The 160th Anniversary of Christchurch City Libraries and the Illuminate exhibition

Driving around Christchurch in 2009, I was proud to see billboards celebrating the 150th anniversary of Christchurch City Libraries. It was heart-warming to see my adopted city acknowledge that getting to this point was no mean feat and definitely something worth shouting from the roadsides (if not rooftops). Christchurch City Libraries made a gift of free internet access at their libraries as part of their celebrations. 

Libraries have been a prominent feature in Christchurch, more or less since the inception of the city. The first public library in Christchurch was the Mechanics' Institute which opened in the Town Hall on 4th August 1859.

The Library buildings pictured from the Hereford Street bridge 
The Library buildings pictured from the Hereford Street bridge [1897] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0080

Our library service has grown from the room shared in the Town Hall to a large network of 21 physical libraries (including our Mobile library) plus our online presence. Reading about the evolution of the library service, I'm struck by the long history of innovation. When Tūranga opened last year, we were eagerly looking forward to what new services and initiatives would be there. When showing a colleague from Barnsley Libraries around Tūranga earlier this year, she was completely amazed by what she saw on each floor. After so many years of austerity in the U.K. to see a library service, promoting 3D printing, vinyl cutting, a recording studio as well as such a wide variety of books and magazines was truly inspiring. But more importantly, the fact that we are opening and refurbishing libraries within the heart of our communities and that vacancies in libraries are overwhelmed with applications is proof that libraries remain vital and relevant today.

So, I wonder what new innovations our people and spaces will develop over the next 10 years? Will our staff be producing podcasts? Will we be lending tools as well as books? How will technology that hasn't been developed yet be incorporated into our libraries?

In the aftermath of the earthquakes our network of libraries became invaluable social hubs, providing our local communities with a sense of normality, continuity, a place to gather and recharge as well as getting access to accurate, up-to-date information. Libraries became mobile pop-up spaces as we delivered services in a new responsive way that had not been done before.

One thing that is for certain, we are agile, resilient and flexible enough as a service to respond to the challenges and opportunities that the future holds.

Many happy returns, Christchurch City Libraries. May we have many more anniversaries to come.

Illuminate: Unearthing treasures from our collection (3 August - 27 October)

To celebrate our 160th birthday, we've gone deep into our vaults and rummaged our shelves to bring you some of our favourite gems.

Stunning, unexpected, extraordinary, curious - come and find your favourite!

The exhibition features very rare books, including An Account of a Voyage Around the World, by James Cook, published in 1773, original New Zealand art works, historic maps, reproductions of vintage posters from the 1970s and 1980s including some printed by record label Flying Nun, and a typescript of Catalogue of the Universe by celebrated local author Margaret Mahy.

Read: Exhibition shines a light on 160 years of Christchurch City Libraries, Newsline, 5 August 2019.

Located on Tuakiri | Identity, Level 2, Tūranga, Te Pito Huarewa/Southbase Gallery houses exhibitions that reflect the cultural identity and history of Christchurch and Canterbury.

My taonga, your taonga

  • Pick up a bookmark
  • Find your taonga in the library
  • Put this bookmark in your taonga for others to find
  • Hunt for other people's taonga
  • Share on social media #mytaonga #yourtaonga


Photos of the Illuminate exhibition on Flickr.

Illuminate: Unearthing treasures from our collection

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