Haere ra Central Library on Gloucester Street

The future plans for the central city mean the Central Library is going to be demolished; we are saying goodbye.

Christchurch City Libraries began in 1859 as a Mechanics Institute collection in temporary premises in the then Town Hall in High Street. In 1863 the library moved to a wooden building on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace. The wooden building was replaced with a handsome brick building in 1901 and this was the Central Library until 1982.

The 4th incarnation of the Central Library – located on the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace – opened on 11 January 1982. Warren and Mahoney were the architects and C. S. Luney the principal contractor. Governor-General the Hon. Sir David Beattie officially opened the building on 2 February 1982.

Here are some of the keen first people to arrive.
Customers entering library

I started going to the Central Library in Gloucester Street when I moved to Christchurch in the 1990s. I would toddle in once a week for my supply of CDs and books. Later on I was stoked to get a job at Central. I’ve got many good memories of all sorts of things:  talking with customers on the Popular desk on the ground floor, the neat views over Gloucester Street to Cathedral Square, great friends, staffroom chats, oohing and ahhing over new books and CDs and DVDS, breastfeeding my daughter in the sick room, listening to NZ Music Month concerts and author talks. In Central you really did feel part of town’s action and bustle. Central Library staff and customers were (and are) an awesome bunch.

Cover of Canterbury Public LibraryThe riverside land the library stands on is required for the planned Convention Centre. A new Central Library is to be built on a site bordered by Gloucester Street, Colombo Street and Cathedral Square.

We’d love you to share your memories and comments at the bottom of this post

Until we are back again in a new Central Library, enjoy our temporary Centrals – Central Library Peterborough, Central Library Tuam (until it closes on 1 November) and the upcoming Central Library Manchester.

More about the Central Library


There are lots more photos of the Central Library on Flickr.
Demolition in progress on the site for the new Central LibraryThe new Central Library nearing completionCentral Library
Literature Arts and Music DepartmentBody Festival 2008.Zinefest 09
Gay Maher and Mary Flatman cut the cakeCentral LibraryCraig Smith at the Central LibraryCentral Library

17 thoughts on “Haere ra Central Library on Gloucester Street

  1. rachaelccl 27 September 2013 / 11:49 am

    I never worked in Central Library, but I do have fond memories of using it as a customer. I first visited in the mid 1990s with Dunsandel School. My overriding memory is of being scared I’d get sucked into the mechanisms of the escalator! By the early 2000s I was at high school in Christchurch and used Central as a first stop as soon as any big school assignments came up – I found the history books particularly useful. As an adult, I loved browsing the fiction. I also used Central to prepare for job interviews – getting out books on NZ art when applying for a job at the Art Gallery, and then books on NZ wines after getting a job at a liquor store. Turns out libraries were my destined career, and I enjoyed going in to Central for training and to catch up with my lovely colleagues.
    I’m sad to see Gloucester Street building go, but I’m looking forward to exciting times ahead for Central staff and customers.

  2. Andrew Bell 27 September 2013 / 11:58 am

    I too never worked in Central Library, but I do have fond memories of using it as a customer as well. It was terribly sad when Ruamoko ripped the old girl apart. I especially liked going into the Aotearoa Reference room and perusing the NZ poetry and fiction titles. It was handy to peruse NZ play scripts too. Gloucester Street saved my bacon on a few acting auditions when I needed a punchy Kiwi monologue. I loved how there seemed like a vast reservoir of human knowledge on the different floors of Gloucester Street library.

    Gone but not forgotten! May you resurrect in a beautiful guise in Gerry’s CBD empire to temper the avarice of commerce with some wisdom and a place to reflect on what is important in human life.

  3. Robyn 27 September 2013 / 12:53 pm

    I had used Central Library for years as a customer before I got a job there – truly one of the best days of my life. I started on the Literature Arts and Music desk in the days when the CDs and cassettes (cassettes!) were separated; customers brought the case or the CD covers (we called them slicks) to the desk and we would unite the two and issue them. There was often quite a scrum in front of the desk as people queued to take out the new-fangled and expensive CDs. We also issued records in lovely cardboard carry cases, and the framed prints that could be borrowed for three months.

    Lots changed in the twenty years I worked there. We added a floor. We re-arranged things a few times. We got lots more computers. We laid new carpet twice. We painted some walls and glazed others. We got new furniture.

    But lots stayed the same. Customers could always surprise. It was always satisfying knowing you had matched what the customer needed with what you could find. There was nothing better than a good old talk about books with a customer and/or a colleague, when “Have you read this? Or that?” started flying back and forth. The view over the river from the Oxford Terrace windows was one of the best in Christchurch.

    People lined up every morning waiting for the doors to open. And I reached the zenith of my career when for a few years the new books shelf was right outside the door of my room.

  4. jane 27 September 2013 / 3:08 pm

    I started my library career at the “new” Central Library. We used a very clunky computer system (It actually did go “clunk” when you passed a book over the screen) and charged for the so called popular books while the serious fiction, or dare I say it, literary fiction was free!

    The building seemed cutting edge and very smart, but we soon outgrew it. Our Bindery used to be on the top floor and we had our very own carpenter who made fabulous but completely unergonomic work spaces, we also had our own live in artist who created the posters for us.

    The staff were a tight knit and smallish group who knew each other well – sometimes too well if the rumours of goings on in the stacks were to be believed! The location was wonderful and lunch by the river under the flowering magnolia was a must.

    I worked in the Children’s library and each morning we would dust the shelves and put the picture books in height order, (don’t ask me why) only to have our hard work torn apart by the first enthusiastic preschooler!! We knew all the children and their parents and it was a lovely place to work.

  5. Barbara 27 September 2013 / 4:38 pm

    I, too, worked in the Central Library in two bursts with stints in the ‘burbs in between.

    I remember the precision with which the collection was moved from the ‘really old’ Canterbury Public Library building in Hereford Street to our swanky new premises in Gloucester Street. What a logistical masterpiece that was. Books (and that’s what most of the collection was then) were meticulously packed in shelf order in green apple crates, transported to Gloucester Street in the two old library vans, loaded onto pallets and wheeled across the plywood-protected carpet to go correctly into place on their new shelves. We were immensely proud of our new building and the public couldn’t wait to check it out on opening morning. I worked in Children’s and still remember the mass enrolments we did the Easter Tuesday of 1982. In excess of 70 children joined the library that day.

    The Children’s Library used to have a storytelling pit, a great place for children to race around, and there were headphones for children to listen to stories from the Library’s record collection. The headphones got a predictably hard time! School holiday activities were a major event in the Library. We had our own horrendously heavy puppet theatre, made in the carpentry room upstairs, and made our own puppets too. Our Children’s workroom was tiny but an amazing amount of creativity happened there. Schools lined up to visit the new library and children’s tours of the building often took in a few of the very special offerings in the Aotearoa New Zealand Collection. ‘Buller’s birds of New Zealand’ was a favourite.

    I’d missed both refurbishments when I returned to Central in 2004 and the customers had changed a little too, reflecting the changing face of the city. There were still lots of characters though and many were the stories shared.

    I’ll cherish my memories of Central; the amazing colleagues I worked with, the way technology changed our work and the customers who made it all so very worthwhile. Haere ra, Central

    • Parttime 28 September 2013 / 2:37 pm

      Seeing the pit all boarded up was a bit sad today…remembering All those children and exhausted parents who must have rested there for a time.

    • Marian 29 September 2013 / 4:51 pm

      Hey, Barbara, I think we might have worked together at the old Children’s Library on Cambridge Tce. I certainly remember Easter Tuesdays! I never worked at the new library in Gloucester St as I’d left ChCh by then, but it was a pleasure to visit it on my occasional returns to ChCh.

  6. shadyladynz 29 September 2013 / 2:37 pm

    Was great to visit Central yesterday and to say a fond farewell. I remember my very first day and actually being allowed to stand BEHIND the desk. I have made so many good friends within Christchurch City Libraries in the years since and I think that working in Central was a huge part of that. It was a great place to work if one enjoyed “people watching” as I worked in Customer Welcome which was right by the main doors and some days it seemed as if we had every person in the City come through the doors.
    I will never forget the good times ( and the not so good )and I am sure that my time in Central has made me the Library Assistant that I am today.
    Haere ra, Central.

    Here’s to new beginnings!

  7. Suzanne 29 September 2013 / 6:13 pm

    I have so many good memories of working there and the friends made. I do remember refurbishment though Barbara and the noise, dust and heat, while it was happening. It was always too small though, so this is a great opportunity to make a library to fit.
    It was so disappointing visiting Christchurch again and seeing it all boarded up.
    Haere ra, Central

  8. Linda 30 September 2013 / 2:08 am

    I have such fond memories of the Gloucester St library and the old library in Hereford St which I visited as a child. Later, as a teenager my friend and I would catch the bus into the Square every Friday after school and go to the library! Then it moved into the sophisticated new building with the escalator of all things. I had my first library job interview in the Gloucester St library – I got the job and I’m still a librarian and loving it 23 years later. All the best creating a fantastic new library space for Christchurch central. Christchurch has such beaut libraries – I know the new one will be a cracker!

  9. allisonsnotmyfirstname 30 September 2013 / 11:28 am

    A position at Central library was my very first qualified library job back in 1999…and what an eye opener it was. I got to work with tremendously knowledgeable colleagues and meet a huge variety of often entertaining and very memorable customers. I remember the rush at opening time, with regulars making a beeline up the escalators to their favourite spots throughout the building, the newspapers often being hotly contested. When dashing up or down the staff stairs between desk shifts, the river view across to the beautiful old stone buildings always caught my eye. Here’s hoping the Convention Centre will have plenty of areas to make the most of such a gorgeous outlook.

  10. ValerieL 30 September 2013 / 1:05 pm

    When I moved the Christchurch, one of the first things I did was catch the bus to “town” and join the library. Chris Baxter enrolled me and a couple of years later, I joined her at Central.

  11. Shirley Barrow 30 September 2013 / 3:46 pm

    Hope they will still have the “New Zealand” room. Used it heaps of times for Geneology, and finding out the history of New Zealand, please. Wonderful collection of some many interesting books and magazines.

    • Marion 1 October 2013 / 9:54 am

      Hullo Shirley,
      I’m sure the new Central library will have a really special home for our precious genealogy and New Zealand resources. At the moment our Family History resources are at Central Peterborough and our Aotearoa New Zealand collection is at Central Tuam. We all look forward to the day when they will be reunited in the new library.

  12. purplerulzpurplerulz 1 October 2013 / 9:49 am

    I remember the old old library as a child, going there on Saturday mornings was a bit of a pilgrimage for our family.
    I later took my children into the ‘new’ Central library, and ended up training there. It really was the centre of the city community and I’m sure our new flash library will become the same!

  13. coosh 2 October 2013 / 10:03 am

    I too have fond memories of the Central library, firstly from my high school days (late 90’s) it was a great hang out between buses and i hoped to run into some cute boys as i went to an all girls school. (I did see one crush there at times which kept me coming back). My first experiences working for the libraries were in Central I remember my first day meeting on the third floor and getting all the information and meeting everyone and then training in Customer Welcome, I worked there lots in my days as a NLA and it was a good excuse to go shopping at lunch, i would walk across the pedestrian crossing through chancery lane and into the square, buy a kebab or something foreign and have a look around the stalls. I would sometimes see other colleagues coming or going from the library. I enjoyed wondering down to New Regent street for coffees and lunches and having dinners at Osaka in the arcade off Gloucester or at Little India or The Sampan house after work, It saddens me how i cannot relive those experiences anymore. I remember working there in the spring there was a great vibe of fresh warm air coming in through the doors and it was lovely to go for a walk around the river or down to the arts centre, Victoria Square or Cranmer Square and i remember all the town workers having there lunch and hanging out in Vic square. I have many good memories of training sessions and meetings in Central and it was always a buzz with customers and colleagues an exciting place to be and good for fashion policing. I will miss you Central Library.

  14. Lee 17 August 2014 / 9:51 am

    Sad to see the picture today on Twitter of the demolition in progress. I spent many enjoyable hours there with my children when they were preschoolers in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It’s where I decided I wanted to be a children’s librarian. Look forward to seeing a brand new library there next time I come to Christchurch hopefully 🙂

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