150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

New Brighton Library / Te Kete Wānanga o Karoro

Library services in New Brighton developed in a way similar to many other areas of Christchurch - first as a community run system run by locals, subsequently with assistance from a local Borough Council, and later through amalgamation, as part of Christchurch City Council services. Now New Brighton is home to a much admired library on the foreshore.

Early days in New Brighton

The only known photo of the library built in 1911 was this one taken in 1945 with the fire brigade in the foreground Caption

" The Coronation Library built in 1911, shown here at rear, had the local fire brigade for neighbours."

For the first three decades of Christchurch settlement New Brighton was a forlorn, isolated and windswept beach, described as a place of bleached whale bones, but from the late 1880s the area began to develop as a beach resort. A major impetus to growth was the creation of a horse drawn tram way system across the scrubby sand hills and paddocks which separated New Brighton from the centre of Christchurch.

The construction of a long wooden pier in the English style, with an admission charge and sideshow type stalls, added to its attraction as a resort. Even so local growth was slow. In 1890, when the New Brighton District Improvements Society voted to establish a library, the area could still only boast 367 residents. A large number of donations of books were made to the new library, and Mr Sefton, a local grocer, offered to take charge of them until a suitable room could be obtained. Membership of the library was by payment of an annual subscription.

New Brighton Coronation Library

On January 14 1897, a New Brighton Borough Council was established. With trams to access work places in Christchurch the population of the area increased threefold in four years. Recognising the contribution the community run library made to the district the library was placed under municipal control in 1911, with an operating grant of ten pounds per year. Also in 1911 the Council voted 150 pounds towards the cost of a new building, a government subsidy matching this amount pound for pound.

The building – called the New Brighton Coronation Library to commemorate the crowning of King George V the previous year - was in the modern bungalow style, with a tile roof, gas lighting and leadlight windows. There were two main rooms - a free reading room and a circulation area and the library was administered by a committee of subscribers and operated by volunteers. Opening hours included Saturday nights.

Further residential and commercial growth in the New Brighton area was stimulated when the trams were placed under public control and electrified in early years of the 20th century, making it possible to bring huge numbers to New Brighton for carnivals (14,000 by tram to one event in 1909) and fostering holiday stays.

Responding to the tourism, in 1927 a monthly ticket was created to allow visitors staying in the area to also borrow items. Said one newspaper report "A holiday by the sea is considerably enhanced by the knowledge that one may get good books at reasonable charges."

The poor quality of the sandy soil kept the eastern suburbs from attracting wealthier home buyers, establishing New Brighton as an area of humble (often self built) homes and holiday baches, and a staunch Labour voting area. It also attracted something of a reputation as a home to eccentrics, artists and “bohemians” – no doubt making for an interesting mix of library patrons.

A new library building

In 1941 New Brighton Borough Council was amalgamated with Christchurch City Council. In 1958 the bungalow style building was demolished and a new, more spacious brick building built on the same site, opened by Christchurch's Mayor George Manning, a man who had done much to foster literacy and education amongst working people through his involvement with the WEA. “The reading of good books was an essential form of relaxation” Manning told the small crowd at the opening of the library.

New library buildingEven so the library at this stage was only opened weekdays 3-4pm and 7-8pm and similar, but slightly longer, hours on Saturdays. At this stage New Brighton library had 11,000 volumes and issues were about 10,500 per year.

Eighteen years later the building was upgraded, with an extension, this time being re-opened by Mayor Hamish Hay. For the first time staff gained lunch and work room facilities away from the public eye. By now the library was an automated branch of Canterbury Public Library, a Branch Librarian had been appointed, and the library was open Tuesday to Saturday. (For many years New Brighton was the only shopping centre in the South Island permitted to offer Saturday shopping).

Replacing the pier

In 1963 the Christchurch City Council declared the old wooden pier unsafe. Demolition was carried out one night in 1965, starting at 2:30am by Ryan Brothers a well known demolition firm of the era. A group of residents had formed the Pier and Foreshore Society to try to save the pier and continued to campaign for a new pier.

Immense faith, commitment and voluntary effort by mainly local residents and businesses resulted in thirty years of lobbying and fundraising for a new pier. In the early 1990s a point was reached where the Christchurch City Council agreed to provide $2 million if the Trust could reach the other $2 million. This amount (or close to) was achieved with additional funding from corporate sponsors and sale of commemorative named paving blocks.

The library at the pier

New Brighton LibraryChristchurch City Council also planned a distinctive building for the shore line as an anchor point of the pier. This was designed by architects Andrew Barclay and Scott Koopman of Warren and Mahoney to have the ambience of a great ocean liner anchored alongside Marine Parade.

The City Council had already budgeted to spend $1.54 million replacing the existing New Brighton Library and combining this with the new pier building made good sense. The decision to site the library in the Pier building was not without some public opposition. This included claims that the building needed a more vibrant, happening attraction and would be under utilised, a white elephant carried by ratepayers.

“The library proposed for the pier terminus building at New Brighton will be a high-tech leisure facility radically different from traditional suburban libraries” Mayor Vicki Buck told news media.

It was expected to draw people from throughout the city. The new library opened on Saturday July 24th 1999: celebrity guests included Abraham, the cat who was “The Builder’s Cat” in Gwenda Turner’s popular children’s book, the Natural Magic Pirates and Salmonella Dub musician Tiki Taane-Tinorau. In the first five weeks over 100,000 people passed through the doors, and all appeared impressed.

The striking design of the building, inside and out, has won several architect honours. Staff are long accustomed to compliments from overseas visitors, impressed by the design and how well patronised the library facilities are ("We have nothing like this library in our country, how wonderful" etc). New Brighton remains a busy library, attracting many visitors, not only to borrow books, CDs and DVDs, and to use the computers, and the playstations, but also just to relax and read books or magazines and enjoy the superb sea views.


Library travels with my Father