Friends of the Nelson Library Inc


When Nola Leov first moved to Nelson in the late 1980s, the library was in a sad state. A new library building was desperately needed. Councillor Elma Turner’s decades of effort were finally paying off, and the library moved into a new building in Halifax Street in 1990. The library collection move was overseen by Library Manager Marian Gunn. Nola began informal discussions with Marian about starting a Friends of the Library group in Nelson.1

Friends of the Nelson Library. 3.    (Stoke Library’s 1st birthday, 13 December 1994). The Nelson Provincial Museum, The Nelson Mail Collection: C23286
Click image to enlarge

Once the shift into the new library was complete, a public meeting was called to discuss what a group like Friends of the Library could do. Nola recalls the necessity of this discussion, as the number of people using the library increased dramatically after the shift into the new venue: ‘As a result of the change of venue…the numbers of people using the library increased enormously….Within a year or so the usage of the library just rocketed.’2 Marian also recalls: ‘I could see the increase in usage of the Library was phenomenal after the new building opened and we just needed help in raising funds and various projects like they did.’3

Nola Leov

Nola Leov 1928-2019. Image Wayne Kennedy

This original meeting was enthusiastically attended by about 40-50 people, chaired by Ann Nightingale. As a result, a steering committee of 8-10 people was set up, with Nola Leov as chair. Most of those who attended the original meeting became members of the Friends and were involved with the Friends in some capacity.

The Friends was established as an incorporated society and registered as a charitable organisation, although this was a time consuming process taking about 6 months. The purpose of the Friends was to support and promote the group of libraries in Nelson. Libraries usually requested practical support, such as raising money for blackout curtains and trolleys. Through fundraising methods such as a “dollar box” system in each library, garage sales and other fundraising events, the Friends also contributed towards the library birthday fund to celebrate the library’s 150th anniversary in 1992.4

Digitisation projects - The Nelson Mail on microfilm and more

But the Friends’ biggest fundraising effort was the microfilm project – an initiative by the library to have the Nelson Evening Mail microfilmed. As the Nelson Provincial Museum had the only complete run of the Nelson Evening Mail in the country, librarians from the City Library and the museum approached the Friends to ask if they would be prepared to raise money for this project, as the Nelson Evening Mail was at risk of becoming unusable and ultimately destroyed if it was not microfilmed. Technical advice and consultation with libraries worldwide confirmed that microfilm was the best option due to its long shelf-life. Once the National Library became aware of the plight of the Nelson Evening Mail, it confirmed it would microfilm the years 1866-1910.5 As the paper was automatically microfilmed from 1975, the Friends were left to fundraise for microfilming 65 years of the paper.6

While this was a completely different type of fundraising, the Friends received support from a number of interested parties, including the Nelson Historical SocietyGenealogical Society, the Nelson Institute and the Nelson Evening Mail. A microfilm subcommittee was soon set up, chaired by Nola Leov. The fundraising process took four years, and once complete the microfilm subcommittee became the digitization subcommittee, chaired by Barbara Rhodes. Once complete the microfilmed newspapers were used a great deal.

Friends of the Library final meeting 2021 1 A2814542

Friends of the Library Committee 2021 - Jill Ruthven, Mary Belser, Averil Heppel, Barbara Rhodes, Christopher Vine

The Friends have since contributed to the funding of a number of other digital initiatives, notably the Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, the Nelson PhotoNews and Medianet, from the New Zealand Film Archive. It also provides regular funds to support library collections, largely through the organisation of library book sales.

Librarian Marian Gunn saw the support from the Friends of the Library as very important, because it engaged the community and encouraged Council support when the community was seen to be raising money themselves for the library.

The Friends of the Library continued to fund events, notably sponsoring the Live Music series, purchase extra resources, especially toys, and run the book sales until 2021. In that year, after consulting its members, the Committee decided to wind up the Society. Its last meeting was on 6 April 2022.

2011 (updated 2022) 

Sources used in this story

  1. Interview with Nola Leov, 6 September 2011.
  2. Interview with Nola Leov, 6 September 2011.
  3. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.
  4. Interview with Nola Leov, 6 September 2011.
  5. The Nelson Mail, 5 March 1866 - 31 December 1909, is now available on Papers Past,
  6. Protecting our history [advertising feature] (1996, February 27) Nelson Mail, supplement 1-8; Preserving for posterity (1996, October 10) Nelson Mail; Cairns, J. (1996, February 23) Nelson' past on microfilm. Nelson Mail, p.11
  7. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.


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