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Story: Libraries

Reading is a popular pastime in New Zealand. Thanks to the many and varied libraries around the country – and dedicated librarians – Kiwis enjoy access to a wide range of books and other resources.

Story by Julia Millen
Main image: University of Otago Information Services building, 2008

Story Summary

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Early days

New Zealand’s first public library opened in Wellington in 1841. Around the country more followed, often run by organisations that saw them as a good cause. There were also libraries that operated as businesses.

From 1852 councils and later the government helped fund public libraries. That enabled the libraries to thrive. Some councils took their local libraries over altogether.

Country libraries

In 1938 the government set up the Country Library Service, which used vans to take books to isolated communities until the late 1980s.

School libraries

The School Library Service was established in 1942 to circulate and loan book collections to schools and small public libraries, as well as to support librarians in meeting children’s needs.

The National Library

In 1945 the Country Library Service and the School Library Service joined to create the National Library Service. Twenty years on it also included the Alexander Turnbull Library, the National Newspaper Collection and the copyright collection and legal deposit services of the General Assembly Library.

Research libraries

New Zealand has three major research libraries, all based on private collections that were gifted to the public:

  • the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington
  • the Grey Collection in Auckland
  • the Hocken Collection in Dunedin.

Library associations

The Libraries Association of New Zealand was formed in 1910, the forerunner of the present day Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA). In 1992 a group for Māori librarians, Te Rōpū Whakahau, was set up within LIANZA. It became a stand-alone association in 1996.

Services to Māori

Māori OPAC, New Zealand’s first Māori-language online library catalogue, was launched at Kerikeri Library in 1995. In 2007 Ngā Ūpoko Tukutuku, a new bilingual Māori subject headings list, was promoted in libraries. This was the first collection of indigenous subject headings recognised by the Library of Congress, the national library of the United States.

Libraries in the 21st century

In 2013 there were 667 libraries in New Zealand. Over half were public libraries. Others were in universities, polytechnics, hospitals, research institutes, law firms and other businesses. There were also around 2,500 school libraries.

How to cite this page:

Julia Millen, 'Libraries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/libraries (accessed 25 June 2017)

Story by Julia Millen, published 22 Oct 2014