Topic: The history of public library services in Thames

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Library services in Thames have a fascinating history, which can be traced back to 1869.

Thames Library began as a Mechanic's Institute in 1870, but after financial difficulties in 1879, it reopened in 1880 as a the Thames Free Public Library under the control of the Thames Borough Council.  It was one of the earliest free libraries in New Zealand.  The building was well sited in those days in Grahamstown , which was the main centre of activity on the goldfield.  It was close to the Police Station, Magistrate's Court, Stock Exchange, trading banks, legal offices, shops and hotels.

 In 1902 it was suggested that the Thames Borough Council take advantage of American steel magnate's offer 'to pay for the erection of a public library in any city in the English speaking world which would provide a site and commit itself to the permanent maintenance of the institution'.  Carnegie promised 2000 pounds and a brick building was designed by architect J Currie and built by Lye and Son.  It was opened on November 2, 1905 by Mayor Arch Burns.

Thames Carnegie Library

The main room was 35 by 25 feet, with 4000 books.  There was also a newspaper room and a ladies reading and writing room which had a separate entrance.  All the rooms had grates for fires.  By November 20, 1905, a new residence for the librarian, Mrs Lowe, had been completed.  It was a 'neat cottage' behind the new library.

As early as 1930 there were complaints about the lack of space available in the Carnegie Library. In 1955 a new Library was proposed but the idea was rejected and the building continued to service the community, with its stock supplemented by books loaned from the National Library of New Zealand's Country Library Service.

There were various attempts by community groups over the years to get a new library built and when another proposal went before the Council in June 1989, there was strong public support.  In August 1989, the Thames Community Board decided in favour of building a new library and approved a design by architects Gooch, Mitchell & Macdiarmid.  It was built by Argon Construction and opened June 1st, 1990. 

Council finance covered the building costs, carpets, and a new automated circulation system, but not the interior fittings.  By attracting sponsorship and advertising from local businesses, an extra $45,000 was raised, which was enough to buy shelving and furnish the building with style.  Many members of the public generously donated new books.

Views of the 1990 Thames Library building 


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The history of public library services in Thames by Thames Library Staff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License