History of the UC Library

Old bookshelf with aged books

The Library was first established at Canterbury College in 1879. Initially the collection grew very slowly and it was three-quarters of a century before the first 100,000 volumes were acquired. But since then there has been real and rapid growth. The second 100,000 took only 12 years, that doubled in seven years, and eight years later it doubled again.

A century ago the annual provision for the Library was the equivalent of $30. By 1923, it had risen to $790, by 1971 to $216,000. By 2010 the collections budget was $8.4 million of which 76% is spent on electronic rather than print resources.

The College was founded in 1873, but there was no real home for the tiny collection of books for 43 years. They were locked in glass cases in the hall initially and were later moved to a gloomy little room under the Worcester Street clock tower. It was not until 1906 that the Professorial Board established a committee on the Library and its report requested that books be arranged and put in order and that the equivalent of $200 a year be used for purchase. However, in 1912 Canterbury's total of 4,378 books was the lowest of the four colleges of the University of New Zealand. By 2009 Canterbury had over 1.9 million physical items, 137,000 electronic books and 60,000 electronic serials titles.

The first Library building was ready for use in 1916, while the Library of Congress Classification scheme was adopted in 1934. With the move to the Ilam campus, the Library was housed in the James Hight Building from 1974 onwards (now the Puaka - James Hight building). Floors 2 to 11 are occupied by the Central Library. There are two other libraries on campus – the Engineering and Physical Sciences Library, and the Macmillan Brown Library.

While the physical spaces that are the campus libraries are important for the storage of the print collection, they have become increasingly important as study and learning spaces for students. UC libraries have been responding to these changing needs as money and opportunity allows. The advance of technology also means that the Library provides electronic books and journals, web pages, email inquiries, an online catalogue, online tutorials, online bookings, online renewals, My Library Account, reminders by SMS, Web 2.0, e.g. AskLive, wikis, blogs - and so and so on and so on. All information but for a few exceptions are available off campus, i.e. in flats, tutorial rooms, buses, cafes, Antarctica. The delivery of information has become increasingly mobile as the students become increasingly mobile and connected. The Library has always been at the forefront of increasing remote access, dedicated to improving services to students and staff. And the Library still provides warm study spaces, beanbags, friendly face-to-face help for those who like the personal touch.