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History of the UC Library

06 October 2023

UC Library was first established at Canterbury College in 1879 with a very small collection. It has since grown to become a vital part of the University and today it holds over 2 million physical items. These include books, archives, journals, and more. Learn about the history of the UC Library.

From humble beginnings

The collection initially grew slowly. 12 years after founding the collection had doubled, and 7 years later it had doubled again. After three-quarters of a century, it reached 100,000 volumes. Growth then increased pace and a century after its establishment, the collection exceeded 800,000 volumes. Today the Library holds over 2 million physical items including books, archives, journals and a miscellany of other items.


Financing the Library followed a similar path. A century ago, the annual provision for the Library was the imperial equivalent of $30. 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. By 2010, the budget for the collection stood at $8.4 million of which 76% was spent on electronic rather than print resources.


Finding a home

While Canterbury College was founded in 1873, forty-three years passed before a home was found for the tiny collection. Initially, books were locked in glass cases in the hall and later moved to a gloomy little room under the Worcester Street clock tower. The first library building was ready for use in 1916. With the move to the Ilam campus, the Library was split. 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 known as Puaka-James Hight).


A separate Law library was established within the James Hight building and then moved to a new Law building (now renamed Mere Mere), only to come back to Puaka-James Hight in recent years. The Physical Sciences Library closed and its collections moved to the Engineering Library (now called the Engineering and Physical Sciences 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. Following changes on that campus, Henry Field became a library store and the Education collections were incorporated into Puaka-James Hight.


Moving with the times

While the campus libraries are important for the storage of the physical collection, they are more important as study and learning spaces for students. Technology has also become an integral part of libraries. The Library provides online access to a wide range of electronic resources, subject guides, and services. Efforts to improve the quality of online materials, especially in this increasingly mobile world, continue and the Library focuses on the provision of study spaces, support and friendly face-to-face and online help.

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