150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Lyttelton Library

The Lyttelton Library is the oldest public library in Canterbury. The Canterbury Association ships full of settlers arrived in Lyttelton in late 1850 and by May 1851, people were looking to establish a reading room. Following a public meeting at the Canterbury Association offices in May 1851, John Robert Godley offered a room for use as a reading room which would also contain some school books. On June 30 the room was open to the public with 500 volumes organised under the guidance of a Mr Calvert. Forty subscribers paid one guinea a year to access the books and newspapers from Lyttelton, Wellington and Sydney. A geological collection taken from the Selwyn Valley by Public Works Surveyor Mr Cridland was also displayed in the room.

Run By The Colonists Society

The reading room was taken over by the Colonists Society (established in 1852) and subscriptions were extended to include lectures and discussions. The library was open daily from 10am to 10pm with the exception of Wednesday evenings. Mr Godley donated a selection of law books and Captain Simeon also donated 750 volumes. The Colonists Society wanted the library to be the focus of the town and by 1860 the reading room had Sydney, Adelaide, Tasmanian and New Zealand journals, plus the London Times, Spectator, Illustrated News and the Australian and New Zealand Gazettes.

Lyttelton Library, 1 Sumner RoadOn 22 November 1867 the library and reading room moved to the newly constructed Colonist’s Hall in Oxford Street, occupying the ground floor. Mr W. Godfrey was appointed librarian at an annual salary of 75 pounds. The library opened from 10am to 4pm and 6pm to 10pm daily.

In 1887 the Lyttelton Borough Council took over the running of the library. In 1902 it moved to the building on the corner of Oxford Street and Sumner Road where it remained until well into the twentieth century.

New homes for the library

In July 1978 the library moved to 1 Sumner Road, next to the police station. This building was designed by architects Collins and Harman and built in 1887 on the site originally designated for the town’s marketplace. The building originally housed the local council offices as well as the Magistrates’ Court. Special features of the building included a safe and vault, an imposing grand staircase and a large window with original coloured and patterned glass.

On Thursday June 30, 1983, the Lyttelton Library celebrated their 132nd birthday by dressing up in period costume. The celebrations were attended by Mrs Isobel McLean, a former librarian. The current librarian was Wendy Gallagher. The library now had 9,000 books. Books were mostly free although there was a small rental section. Opening hours were 10am to 5pm Monday to Friday with a late night on Thursday from 6pm to 8pm. The library was establishing a local history collection and also had the Lyttelton Times Room, boasting 138 volumes of that paper. A project was under way to index the newspapers with information directly applicable to Lyttelton and its history. Issues from the library were 42,000 a year and the library had there were 1379 and 590 members with 100 out of town subscribers.

New Lyttelton LibraryNow under the management of the Banks Peninsula District Council, the library moved to its present site on the corner of London and Canterbury Streets in April 1999. Local writer Joe Bennett commented in the Press:

“First the good news: Lyttelton has a new library. Instead of an old, cold building we now have something that is warm and modern. Although the building has been painted the colour of fresh lung tissue, its atmosphere is inviting, the carpet is scattered with cushions for children to lie on and the whole of Lyttelton rejoices.”

Reflecting its location in a busy and historic port town, the library is home to the Lyttelton Nautical Collection – a collection of sea stories and maritime history books presented by former Lyttelton resident, Captain Peter Smith. The Nautical Collection comprises some 150 titles, mainly non-fiction, on seafaring and nautical history as well navigation and some famous sailors and sea journeys. Captain Smith retired to Melbourne and presented the collection to the library on October 1, 1990.

On 6 March, 2006 Lyttelton Library became part of the Christchurch City Libraries network as part of the local government amalgamation of Christchurch City Council and Banks Peninsula District Council. Today it is a busy place, still playing a central role in the life of the Lyttelton community.


Library travels with my Father