Celebrating 150 years of Tauranga Libraries

Wednesday 07 April 2021

It was a gathering of all kinds from the Tauranga Moana community in the upstairs of the Tauranga Library building to celebrate 150 years of libraries in Tauranga.


On April 7, 1871, three men held a meeting at the Masonic Hotel about providing reading material to the local community.


The event – which was even live-streamed on Facebook – touched on special dates throughout the 150-year history, including how the public library in Tauranga predated the newspaper, the fire station and even the first brewery.


The exhibition ‘Seeds of our Library’ is available to the public until June 8 and includes library minute books from 1871 to 1897 and a catalogue of library archives in digital form on Pae Koroki – Tauranga Archives Online.


The reason behind the name for the exhibition is that while the committee was planning the exhibition, they looked back to 1871 which was a very different time compared to today. It was forward-thinking and they planted a seed with a need and a desire to serve the community. 

The library itself holds a lot of history including the fire of the library building on June 7 1881. According to an article published in the Bay of Plenty Times more than 30,000 pounds worth of property was destroyed and the north end of town was turned to ashes. A line of buckets lined the streets from the sea to the store that was on fire.


A number of volunteers also tried to save the library and the books, by placing the books under a nearby tree. Unfortunately, the saviour of the secretary’s office was an oversight and a lot of the records from that time were lost. Seven days later, the library was back up and running in a different building.


During the time period of 1923-1940, money was a major issue for the library. They were struggling to source books in New Zealand and were looking at international options. During this time, they were still asking for subscriptions in order to afford the sourcing of new books. It wasn’t a library for everyone but only for those who could afford it.


When the Labour Government came into power in the 1940’s they adopted the free issue of books, and in 1944 the library moved from an institute to a community service.


1945 saw the first children’s book week introduced as well as adult classes. 1952 saw the Story Hour introduced.


In 1953, the Historical Society – which formed just a year earlier - decided the community needed an archive and started working with the library on this endeavour.


The influx of the Greerton community happened in the 1960s, with calls for something needing to be done as they decided they were too far away from the Tauranga Library. During 1963-1964 the Greerton Library officially opened.


Tauranga City Council general manager: community services Gareth Wallis, says 2021 marks a significant historic milestone for the Tauranga Library and it’s also the start of a new chapter, as the Willow Street library redevelopment is consulted on through the draft Long-term Plan.


“While still issuing over a million books each year, and being a source for local research, technology and information access, today’s libraries foster a sense of belonging and connection.


“Libraries are a place of diverse events and activities where different generations and people from all avenues of life can gather. The evolution into community hubs means the new design needs to be multipurpose and incorporate communal spaces, as well as being a place for learning,” says Gareth.


The history of the 150 years of libraries in Tauranga will be on display in the Tauranga City Library until June 8.


To watch the full presentation on the ‘Seeds of our Library’ – 150 years of engaging with the community, click below.





Caption: Tauranga Public Library and Mechanics Institute (2nd building, Harington Street, built 1881)

Image credit: Tauranga City Libraries 03-235