150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Shirley Library

Shirley Library is the epitome of a community library, drawing a loyal band of customers and building significant relationships with local schools and neighbouring community housing occupants. At the heart of the Shirley community it has co located first with the Shirley Shopping Centre and later with The Palms mall.

Shirley library 1988Shirley Library opened in July 1981 on a site now covered by The Palms. Its' approximate location was where the fruit and vegetable section of Woolworth’s supermarket now stands

It was the fifth professionally staffed community library to open in the Christchurch network. When long serving Shirley staffer Barbara Reed started work in 1986 there were four staff.

As the library grew the City Council purchased two flats in Golf Links Road and leased one of them to the library to be used for storage and a staff room. Later a Portacom was used. The library was given a repaint and recarpet in 1993 but by 1995 a new building was underway on a different site next to the developing Palms Mall.

The new Shirley Library

In January 29 1996 the new library opened in a purpose-built building shared with the Christchurch City Council Shirley Service Centre. The building included a boardroom for the community board.

The library publication Bookmark published information in its March 1996 issue (page 2):

“The new library, which more than doubles the previous library, features an activities room for class visits, story times, senior citizens guest speaker programmes and other activities. The building, designed by Ian Krause Architects Ltd and built by Fletcher Construction, was provided by the developers of the new Shirley Shopping Centre – to be know as The Palms – to allow for expansion of the shopping centre and carpark over the previous library and service centre land. The Christchurch City Council provided the fit out costs for the building. In conjunction with the opening a self-issue unit was installed. This gives the borrowers the option of issuing their own books and magazines (but not audio-visual material at present) or having library staff issue them and will give staff more time to answer enquiries and develop further services.”

On June 24 1996 Shirley was one of three libraries in the libraries network to launch internet access.


Shirley Library fireSevere damage was caused by a fire on the night of 20 April. The fire brigade received the first call at 11pm and eight engines attended. The fire was most likely caused by a fault in the kitchen/dishwasher area of the staffroom which was located in the centre of the building between the library and the service centre. The fire built in intensity and could not be contained by the firewall which had a gap with the ceiling. A fireball rolled along the ceiling to the Marshland Road end of the library.

Community Librarian Sally Thompson was driving home from a Tina Turner concert when she saw engines racing to the fire. “I think my library is on fire,” she told her friend. She notified City Librarian Sue Sutherland who rushed to the scene and the two surveyed the situation with a sense of disbelief. Early next morning Sally had the task of ringing her team with the news. Shocked staff and former staff gathered at the scene.

When staff were allowed in to the library in the morning the books appeared undamaged by fire but were smoke and water damaged with pieces of the ceiling scattered all over them. Barbara Reed recalls the “intense burnt smell”. The staffroom and offices were worst hit with metal and electrical fittings twisted and computers melted. Some windows were blown out.

The damage was so bad that the building had to be completely gutted and the roof replaced, along with some of the structural beams. The air conditioning unit, sprinkler systems, electrical systems, data cabling, walls, furniture and stock had to be completely replaced.

On the afternoon after the fire shocked staff met at librarian Sally Thompson’s house to debrief and talk. In the next few days they were relocated to other community libraries until the reconstruction process was complete. They were supported by an outpouring of messages and flowers from librarians around the country. Customers were provided with a regular bus service to the nearest library, Linwood.

Writing about the fire, Sally Thompson penned:

“Probably one of the saddest losses at the hands of the fire was the loss of the stock. We lost half of our resources in the fire and the replacement of these has proved exciting, demanding and often disappointing. The fire occurred at the end of the school holidays and much of the children’s stock was out. Our children’s librarian has one a wonderful job of replacing as many books, CDs, videos and tapes as possible and we are sure the children will be delighted with the new look of the Children’s area.

“The adult stock fared worse and there are noticeable gaps in some areas that will take several years to fill. As the publishing world tends to be rather ‘faddish” there are subject areas that will remain elusive until they come into vogue again.”

She wrote that the Sound and Vision collection almost 100 per cent replaced and “looks great, as does the magazine collection”.

Library re-opened

Barbara Reed (Assistant Community Librarian) with Pete the library cat – opening of new Shirley LibraryThe library reopened on Saturday 31 January 1998 with extended opening hours, including Saturdays 10am-1pm. Regular customers were invited to a special morning tea. Pete the library cat found alternative accommodation. The layout of the library was changed with the community board’s meeting room being located to New Brighton and the kitchen and staffroom moved to the east end of the building.

Barbara Reed recalled some of the customers over the years. Miss Brown, who lived across Marshland Road from the library where the Hearing Clinic now operates, was a regular. In her 80s, she was distinguished by waist length hair that was wound round her head in braids. On the night of the library fire she apparently ran across the road in her nightgown imploring the firemen to “save the cat”.

Another elderly customer lived in a house completely surrounded by the mall carpark. She wouldn’t sell up and said she would be “carried out in a box”, which was in fact what happened. Barbara remembers her as a generous donor of books to the library and her lovely garden which was full of espaliered trees. After her death her house was sold and the construction of a carparking building for the Mall went ahead.

Shirley Library’s role in the local community is reflected in its relationship with the residents of the council housing units next door. For many of these residents and many others in the community the library is a regular stopping place for a chat. The library has always had strong ties to schools in the area with regular class visits. Sharing the building with the council Service Centre has also strengthened the library’s place in the community.

Shirley continues as one of the busiest libraries in the network, offering a seven day a week service as a vital part of its’ community.

Shirley Library Photos

Photos from www.flickr.com


  • Bookmark February 1998
  • Interviews with Barbara Reed and Sally Thompson


Library travels with my Father