History of the UC Library

Old bookshelf with aged books

Our library was first established at Canterbury College in 1879. The collection grew very slowly and it was three-quarters of a century before it reached 100,000 volumes. Things improved after that; 12 years later the collection had doubled, and 7 years later it had doubled again. A century after its establishment, the collection exceeded 800,000 volumes.

A century ago the annual provision for the Library was the imperial equivalent of $30. By 2010 the budget for the collection alone was $8.4 million of which 76% was spent on electronic rather than print resources.

While Canterbury College was founded in 1873, 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 $200 a year be used for purchasing items. Despite this, in 1912, Canterbury's total of 4,378 books was the lowest of the four colleges of the University of New Zealand. Today we have over 2 million physical items including books, archives, journals and a miscellany of other items. In addition the library provides access to a huge range of electronic resources.

The first Library building was ready for use in 1916. With the move to the Ilam campus, the Library was split with first the Engineering Library, and later the Physical Sciences Library, moving to the new campus. Finally, in 1974, the rest of the library moved to the Ilam campus and was housed in the newly constructed James Hight building (now the Puaka - James Hight building). 

Since 1974 many things have changed. A separate law library was established within the James Hight building and then moved to a new Law building, only to come back to Puaka - James Hight in recent years. The old Physical Sciences Library closed and its collections moved to the Engineering Library now called the EPS Library. The Macmillan Brown collection of New Zealand and Pacific materials came out of a locked room in James Hight and into a permanently staffed library of its own. With the merger of the University and Christchurch College of Education, the Henry Field Library on the old Christchurch College of Education site joined the fold. Henry Field is now a library store and the Education collection has been incorporated into the collections within the Puaka - James Hight building. And building names have changed.

Today, floors 2 to 11 of Puaka - James Hight are occupied by the Central Library (humanities, health sciences, social sciences, law and education). 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 physical collection, they are also important as study and learning spaces for students. As well, technology has become an integral part of libraries. The Library provides online access to a very wide range of electronic resources, subject guides, services and information resources. Efforts to improve the quality of online materials, especially in this increasingly mobile world, continue – and the Library still provides warm study spaces, beanbags and friendly face-to-face help for those who like the personal touch.