150 Celebrating Christchurch City Libraries 1859-2009 RSS feed

Sumner Library / Te Kete Wānanga o Kōhua

External – Sumner – new paint job completed December 2007Sumner has always had a very distinct identity in its seaside location and did not become part of Christchurch City until 1945. For 114 years the local community ran the library until it joined Canterbury Public Library in 1997.

Early days

The first library, begun in 1883, was a subscription library run by volunteers and consisted of two cupboards of books in the porch of Sumner School. Miss Amy Budden, the long serving infant mistress at the school, described the library:

“In the first porch were two cupboards containing the volumes of the Sumner Public Library. Crowded amongst the children’s hats and cloaks the books had been catalogued and the written list posted inside the cupboard door. Miss Lottie Kay was in charge and waited upon the subscribers for one hour on one afternoon a week”.

By 1895 the school needed the space and a public meeting was held on 2 September 1895, to consider asking the Sumner Borough Council to take over. The Council agreed and a Library Committee was established and subscription lists issued. At first there was no suitable location for the library and by 1896 the books were languishing in storage.

In February 1897 Mrs A J White was recorded as willing to let a site next to Rock Villa. Tenders were called for the construction of a library building and by June 1897 the building was well under way. On 25 June Mrs Glennie was appointed librarian at 1 pound 1 shilling per quarter, with the library to be open between the hours of 4 and 4.30pm on Tuesdays and Fridays. Councillor Mills was appointed treasurer.
The library struggled, with few subscribers, and by March 1898 was temporarily closed. In March 1899 the library committee recommended to the council that a committee of ladies be appointed to assist with the library and that five pounds be given to furnish the building. The library began to establish itself more firmly in the community.

The library moved to an upper room in a newly erected Council building at the corner of Wakefield Avenue and Wiggins Street where it remained until 1907 when the Sumner Town Hall and Offices at the corner of Wakefield Avenue and Nayland Street were built. The library was granted rent-free use of a large room on the first floor and stayed here until a purpose built library building was opened in 1961.

Sumner remained a separate borough for many years until 1945 when it became part of Christchurch City. In 1952 a children’s section was incorporated into the community run adult library.

A new library building

In 1961 the Christchurch City Council constructed a new library building in Wakefield Avenue which was opened on March 11. The library was totally volunteer run until 1974 when the Canterbury Public Library began a children’s library service in the building, employing a professional librarian. Mrs Dawn Bennett was the first, followed by Mrs Trish Faulkner in June 1977. In 1981 Rose Phillips started, and she remained Children’s librarian until 2004.

Community in action

The adult section of the library remained as the Sumner Public Library, managed by a volunteer committee. A close co-operative arrangement developed between volunteers and Children’s Library staff. The library underwent a number of physical changes over the years. In response to the rapidly growing use of the children’s library the local community raised $14,000 and local tradesmen gave their labour and provided cheap materials to construct an extension to the Children’s’ library which was opened on July 16, 1991. Fundraising publicity at the time refers to nearly 800 members from babies to teenagers and a floor space of only 35 square metres. Annual issues had increased from 9,281 in 1976 to 28,000 in 1988.

The strength of community involvement was marked by the award, in 1991 to the Sumner Public Library Committee of a Certificate of Merit for Community Service in the Boom Maker awards from the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand and the Christchurch City Council. Marjorie Ockenden (1918-2002) was a great example of a volunteer who was involved in the library for many years including being Chair of the library committee. The Boom Maker award citation reads, in part:

“This the Committee did – the hard way. Produce, cakes, jams and pickles were constantly on sale in the Adult Library. Stalls were taken at community fairs and cash donations sought. Slowly the funds grew and, with a gift of $6,000 from the Community Board, by December 1990 there was enough money in hand to proceed to extend the children’s Library by a further 30 sq metres… The whole project has been a splendid example of a community working together to provide itself with a desperately needed local amenity. The project tapped into the community and brought forth a wealth of community service – not just through cash donations, but from businesses and local tradesmen being prepared to freely give their labour and provide materials cheaply to ensure that the extensions were completed with in the cash resources available”

Joining Canterbury Public Library

In 1996 there was a move by the Sumner Public Library to be fully integrated into the Canterbury Public Library network. This change was driven by the rapid growth in population in the Sumner and Moncks Bay area, and the advent of online transactions for the children’s library which meant that the volunteers could no longer assist in the children’ s library.

On 22 October 1997 a function was held to celebrate 114 years of community run library service and the whole library became part of Canterbury Public Libraries. Many of the volunteers became members of Friends of Sumner Library which continued to use its financial resources to provide support to the library. On 22 January 1999 they held an unveiling of a specially commissioned work by Vivienne Mountfort – a wall hanging entitled Sumner Vista. This joined a collection of art works that had been given to the library over the years. In late 1997 architect Chris Hadlee designed further alterations and extensions to the library including complete refurbishment, a computer with internet connection, new public toilets and new work area and library layouts. There was an official re-opening on July 16, 1998.

Today Sumner Library is still continuing a grand tradition of service to the Sumner community.

Photos from www.flickr.com


  • Sumner Public Library archives
  • Thorpe, Marianne et al. Sumner School History (Sumner School Centennial Committee 1977 and 125th Jubilee Committee, 2001)


Library travels with my Father