James Hight Library - Information and Records Management - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

James Hight Library & Arts Tower

1969 - 1973, Ministry of Works, $3,000,000

"After the war [World War II] building priorities altered radically and Canterbury was soon enmeshed in its great debate about whether to develop on the block to the north [at the City site] or to seek new fields at Ilam. When the decision to move was finally taken, the long-admitted priority for the Library was useless. As the heart of the university, the Library could not move first, or even at an early stage, to the new site."

Extract taken from March 1974 Chronicle (PDF 2.41MB)

Completed Library view from UCSA 1973
James Hight Library - completed 1973

"Most students go to University to drink from a fountain of knowledge--only a tiny minority are content merely with gargling--and what better fountain of knowledge can a University have than a library?"

Sir Arthur Porritt, Vice-Chancellor 1970


University Library grew from very small beginnings...

Chronicle March 1974The [Canterbury College] Library was established formally in 1879, six years after the establishment of the College, but it had no resources other than books lent by professors, housed in glass cases in the Hall. A year later a grant of £200 was made for books and they were then housed in the room under the clock tower until the new Library opened in 1916. But even when the new Library was opened, the provision for it was meager and Hight, who was chairman of the Library Committee for many years, described it in 1927 as hopelessly small and badly planned and the books, periodicals and the annual supply as a bitter grievance with new professors, while visitors from other universities "do not hesitate to describe the provision as scandalous."

"Though the library grew in the post-war years it was not until the late fifties that its growth was given real impetus. A committee on the well-being of the Library was established by the Professorial Board in 1959 to study the Library's requirements seriously. Its members were Professor J.C. Garrett, Professor N.C. Phillips, Professor S.R. Siemon, Professor J. Vaughan and Professor L.L. Pownall. The committee's report, described as momentous, started a real programme of expansion which now provides the library with $350,000 a year for books, periodicals, binding and equipment. The staff grew too, from 22 in 1959 to 60 in 1974 and additional services and extended hours have been provided."

Extract taken from March 1974 Chronicle (PDF 2.41MB)


In 1963 it was announced in the University Newsletter that the Ministry of Works had been appointed as architect for the first stage of a new complex of buildings at Ilam, namely the Arts, Library, Administration and General Complex. This appointment would cover the initial accommodation of the Library and the Faculties of Arts, Law, Commerce and Music. Subsequent extensions or additions would not necessarily be planned by the same architect.

Model of James HightModel of James Hight with actual behind

Models of the James Hight building. The right-hand image shows the actual building behind


In an article in the Chronicle (March 1967), the Vice-Chancellor Professor Phillips told Council there were three compelling reasons why they should press for completion of the third stage by 1972: pressure on the city site by that time would be greater than ever before; the University needed to maintain its sense of identity by not being separated for more than a year, six years was more than enough time to be separated; the University needed to be on a single site by its centennial in 1973. "This is the objective from which we must not deviate," he said.


Construction of James Hight Library 1969

By 1969 work was about to start on the first building of the final stage in the transfer of the University from the city to the Ilam site. The tender from the Christchurch firm, C.S. Luney Ltd., of $3,005,349 for the Library-Arts block, was accepted by the Government at the end of July.

Extract from July 1969 Chronicle (PDF, 1.52MB)







Construction of James Hight Library aerial view 1969
Aerial view of the construction of James Hight Library 1969 (above) and view from ground level 1969 (left)







Ilam Library stone laid 1970 page 2In 1970 Governor-General Sir Arthur Porritt laid the foundation stone of the James Hight Library at Ilam, around 300 guests were in attendance. In his speech Sir Arthur said he liked to think of the laying of foundation stones as architectural christenings. "They give me a similar feeling to that one gets when a ship is launched. Today, for better or for worse, if I may mix my ceremonies, we are launching an educational ship of considerable magnitude into a sea of practical and cultural usage," Sir Arthur said. "Most students go to University to drink from a fountain of knowledge--only a tiny minority are content merely with gargling--and what better fountain of knowledge can a University have than a library?"

Extract from May 1970 Chronicle (PDF, 2.87MB)

Sir Arthur Porritt lays foundation stone of the James Hight Library, 1970 (May 1970 Chronicle)




Library from University Drive 1971 Construction of James Hight Library 1971
Construction of James Hight Library as seen from University Drive (left) and from the north side (right), both 1971

"In naming the new library for Sir James Hight the University recalls not only his long and remarkable service to Canterbury, but also his appreciation of and work for the Library."

For more on Hight see the March 1974 Chronicle (PDF 2.41MB)


Library from Registry 1973 James Hight completed 1973
James Hight Library partially completed 1973


On Saturday 23rd March 1974, the James Hight Library and arts block was officially opened by the Governor-General, Sir Denis Blundell, and would be New Zealand's largest University building. The building was not fully completed, but several floors designed for use in 1974 were completed.

Completed James Hight Library 1973
James Hight Library main entrance and car park 1974

The Library began its move from the City site to the James Hight building at 11am on Monday, 18 November 1974. There were 180,000 books on the town site and about 40,000 from the Sciences Library to be moved, and it was hoped that this would be completed by Christmas. At 5.30pm on Friday 20 December, the Library in town would close its doors for the last time, and end its association with the gracious grey stone Gothic buildings of the North quadrangle.

Extract from Nov 1974 Chronicle (PDF, 1.06MB)

Chronicle Nov 1974

"The carpet in the Main Library certainly impressed the Chairman of the U.G.C. [University Grants Committee], Sir Alan Danks, when he inspected the new Library-Arts building in 1974. The carpet had just been laid, but the book stacks were still to be erected and the floor looked not unlike a spacious, well-manicured park.

Danks mounted the steps to the Library, opened the doors, whistled slowly and turned to his companion. "Caddie", he said, "hand me my driver."






Chronicle March 1975In 1975 the University Library occupied the bottom four levels of the building and the Departments of Accountancy, Business Administration, Classics, Economics, Law, Philosophy and Religious Studies were in the tower.

Access to the tower was gained through the doors off the concrete podium on Level 1 at the west end of the building (where it remains today).

Interestingly, the two lifts at the west end, would by-pass the Library floors, but serviced Level 6 and above.

Extract from article A guide to the James Hight Library March 1975 Chronicle