Library Chambers

The Library Chambers, formerly on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace, was the home of the Canterbury Public Library for over one hundred years, until the Library moved to a new building in Gloucester Street in 1981.

Canterbury Public Library
Canterbury Public Library. © Christchurch Star

The former Canterbury Public Library consisted of three wings built in separate stages. Originally a wooden building operated by the Mechanics’ Institute, had been situated on the corner of Hereford Street and Cambridge Terrace. The building was transferred from the Mechanics’ Institute to the Canterbury Provincial Government in 1873. Canterbury College took over the administration of the library in 1876.

In that same year a new brick building, built to house the reference and circulating department, was added to the northern end of the original building, which became the reading room.

By the end of the nineteenth century the library’s collection had grown and more space was required. In 1901 the fabric of the original reading room building was sold at auction. To reduce disruption to the library users, the reading room service was temporarily moved into the circulating and reference wing of the library.

The new reading room building was designed by Collins and Harman. Built by A. Swanston, its exterior consisted of red brick and white stone. Upon entering the main door on Cambridge Terrace the visitor would find themselves faced with an inner hall. From there, the visitor would turn left into the new reading room. Like the original predecessor, the reading room consisted of two floors, with the upper floor featuring a gallery. Returning to the inner hall, another flight of stairs led to a subscribers’ reading room. The new building opened on 1 May 1902.

The library was originally lit by gas which often unpleasant for users. Electric lighting was installed in 1914.

In 1924 an additional wing, set at the rear of the reading room and facing onto Hereford Street, was erected to house the juvenile literature. The wing also featured a lecture hall on the second floor. The new wing opened on 25 November 1924.

Canterbury Public Library continued to operate from the building until a new library building opened on the corner of Gloucester Street and Oxford Terrace in 1982.