The Beginnings of Library Services in Golden Bay / Mohua


Public libraries in New Zealand were set up not long after European settlement began in 1840. Recognised as the first library in the country was the one which opened in Wellington in May 1841. Not long afterwards a library opened in Nelson. It is not certain when Golden Bay obtained its own library but evidence places it before 1861 in Motupipi. 

Country Library Service 1955

1. Weigel, William George, 1890-1980. Country Library Service bus and librarians, Christchurch. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-6203-03. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22313105

These first libraries were public but they were not free. Anyone could join a local library in exchange for an annual subscription, and then be entitled to borrow books, but libraries, even with subscriptions, were expensive to maintain. From as early as 1856 provincial councils made grants to libraries. Central government grants were made from 1877. By 1884 there were 356 public libraries in New Zealand with 25 of them being in the Nelson District. The four Golden Bay libraries to receive grants in that year were Collingwood, Lower Tākaka, Motupipi and Tākaka East (1). 

In the early 1900s a number of cities and towns received money from a Scots-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, to build free public libraries. None of the Golden Bay libraries seems to have been the recipient of one of these grants.

The desire of the public to read was not satisfied by the existence of the libraries in the four main areas of Golden Bay. Those in outlying districts and very remote areas could not access them easily. As a result smaller libraries began to spring up all over the Bay. There was a library in Upper Tākaka from about 1916 with books housed in the local school porch and there are also known to have been small libraries in the settlements of Urewhenua, Onekaka, Pakawau, Rockville and Bainham as well as libraries set up by businesses, similar to that operated by the Cement Works at Tarakohe. There would have been many more besides these.

Old Takaka Library

2. The old Takaka Memorial Library building in Commercial Street, Tākaka.

Some of these small libraries, like those at Rockville and Bainham, were set up in the 1930s to the 1950s by the Women’s Division of the Farmers’ Union in response to demand from the local community. All seemed to have been subscription based libraries, run by volunteers, with books borrowed from the Country Library Book Service or bought with money from fund-raising events and donations. These more remote libraries were set up in halls or post offices or even private homes but a few, like the library at Rockville, were specially built. Made out of corrugated iron and situated on the Skiltons’ land, it was, nonetheless, a repository of books.

The first Labour government, elected in 1935, was keen to provide free public libraries and from this initiative sprang the Country Library Book Service. This nationwide service used book vans to bring books to isolated communities. It operated out of three centres (Christchurch, Palmerston North and Hamilton) and at its peak in 1963 was serving 930 libraries. The South Island bus would leave Christchurch for three months at a time with the driver living in the bus for the duration. It carried 1300 books and would visit Golden Bay four times a year, touring each of the small community libraries and journeying out to remote homesteads, cottage hospitals and lighthouses, amongst other places. Books were housed around the outside of the bus with lift-up awnings to shelter under if the weather was inclement. The driver had all he or she needed to cook and sleep inside the van. The service ceased in the late 1980s(2).

The School Library Service was established in 1942 to circulate book collections on loan to schools and small public libraries. 

The four main areas in Golden Bay housing the larger, government funded libraries were Motupipi, Tākaka, Collingwood and East Tākaka.

Panel 1 Library Services : From a series of plaques by Heritage Golden Bay. These plaques were donated to Tākaka Memorial Library at the 10th anniversary celebrations in 2018.

Heritage Golden Bay plaques

The Heritage Golden Bay library plaques.

See also:

Sources used in this story

  1. Public Libraries in the Nelson District. (1884, June 14). Colonist, p.4. Retrieved from:
  2. Millen, J. (2014). Libraries - The National Library. In Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved from:


  1. Weigel, William George, 1890-1980. Country Library Service bus and librarians, Christchurch. New Zealand Free Lance : Photographic prints and negatives. Ref: PAColl-6203-03. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand./records/22313105s.
  2. The old Takaka Memorial Library at 63 Commercial Street, Takaka. (2004). Tasman District Library Archives. 

Want to find out more about the The Beginnings of Library Services in Golden Bay / Mohua ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - The Beginnings of Library Services in Golden Bay / Mohua


  • Gaffney, S. (2012). A concise history of the post offices of Golden Bay. Takaka, N.Z.: Heritage Golden Bay.
  • New Zealand Library Association. (1965). A national library for New Zealand. Wellington, [N.Z].: New Zealand Library Association.
  • Stafford, D. J., & Friends of the Nelson Library. (1992). The library from the sea: Nelson Public Library, 1842-1992. Nelson, [N.Z.]: Friends of the Nelson Library.


  • Kwasitsu, L. (March 1986). Early Libraries in Nelson. New Zealand libraries, 45 (1), 1-6.  
  • Dissmeyer, T. (Oct 1992). 150th Anniversary of the Nelson Public Library. North and South, 26-27. 
  • Traue, J. E. (Jan 2006). Public libraries and access to reading materials in early colonial Nelson. New Zealand libraries, 49 (13), 465-473.