Story: Libraries

Page 3. Research libraries

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The Grey Collection of Auckland City Libraries, the Hocken Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library are the three foremost research libraries in New Zealand. All have their origins in major donations of books and other research material. The stacks are closed, which means the items can be examined in the library only, and cannot be borrowed.

Grey Collection

In 1882 politician and former governor Sir George Grey wrote of his plan to donate a substantial collection of books and manuscripts to the Auckland Library. The existing library building was in poor condition and the initial donation of around 8,000 items did not take place until 1887, when a new library opened.

Labour of love

By the time the Hocken Library opened in 1910 Thomas Hocken was stricken with cancer and unable to attend the official opening. Instead he sent a letter that was read out. He wrote: ‘This work has been to me a labour of love … and in it I have put into practice a sentiment I have always held: that it is the bounden duty of every citizen to do something for his State in the welfare of which his own happiness and prosperity is very largely found.’1

Grey continued to donate to the library throughout his life, and the Grey Collection eventually numbered 14,000 items. Grey’s donations made the Auckland Library one of the best in the southern hemisphere. The collection is diverse and ranges from medieval manuscripts to 19th-century New Zealand documents and English literature. It attracts researchers from around the world.

Hocken Library

Dunedin doctor Thomas Morland Hocken gifted his collection of early New Zealand manuscripts, letters, books, photographs and paintings to the University of Otago in 1908, after first announcing this plan in 1897. He wanted his collection to form the nucleus of a free library or museum. A new wing was built on the university museum and the Hocken Library opened its doors in 1910. It is now in a separate building.


The Turnbull’s first librarian, Johannes Andersen, was a sometimes formidable fellow who carefully guarded the library’s collection. Writer Robin Hyde said, ‘with all due respect to a most conscientious librarian, I think that Mr. Andersen is one reason why the Turnbull Library is not more generally known and appreciated. He is enamoured of his books, becomes as excited as the eccentric professor of an Edgar Wallace yarn does one desire to see them. “No, no, you can’t have that to-day,” is his favourite wild cry, as he dashes after some invader.’2

Alexander Turnbull Library

Wellington merchant Alexander Turnbull amassed the largest private library in New Zealand, which he bequeathed to the nation on his death in 1918. The collection contained around 55,000 items, and was particularly noteworthy for its New Zealand and Pacific material. His will stated the collection should be kept together to form a reference library and basis for a national collection. The Alexander Turnbull Library opened in Wellington, in Turnbull’s Bowen Street house, in 1920.

In 1965 the Turnbull was incorporated into the new National Library. Some worried that the Turnbull would lose its independence, but it retained a good degree of autonomy. By then the collection was housed in different buildings and was only brought together in 1987, when the new National Library building opened.

  1. Otago Daily Times, 1 April 1910, p. 2. Back
  2. Quoted in Rachel Barrowman, The Turnbull: a library and its world. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995, pp. 37–38. Back
How to cite this page:

Julia Millen, 'Libraries - Research libraries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 July 2024)

Story by Julia Millen, published 22 Oct 2014