Auckland Libraries: History of Auckland Libraries

History of Auckland Libraries

Ngā kōrero tuku iho mō ngā Whare Pukapuka o Tāmaki Makaurau

When the Auckland Free Public Library opened in 1880, Auckland's population was 27,000 and some 7000 books were held.​

Late 1800s: Auckland Free Public Library

In 1842 the Auckland Mechanics Institute - an organisation for local craftsmen and skilled workers - opened a library service for its members.


By the late 1870s the Institute was in financial difficulties. At its request, Auckland City Council took over the library, and opened the doors in Chancery Street as Auckland Free Public Library in 1880.



Sir George Grey gift and a new building

Now known as the Grey Collection, a precious collection of rare books, letters, photographs, ephemera, manuscripts, sketches, drawings and maps was given to the library in 1887 by Sir George Grey, Governor of New Zealand.


Before the transfer of Grey’s collection began from his home on Kawau Island, a handsome new building was erected on the corner of Wellesley Street and Coburg (now Kitchener) Street, to house the generous donation. A bequest from the estate of businessman Edward Costley helped with funding.


Today this building is wholly occupied by the Auckland Art Gallery, but until 1971 it housed Auckland Public Library as well as the city’s art collection.

The Auckland Free Public Library was 'free' in that all citizens had access to it. There was no lending collection until 1889, and from that date until January 1946, borrowers were asked to pay an annual subscription charge.



Library developments over the 20th century

In 1918, the separate children's section of the central library opened and nonfiction was classified under the Dewey Decimal system. Branch libraries opened:

  • Grafton (1913)

  • Parnell (1913)

  • Remuera (1915)

  • Epsom (1918)

  • Grey Lynn (1924)

  • Point Chevalier (1926)

  • Tamaki (now known as St Heliers) 1931

  • Avondale (1931).

In October 1944 the city council made a formal decision to remove subscription charges for Auckland city residents and ratepayers.


By 1953 the library had 313,000 items spread across the central library and suburban libraries. By the late 1960s there were also borough libraries and municipal libraries. Auckland Public Library came to an arrangement with Ellerslie Borough in October 1970 for a mobile library service.


Construction of a new central library building on a site on the triangle of land bordered by Wellesley Street East, Rutland Street and Lorne Street had begun in 1967, but delays slowed completion of the first part until November 1971, opening with 350,000 books and 70 staff.


The Plessey barcode reader and automatic issue system was introduced in 1979.


In January 1985 the first Māori specialist librarian, Wharehuia Hemara, joined the team in the New Zealand and Pacific Department.

The advent of Saturday shopping in the 1980s saw central and three community libraries open on Saturday mornings - with full lending services in 1987.


The Auckland Library Heritage Trust was formed in 1991 as a charitable trust to assist the then-Auckland City Libraries with the preservation, care and development of their heritage collections.


Formation of Auckland Libraries

Auckland Libraries was formed as part of the amalgamation which established Auckland Council in November 2010. This brought together the public library systems of seven former local councils and a regional council, making Auckland Libraries the largest public library system in Australasia.


Auckland Libraries now delivers its service through 55 community libraries from Wellsford in the north to Waiuku in the south.


Recommended read

For a comprehensive history we recommend The Governor's gift : the Auckland Public Library, 1880-1980 by Wynne Colgan. 


See also, Auckland City Libraries: Another Chapter by David Verran.

Auckland Libraries:History of Auckland Libraries Read a brief history of Auckland Libraries, now serving through 55 local branches and a vast collection of online resources.