------------

Friday, June 4, 1909


library landscape
The public library on the corner of George St and Latter St, possibly soon after the building was completed. Image from a postcard addressed to a "Miss Kate Sherlock, Russell Sqr, Timaru" and has a half penny New Zealand stamp.


Yesterday afternoon the formal opening of the public library, an institution for which the public of Timaru have to chiefly thank the Mayor, Mr James Craigie, MP, Mr Andrew Carnegie, and the Mechanics Institute authorities, took place in glorious weather. A temporary dais had been erected outside the building and on this were His Worship the Mayor, Mr W H Foden, president of the Mechanics Institute, Councillors Oborn, Raymond and Sinclair, and Mr Walther Panton, the designer of the handsome structure.

Apologies for absence were received from Deputy Mayor Hawkey, and Mr J Jackson, chairman of the South Canterbury Education board. A good number of both sexes assembled to witness the function, and listen to the speeches, which were received with flattering attention.


At the conclusion of the ceremony, and when His Worship had formally declared the building open, the public took advantage of the opportunity and make a thorough inspection of the commodious premises. As yet only the news-room is furnished with reading matter, and some little time will elapse before the book department can be got ready for the issue of books.

In his opening remarks, Mr Craigie expressed pleasure at seeing so many present. The opening of the library, he said, must be regarded as another milestone in the history of the progress of the town, and a very important one indeed.

The Mechanics Institute, which was now superseded by the new library, had had a long period of usefulness, but it was unfortunate in that it was not financially successful. The institution was not assisted in any way by endowments, and had to rely for its maintenance solely upon the subscriptions of it members, and as they were never in proportion to the population of the borough and the suburbs, the institution was always in a more or less languishing condition.

In later years its position became rather worse than before, and at the present time there was a deficiency in its finances of some £200. About four years ago he wrote to Mr Andrew Carnegie, placing before him the claims of Timaru for a share in his generosity, and grant from the money which he was devoting to the establishment of public libraries throughout the world.

A considerable amount of correspondence passed between himself and Mr Carnegie, and finally he was able to inform the Borough Council that Mr Carnegie was willing to make a grant of £3000 for the erection of a library building in Timaru. Further steps were taken by the passage of a bill through Parliament, and by holding a meeting of subscribers of the Institute and gaining their consent to hand it over to the Borough of Timaru.

Mr Carnegie asked for a photograph of the existing library building, and when he received it he replied that he considered the building was quite good enough for Timaru. Further correspondence was addressed to Mr Carnegie, explaining that the library was situated in an unfavourable position, and the Borough Council offered to supplement a grant for a building by providing a site and devoting the proceeds from the sale of the Mechanics' Institute property to the fitting and furnishing of the new library.

Mr Carnegie fell in with this proposal, but before actually giving the money asked for plans of the proposed building. Competitive designs were invited for a library, municipal offices, and town hall, and of the four received, Mr W Panton's was awarded first prize.

The plan was forwarded to Mr Carnegie with a request that should he approve of it, he should cable the instruction "Proceed."

The grant make to Timaru was £3000, and the conditions under which the money was given were that the reading rooms should be open to everyone, and that the lending library should be free to ratepayers of the borough.

The council, however, decided that the library should be free to rentpayers as well as ratepayers, and the Timaru public library was the first public library where this concession was made.

This applied to the circulating department only; the other departments of the library were free to the whole world.

The Timaru Herald