Dunedin Public Libraries

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Dunedin Public Libraries
Kā Kete Wānaka O Ōtepoti(Māori)
Dunedin Public Libraries logo.jpg
Established 1908
Location Dunedin, New Zealand
Coordinates 45°52′22″S 170°30′13″E / 45.872886°S 170.503526°E / -45.872886; 170.503526Coordinates: 45°52′22″S 170°30′13″E / 45.872886°S 170.503526°E / -45.872886; 170.503526 (City library)
Branches 5 + 2 mobile
Size 700,000 items
Website www.dunedinlibraries.govt.nz

Dunedin Public Libraries is a network of five libraries and two bookbuses in Dunedin, New Zealand, owned and operated by the Dunedin City Council. The libraries collection includes over 700,000 items, and around 30,000 books and audiovisual items plus 15,000 magazines are added each year.[1] Members can borrow or return items from any library or bookbuses in the network.


City Library[edit]

City Library looking southeast
City Library looking southwest

Dunedin's first Free Public Library opened on 2 December 1908, funded by a £10,000 grant from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.[2] Situated at 110 Moray Place, the library offered a reference service only.

In 1910 a Children's Reading Room opened and then the Children's lending Library. In 1911 lending services began for adults. In 1913, Dr. Robert McNab presented his collection of 4,200 volumes of early voyages and New Zealand history to the library, which later became the basis of the McNab New Zealand collection.

Other major donations were the Walt Whitman Collection (Mrs. J. W. Stewart) in 1927 and the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection including Mediaeval manuscripts, incunabula, Bibles, early printing and later manuscripts, Dickens and Johnston works, in 1947.

In 1936 the Library adopted its rental policy, whereby certain items would no longer be free. This included popular works of fiction, as well as certain magazine titles. The Library's first hospital service was started in 1938. 1950 saw more expanded services offered, with the addition of a Bookbus service and the unveiling of its Gramophone collection. Today this collection has been expanded to include DVDs, Videos, CDs, and other Audio Visual Items.

In 1969 the first Housebound Readers Service was opened. In 1976 a second Bookbus was added, and the Children's Library had its very own card catalogue. Further children's services were offered in the following years, including Get Well bags in 1979.

The Dunedin Public Library moved to its present site at 230 Moray Place in 1981. In 1982 the automated circulation system was installed. The first fully computerised Library Management System was started in 1993. The Taiehu Collection of Maoritanga was launched in 1986. Taiehu was a Maori chief who brought one of the first canoes to New Zealand.

With local council amalgamation in 1989, the Dunedin Public Library became part of the Dunedin Public Libraries network. Two new Bookbuses were purchased in 1991 and the service was expanded to cover around 50 locations.

In 1998 a major redevelopment of the Library was undertaken, with all the adult non-fiction lending collections combined, the opening up of three adult stack areas for improved public access to the collections, and the creation of a greatly expanded Audio-Visual area to reflect the increased use of these collections.

Key events that have taken place include:

  • 1908 The Library opened its doors to the public on 2 December. The Librarian was Scottish-born William Barker McEwan.
  • 1910 The Children's Reading Room opened, providing both reference and lending services to children aged 10 and over. The age limit would subsequently be lowered.
  • 1911 The Lending Library for adults opened (so children were able to borrow books before this privilege was extended to adults).
  • 1913 Robert McNab offered his library to the City. At that time the collection amounted to 4200 items. Careful development has seen it grow to over 92,000.
  • 1919 All but two of the staff were laid low with influenza, and the Library was closed for a month.
  • 1933 Archie Dunningham became City Librarian.
  • 1936 Dorothy Neal, later Dorothy Neal White and later still Dorothy Neal White Ballantyne, became Children's Librarian. She would become one of New Zealand's greatest-ever children's librarians and advocates for children's books. Also in that year the free/rental policy (which still persists) was introduced, the Library Bindery was established, and the collection of sheet music began.
  • 1938 The Hospital Library Service began at the Public Hospital.
  • 1939 The framed pictures lending service began, and the Children's Library moved to the Club House building in Moray Place.
  • 1946 The Children's Library was relocated to Stuart Street.
  • 1947 The Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection was gifted to the City.
  • 1950 The Book Bus service began.
  • 1960 Ada Fache became City Librarian.
  • 1968 Mary Ronnie became City Librarian.
  • 1969 The House-bound Readers’ service began.
  • 1976 Michael Wooliscroft became City Librarian.
  • 1981 The present Library building opened.
  • 1987 Norah Familton became City Librarian.
  • 1989 Allison Dobbie became City Librarian, the Colin McCahon painting Otago Peninsula was bequeathed to the Library, and local body amalgamation brought the Mosgiel, Port Chalmers, Blueskin Bay, and Waikouaiti Libraries into the Dunedin Public Libraries network.
  • 1993 The present Dynix automated library system was introduced.
  • 2001 The LearnIT Centre, offering free Internet access, was opened.
  • 2002 Bernie Hawke became City Librarian.
  • 2006 The new Reed Gallery opened on the third floor.
  • 2008 We celebrate our Centenary, and look forward to another century of progress and service to the people of Dunedin!
  • 2010 The Children's Library celebrates its centenary.

Mosgiel Library[edit]

From as long ago as 1881 Mosgiel has had a functioning library. Nevertheless it was only in 1959 that the Mosgiel Public Library was officially opened, in the Electrical Refrigeration premises. Since then, the library has relocated twice – firstly to Souters Exchange building, and in 1979 to its present site on Hartstonge Ave.

In 1989, Mosgiel Borough was amalgamated with Dunedin City, St Kilda Borough, Green Island Borough and Silverpeaks County. The Mosgiel Public Library became part of the Dunedin Public Libraries network, opening up access to items held by all the libraries involved. This access was further enhanced with the introduction of a computerised system in 1993.

In 1999 the library took over responsibility for the Dunedin City Council Service Centre, ensuring that a DCC Customer Services presence stayed in the community.

Port Chalmers Library[edit]

The Port Chalmers Municipal Building

Port Chalmers Mechanics Institute started in 1864, and became the Port Chalmers Public Library under the direct control of the Borough Council in 1943. The library was eventually housed in the Municipal Building. In 1989 the library joined the Dunedin Public Libraries network as a result of local council amalgamation.

In 2004 the Port Chalmers Library and Service Centre was completely refurbished by the Dunedin City Council. Extensive consultation with the Historic Places Trust meant the historic facade and many interesting internal features were retained. A number of art works have been added to the library collection, including some by Ralph Hotere, David Elliot, Robyn Belton, and Pamela Brown.

Waikouaiti Library[edit]

The Waikouaiti Library was founded in 1862 by the Rev A Fenton and Miss Emily Orbell and began with 100 books half of them given by Mr Fenton. They were housed in the school room in Beach Street. Fenton's successor the Rev A Dasent took charge in 1863 and was Chairman of the library committee for 11 years. The Library moved to Mechanics' Hall in 1875 and from that time a committee of seven was elected annually by the subscribers and the subscription was lowered from one pound to ten shillings.

In 1905 a new book room 24 feet by 9 feet was built as a connection between the librarian's cottage and the hall on the north side. By 1913 there were 107 subscribers and over 3000 books. In the late nineteen sixties the County Council took over responsibility for the Hall and the Library. The committee continued to meet until 1974 as a County Council committee, and then the Library was quite on its own. It was visibly separated from the Hall also, because in that year the books were moved across the street to the RSA Community Centre, while the former library buildings were replaced by a chemist's shop, doctors rooms, and meeting rooms.

From around 2000 issues a year in 1970 numbers were up to 22,000 by May 1988. Unfortunately the building soon began to need frequent maintenance and it was obvious it was not a suitable place for a library which was expanding dramatically now that Waikouaiti was part of Dunedin City. With amalgamation the Library became part of the Dunedin Public Libraries network in 1989. The Community Centre was demolished and a new Waikouaiti Library was built in the last weeks of 1995.[3]

Blueskin Bay Library[edit]

Blueskin Bay Library opened in the school house in 1871. It moved to a separate building in 1903 and to the public hall in 1972. Both Waitati and Waikouaiti Libraries were administered by Silverpeaks County prior to local government amalgamation in 1989. Blueskin Bay Library was constructed in 1992 as an extension to the Waitati Hall.


The PQ bookbus on Portobello Road in 2010

The Library Committee bought a passenger bus in 1949 and equipped it for use as a travelling library. The first distribution of books was made on 17 April 1950. In 1991 two new Isuzu F-Series trucks were commissioned as bookbuses. They are painted with colourful scenes, one featuring penguins and the countryside, the other a cityscape. The two bookbuses currently visit customers in 51 locations throughout the city offering fiction, non-fiction and reference books for children and adults, large print, talking books, audio-visual material (on request) and magazines. The buses are connected to online services.


Centenary Celebrations[edit]

DPL Centennial Logo

2008 marked Dunedin Public Libraries centenary. Celebrations were held between October & December 2008.

Centenary Events[edit]

A number of events were held and included:

  • Writing Workshops for Adults & Children
  • Follow the Reader – Guided walks that looked at Dunedin's Literary History.
  • How we began: the first six years of the Dunedin Public Library – Reed Gallery Exhibition which ran until the end of 2008.
  • Blokes in Libraries – Male staff spoke their experiences working in the Library.
  • Books Roadshow – A popular 'Antiques Roadshow' styled event.
  • The Great Hundred-Year Hunt – A family activity that took folks all over the Library.
  • Edwardian Costumes: a Fashion Parade – Examined costumes people wore when they came to the Library in 1908.
  • Library Birthday – Tuesday 2 December 2008 – exactly 100 years from the day our first Librarian, William Barker McEwan, opened the doors of the Carnegie Library to the public of Dunedin.

Images from the celebrations can be found on the Dunedin Public Libraries Flickr photostream.

Heritage Collections[edit]

The Dunedin Public Libraries network has two specialist Heritage Collections. Both are located on the third floor of the City Library.

The McNab New Zealand Collection contains around 83,000 items concerning the history of the New Zealand and Pacific regions. The Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection contains around 10,000 items dating from the tenth century to the present, covering literature, religion, and the history of the book.

The Reed Collection's illuminated Mediaeval manuscripts are one of the most outstanding assemblies of European visual art from the Middle Ages in Australasia. With the Otago Museum's holdings of Classical art, and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery's collections of Mediaeval, Renaissance and later European art, they are a key element in the city's reconnaissance of European art, which is unparalleled in New Zealand. In Australasia it is only matched in Melbourne.

The heritage collections are open to the public, but items can only be used on the third floor of the City Library. There is also a collection of art works used to embellish spaces within the libraries.

Reed Gallery[edit]

Opened in March 2006 the Reed Gallery fulfills A.H. Reed's dream of a readily available heritage collection.

Exhibition cabinets, revamped lighting and security have created a professional gallery space meeting international conservation standards, meaning collections can now be properly appreciated.

The space features quarterly exhibitions, some themed, others with a changing "book of the month" display. Some of the material is very interesting, precious or rare, and few people have been able to see it. The area also features a seminar room for lectures and slide shows related to the exhibitions and the heritage collections.


  1. ^ "Dunedin Public Libraries". Dunedin City Council. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  2. ^ Frame, Barbara (February 2008). "100 Years!" (– Scholar search). The word: p.7. Retrieved 2008-04-30. [dead link]
  3. ^ Angus, Janet (February 1996). A Brief History of the Waikouaiti Library!. 

External links[edit]