News | 9 August 2023
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Wellington City Libraries – looking back to look forward

Wellington Central Library has been housed in a series of buildings which have become more user-friendly with each move. Less visible, is the progression of library services.

Sketch of the original Wellington city library.
The original Wellington Public Library building on the corner of Mercer Street and Wakefield Street. This building was demolished shortly after the 'new' library (later to become the City Art Gallery) opened in 1939. C. 1905.

In the pre-electronic era, libraries were quiet formal places, where librarians matched users’ information needs with available resources. That’s still a core function, but technology has vastly expanded the realm of knowledge. Librarians were quick to adapt to new technology as it arrived, embedding electronic systems for their collections, and providing early public access to the internet.

Modern librarians rely on analytics combined with experienced judgment to manage the collection so it remains popular, relevant, accurate, and retains depth in areas which are meaningful to its users. While most are keen readers, they’re conscious that knowledge comes from a myriad of sources, including books, journals, audio-visual sources, databases and data sets, websites, and from other people. 

Black and white photo of Wellington City Library.
Exterior of the Wellington Central Library, as viewed from the south side of Mercer Street (now Civic Square) 1957.

The Athfield-designed Wellington Central Library has been loved by people for many reasons. From the generous collection and the comfortable seats, to Stu the musical children’s librarian, and the hum of chat at Clarks Café.

As with most public libraries, it provided a day-time refuge for anyone needing a place to be. Despite high visitor numbers, over 3000 per day, the atmosphere was convivial as the service continued to connect knowledge and community.

Render of central library.
Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui – artist impression of the earthquake strengthened building, scheduled to open in early 2026.

An exciting aspect of the planned newly refurbished library, Te Matapihi ki te Ao Nui, is its cultural narrative, which will expand its approach to knowledge. Mātauranga Māori will be at the fore in a series of artworks and in the design of the entrance, establishing the building as a place for everyone.

This will mihi in acknowledgement to mana whenua, and their connection to the underlying whenua and natural environment (te taiao). The new library will have integrated services, including a City Archives, Customer Service Centre, and Experience Wellington’s Capital E.  It’s scheduled to open in 2026.

Mā te rongo, ka mōhio, Mā te mōhio, ka mārama,
Mā te mārama, ka mātau, Mā te mātau, ka ora.
From listening comes knowledge, from knowledge comes understanding,
From understanding comes wisdom, from wisdom comes well-being.