150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Library of Firsts

Since its beginnings in a single room in 1859, Christchurch City Libraries have clocked up some impressive ‘firsts’ - from being New Zealand’s first public library to introduce a computerised lending system in 1975, to launching the country’s first Books for Babies programme in 1990.

This reputation for innovation has been built by a long line of city librarians always keenly searching to improve the services they could offer their customers.

Literacy and the arts

Ernest Bell, a long serving city librarian (1913 – 1951) championed the use of radio shows for storytelling and book reviews, and in 1955 Ron O’Reilly (city librarian 1951 – 1968) created a fascinating collection of original paintings by a who’s who of New Zealand artists, available for borrowing by library members of the time. This collection is now so valuable that it resides at Christchurch Art Gallery.


Ron O’Reilly also led what has become a tradition of technological innovation with the installation of the first automated circulation (stock management) system in New Zealand libraries. This was followed in 1975 by the first public library computerised lending system in New Zealand, and in 1995 by the library becoming the first in New Zealand to give internet access to its catalogue as well as launching its first web pages.


Although all the early city librarians were men, by the early 1900s women were employed. In 1920 Miss V. K Bull became the first New Zealand library assistant to gain a professional certificate from the Library Association of Great Britain. In 1986, Dorothea Brown became the first female city librarian and the first woman to head a Christchurch City Council department.


Library travels with my Father

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