Marian Gunn


Marian Gunn – Nelson Library Manager, 1987-2001

Born in Manhattan, schooled in rural Pennsylvania and attending university in the mid-west of the United States, Marian Gunn travelled extensively overseas before meeting her husband in London and moving to New Zealand. After volunteering at the Feilding Library, she trained as a librarian and worked at the Dairy Research Institute Library and the Teachers College Library.1

Her husband’s job moved the family to Nelson in early 1980. Marian worked in several libraries around Nelson, including the Cawthron Institute library and the Polytechnic library through government PEP work schemes before securing a job working with Bryce Jones at the Nelson Public Library in November 1980. After Bryce resigned as City Librarian in 1986, Marian was appointed to the role in early 1987.2

(Marian Gunn, 1990). The Nelson Provincial Museum, The Nelson Mail Collection: C2434
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With a new library building promised by Nelson City Council, Marian was frequently asked to write reports on various sites and requirements of the library. Her other duties included staff management, book selection, and reporting to Council on the library’s day-to-day activities. Her main goals were to get the library into the new building and to get the library computerised.3 She describes working conditions in the old library:

‘It wasn’t an easy place to work….There were some real issues with health and safety with the Library Manager’s job. It was almost cave-like and….it was a lot of hard physical work. You had to be physically fit in those days to be on the library staff….And the facilities weren’t great – there was no water, you had to bring the water up to the tea room, and it was freezing in the winter. But I think [the staff] grew quite close with all these adversities.’

In 1989 preparations began for the library move into the new building in Halifax Street. Marian oversaw this process and recalls: ‘moving the stock was very difficult because we had a silverfish problem in the old library and we didn’t want to take these insects into the new library. So everything had to go first into big containers, to be sprayed, and then they had to be aired and then they had to be moved.’ As the new library was so much more spacious than the crammed old one, the shelves in the new library ‘looked quite empty’ when the new building first opened, and the books disappeared quickly when the library first opened, as an eager public fast arrived to borrow books. But the Council approved an increased budget for new books and staffing, which ensured the new library was very modern.

Marian Gunn speaking at the opening of the new library in Stoke. Photo courtesy of Marian Gunn
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Marian’s career as a librarian spanned a unique period of technological change. She recalls her fascination at the introduction of a memory typewriter which made the card catalogue system much more efficient. While writing reports about requirements for a new library building, Marian also had to report on the advantages and disadvantages of possible computer systems, and the library was required to computerise. Over time a larger investment was made in computer resources as opposed to book stock, particularly in the reference section of the library.4

Marian was also involved with moving the Stoke Library into a new building. She sees her greatest achievements during her time as Library Manager being ‘moving the library from possibly one of the worst in terms of budget to being able to give a good service to the people of Nelson and getting really highly qualified staff on the team.’5  Nola Leov recalls that ‘it was thanks to [Marian] really that everything worked so well…she was a joy to work with.’6


Updated May 5, 2020

Sources used in this story

  1. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011
  2. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 201
  3. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.
  4. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.
  5. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 201
  6. Interview with Nola Leov, 6 September 2011.

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