150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Redwood Library

Redwood Library has held an important place in the heart of its’ community since it opened in 1968. Over the years it has been altered and modernised but its distinctive octagonal shape still stands out.

Redwood libraryThe library was officially opened by Waimairi County Council chairman Barry Rich on Saturday November 9, 1968, as part of the Redwood Community Centre. The centre included Plunket rooms, a committee room and public toilets. The library was large enough to hold 6,000 books.

Planning for the new library

Planning for the library had begun several years earlier. First moves for the community centre came from the Papanui-Styx Residents’ Association. Papanui Riding member Bill Rice was one of the original councillors to get the project underway. In 1965 the council set aside $20,000 for the centre and they later received a lottery grant from the Golden Kiwi Fund. The library was designed by the Waimairi County Council architect Len Wooding.

The road to construction had not always been smooth. The Papanui Herald reported under a heading “Budget for books should be bounced”

“How the Waimairi Council intends setting up the library service at Redwood is concerning local ratepayers interested in library affairs. This is especially so now that the Council has accepted tenders for the first stage of the Redwood Community Centre which will include a library. A budget totalling $56,000 has been suggested by Waimairi County Librarian Mrs T McArtney to equip the new library… of this $48,000 has been recommended for books alone at the high average cost of $4 a book. “These will probably include a lot of expensive reference books,” former Councillor and instigator of Waimairi’s library system Bill Rice told the Herald. ‘In the light of present circumstance, the librarian’s report appears extravagant’ Bill opines.

Three full-time professional librarians whose salaries would amount to $4,670 were also recommended…This would make the Redwood library about the third biggest employer of labour in the Papanui Riding, this paper comments”

Bill Rice contrasted the Papanui volunteer library issuing over 100 books an hour during the eight hours a week it was open with the professionally staffed Fendalton library lending an average of 10 books an hour during the 27 hours it was open. ‘The Redwood Library must cater for the tastes of the community if it is to succeed’ Bill claims.

He said the library should have “a reasonable range of general fiction, mysteries, romances and western as well as non-fiction. It would probably be better to delay the purchase of expensive reference books until the full needs of the community are better known’.”

A visit to the new library

The Herald reported visiting the new library on November 19. Only days after opening the library had more than six hundred members and librarian Mrs L.D Sorrell and her helpers were “flat out.”

“There were 170 adult members and 470 child members enrolled so far. It is open from 1 to 5pm on Mondays, Tuesday, Thursdays and Fridays and until 7pm on Wednesdays to give the men in the community an opportunity to visit it. Attractively furnished, the library has tinted windows to eliminate any glare, brilliant blue mosaic carpet and ‘masses’ of heaters. ‘We have approximately five-and-a-half-thousand books at the moment – we should really have 12,000 going by population’ Mrs Sorrell told the Herald.”

By January 1969 the County Council was discussing wider questions of providing a library service and the first hints of the need for a “metropolitan service” emerged. Councillor Rice commented on the inadequacy of the books at the Redwood Library and stated that it could be as long as 10 years before the library was fully stocked.

Under a heading “What’s in it for us? Residents ask of new Redwood Library” in the Star on March 8, 1969, some residents complained about a lack of their favourite fiction “like Westerns and romances”. The owner of a private book club in Belfast, Mrs E.E. Burgess offered to sell her stock to the Waimairi County Librarian, Mrs Thelma McArtney, who declined the offer saying the books offered were “mainly of one type and were dated. We try to keep abreast with public reading. Whatever people ask for in serious reading or reference we can get for them if they wish, through the Libraries Association.”

Mrs Burgess’s club on the Main North Road was under threat from the planned motorway. She said she opened her club only on Friday nights now, but most of her 150 subscribers remained faithful and she offered them “popular reading, including a good selection of New Zealand authors and some travel books. And lots of Westerns and detective and romance” .

A local resident, Mrs A R. Stagg, was quoted as saying “Most of the books in the new library are for reference. I asked them if they had any Westerns when my father was staying with me, and they said they had nothing in that line. I’ve had a look since, but haven’t found what I like to read. I like to read for relaxation. Children are about all I have seen in the Redwood Library” .

Busier and busier

In September 1969 11-year-old Suzanne Houghton won a dollar for best attempt at a news report for the Papanui Herald with her account of the library which she described as a “spacious, modern building with large windows. Many bookshelves filled with books decorate the room. The few paintings along the librarian’s counter look very attractive. When coffee and lunch breaks arrive the librarians retire to a small comfortable room furnished with soft leather chairs” .

In 1970 the library began to receive newspapers – from the four main centres, as well as Ashburton, Timaru, Greymouth and Southland – and magazines on photography, woodwork, aquatics, fashion and literature.

Mrs McArtney reported in August 1971: “At the Redwood Library 4338 people borrowed books last month, compared with 3414 in July last year. They included 2149 children, 1741 adults and 448 post primary borrowers.”

School holidays saw the libraries become extra busy but there were also less welcome visits. In November 1970 the Papanui Herald reported:

“A crowd of intermediate or secondary school age children made conditions unpleasant at the Redwood library one night recently. ‘they used crude language and were clowning around’ an adult borrower told the Herald. ‘It was not very nice for the women present’. About a dozen young children were involved, he said.”

“They were lazing around and leaning on the shelves. I suppose this is the only place they have got to congregate in. That’s the unfortunate part of it - the lack of somewhere to go…They used to congregate about a milk bar. But now they have turned their attentions to the Redwood Library. The gang dispersed when a police car arrived on the scene.”

A similar problem of disruptive behaviour by young people of intermediate or early high school age surfaced again in 1984 when the problem was blamed on the use of nearby Redwood Park by glue sniffers and a lack of things to do in the area during the winter months. The problem was reported as disappearing with the onset of summer.

Changes and improvements

Helen Tait the Waimairi County Librarian reported in June 1976:

“Miss Elaine Sides and her staff at Redwood branch have been making big improvements with new shelving.”

In 1976 library opening hours were extended with a trial to open on Saturdays from 9:30 am to 12 noon. By 1977, Dorothea Brown was County librarian and a library had been opened at Bishopdale in 1976.

She reported in a survey:

“Since the opening of the Bishopdale branch, there has been a slight decrease in enrolments and issues, but it is too early to tell whether this will continue. The Redwood Library is not well sited in the area it is meant to serve. However, if it were shifted east or north it would leave the Papanui Riding without a facility which residents use well.”

She also reported “The shelving is reaching full capacity and programme of careful weeding will be undertaken so that space is available for current literature. The weeded stock will be transferred to Bishopdale in part and suitable remainders could be stored for future use on a mobile library and or in a branch at Parklands.”

The library began to run school holiday programmes. In 1983 they even accommodated a Formula Ford racing car as the focal point of a Ministry of Transport display on the use of seat belts.

Joining the city network, saving the library

In 1989 Redwood, along with Bishopdale and Fendalton libraries joined Canterbury Public Library as part of the local government amalgamation with Waimairi District Council. Over the years the library has been made over and re-equipped with shelving and technology. These days it hums along with a lively program of story times, class visits and general community involvement.

The strong support of the local community was shown in March 2006 when locals, concerned about the possible closure of their library as a cost-cutting measure.

The Press reported that Redwood mother Tina Dockerty handcuffed herself to the bike stand at the library entrance for more than three hours in protest. Others from the nearby early childhood centres spoke of how important it was to have the library available to help encourage children’s love of books and reading. A petition was organised with over 1,000 signatures. The strength of feeling and organised opposition caused the council to rethink. The Star newspaper reported Tina Dockerty as saying “You are not going to believe the look on my son’s face when he gets home and I tell him his library has been saved” .


  1. “Young people disrupted scene at library” Papanui Herald 17 November 1970
  2. “Libraries saved” Star 2 June, 2006 pA1
  3. “Centre will be popular” Papanui Herald, 19 November 1968
  4. “Families mount library protest” Press 17 March, 2006 pA3


Library travels with my Father