The early days of the Tauranga library

A child with a book in Tauranga City Library’s early days.

With Tauranga’s city library moving from Willow St to a temporary base at He Puna Manawa on Devonport Rd and Grey St, while the civic precinct is developed, The Weekend Sun has dived back in time to learn about its origins in the first part of a series on the iconic community facility.

Yes, Tauranga’s central library is on the move – books and all – to a temporary location at He Puna Manawa on April 4, but many readers may not know the library has taken many forms throughout its history. Tauranga’s first talk of a library occurred in 1867 three years after the Battle of Gate Pa.

In 1871, the library had its first location, set up in the home of James Bodell on Cameron Rd.

This operation had 20 members, and a librarian named Mr William Walmsley who was paid four shillings a week.

After it grew to 106 subscribers, the library committee asked Sir Donald McLean to erect a temporary building in a new location.

By July 1873 this second location was set up near the corner of Harington and Willow streets. The library had 84 subscribers in 1877 in this location, and offered 133 volumes of general reading, and 18 volumes of bound magazines. There were a total of 2760 issues of books and magazines.

Everything was looking good for the library until May 31, 1881. On this day, a fire broke out and destroyed much of central Tauranga, including the library.

Luckily, the building was insured and quick-thinking onlookers were able to save books by piling them under a tree by the Union Boarding House.

In November 1881, a new building was erected and opened for the library.

This operation continued, and by 1901 the library offered 25 different newspapers. The library also closed in May of 1921 so the library committee could arrange books alphabetically.

By 1930, the library had moved again. Mayor Benjamin Conrad Robbins opened an Art Deco style building on Willow St, which also housed council offices and the Tauranga Municipal Electricity Department.

Until this point, the library had gone under several financial worries. By 1938, it began to flourish in its new location, and Miss Glenys Martin, the first children’s librarian, was appointed in 1949.

As the council offices moved, the library was able to utilise the much-needed extra space. Even after expanding, inadequate shelving left many books to be stacked on the floor and some shelves were collapsing.

On March 2, 1987, books were soaked through and windows damaged from the Edgecumbe earthquake.

Hot water cupboards were used to dry the soaking books. The following day on March 3, 1987, the first ‘toddler time’ was held.

The children’s library was also moved to Hamilton St during 1987 to make more space.

While the library staff were busy migrating the catalogue to the computer, work began on a new $8.5 million civic complex that included a library.

The library had moved to a temporary location in 1988, which allowed the demolition of the now 60-year-old library to begin in August of that year.

The temporary library was opened in November 28, 1988, where Mayor Noel Pope was issued the first book.

The Library Appeal Committee started a fundraiser that raised more than $190,000, and by May 8, 1989, the library opened where it is currently situated at 91 Willow St. Project manager Ian Carter projected that this library was designed to last at least 100 years.

On the first two days of opening, the librarians issued approximately 6000 books.

When the library opened its doors in this building, it had approximately 100,000 books to offer readers. The librarians had to move all of these books using bread baskets.

Now the library is embarking on its first temporary move in 35 years, to He Puna Manawa on April 4.

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