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Research and the Library

20 November 2023

For many students at University a library is central to their experience of self guided study. At Canterbury College, arrangements for a library were not initially encouraging, and the lack of texts goes some way to explaining why during Professor Macmillan Brown’s time there was a busy industry revolving around the copying and sale of his lecture notes. It was claimed that in one year two students earned £600 from the sale of these notes. Eventually concerned students asked the Board of Governors to spend money on reference books, but even by 1903 only £25 per annum was set aside for texts. Funding rose to £100 per annum in 1907, and the Library collection slowly grew through purchases and donations to 4000 volumes by 1913. Matters were little different at the adjacent boys and girls schools. The Boys' School library opened 1882 with 450 books. A vote by students in 1901 decided that the most popular books were 'Robbery under Arms', 'Westward Ho', and 'Treasure Island'.

Prior to the construction of a dedicated College Library in 1916, students and staff alike were agitating for better facilities. The 1906 College Review includes an article entitled ‘The College Library – A Vision’ which described the desire for a grey stone building, two storeys, north facing, lined with well lit alcoves, carpet underfoot, and comfortable leather chairs where one could sit in sunshine reading and smoking. The Review proclaimed “But once let Canterbury College obtain a first-class library, well housed and well managed, and as long as any value is set on human knowledge, her position in the university, and her importance as a seat of learning, will be assured.”

Interior of the College Library which was completed in 1916. The gentleman standing at the right is C.W. Collins, the Librarian.

Up until 1916 the College used student librarians to manage the reference collection. The Library initially used a borrowers’ register that each borrower filled in for themselves, finally converting to card file system in 1934. There were no limits on the numbers of books a borrower could take out, and students had 14 days before the books had to be returned. Given that books weren’t classified, and that borrowers had to replace books on shelves themselves up until 1935, there must have been some confusion in the shelving system! For the most part it appears books simply were placed in the first available shelving space.

On the completion of the new Library in 1916 the College appointed its very first full time librarian, W.D. Andrews. By 1938 staff included a librarian, assistant librarian, 3 full time junior assistants and a clerical assistant. They were obviously needed, as in 1941 the Library completed 24,000 issues from an estimated collection of 50,000 volumes excluding ephemera. Some collections developed more quickly than others. In the late 1940s the entire Geography reference section was contained on just 6 shelves. Borrowers were still allowed books for two weeks, but a strict system of fines was in place to encourage their return. The Library Fines Register dictates fines as follows: “2d per day shall be paid for each overdue volume, up to one shilling per week.” It was not a great source of revenue. Total fines paid in 1894 amounted to just £2/9/6.

A page from the Borrower's Register in 1916, showing that Dr Farr was reading the excitingly titled text Castaways on Auckland Islands. The book no longer appears in the Library's catalogue.

As time passed the new Library lost some of its gloss. By the late 1940s the Library had only 26 seating places for 2000 enrolled students. Nonetheless the Library seating arrangements still had some advantages. The College Librarian C.W. Collins paid tribute in particular to the design of desks á deux. He wrote “The social significance of the present building must have been great, and few colleges can surpass ours in the rate of intermarriage among graduates. What will happen in a new building I do not know, for open reading rooms and individual carrels in the stacks are hardly conducive to romance.”

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