Canterbury College

Learning by Design: Building Canterbury College in the City 1873-1973. An illustrated history based on the Armson Collins Architectural Drawings Collection

College Library

Designed by Collins and Harman, the College Library took centre stage in between the quadrangles.

It is hard to believe that Canterbury College had no formal library until 1916. From 1873 onwards the College kept various collections of books in many locations around the campus, including in the Great Hall and in many of the Departments. By 1913 the Library had 4000 books to its name but no home. Finally, a combined effort at raising awareness and funds by the academic staff and the student body led to the construction of a new library at the beginning of 1914.

It was fortuitous that as part of the lead up to the development of the Library, lecturer and architect Samuel Hurst Seager had canvassed staff and submitted a proposal for the improvement of the College site. Seager was clear that the Library should play a pivotal role in the life of the institution. It was his belief that “In any complete College, the Library is the centre of the Intellectual part of College Life. This should be architecturally expressed by its occupying a prominent central position.” Seager accordingly proposed that the Library should replace the old Chemical Laboratory, thus forming the division between the current day north and south quadrangles.

Designed by Collins and Harman in Tudor Gothic style, with Seager’s plan as a guide, the Library cost £3,514. Of this total, the Student Carnival for 1913 had contributed £2,000 and further funds were provided by public contributions, some coming from prominent members of the community or College such as Professor Macmillan Brown. Once opened it was anticipated that the Library would hold 20,000 volumes, and include two private research rooms and a Librarian’s room. The interior design incorporated seating at desks á deux, which a later Librarian noted were as good for romance as for study.

As impressive as the new building was, the Library collection continued to grow and soon outstripped its new accommodations. By the 1950s the College Library had 15,000 books in the ground floor shelving units, and an additional 30,000 to 40,000 volumes tucked away in the basement storage and in stacks in 40 different locations throughout College. Former Librarian C.W. Collins wrote in 1941 “Nowadays, when the building is inconvenient and over-crowded in every respect, it is easy to forget how Utopian it must have seemed to those who worked so hard to secure it not many years ago”

Next: Arcades and Men's Common Room

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