In 1866 nine people donated a total of €35.14.0d ($71.40), and twenty-seven members paid a subscription of one guinea ($2.10) to the Mechanics Institute, the forerunner of the Leithfield Public Library. The present day values of the donations are $3,855 and subscriptions $3,118. During that first year £43.7.10d ($86.78) was spent on books - in today’s money $4,686.

It is not clear what the remaining expenditure was for but only 1/8d (17 cents) was left at the end of the year. The Treasurer was J.S. Woodhouse and James Moore the first President. The books of the embryo library were stored in the School house and the schoolmaster John Morrison acted as librarian.

Founder members included John Leith – “Mr. Leithfield” - investor, hotel keeper, windmill owner, first postmaster (two years later he was bankrupt).  Farmers, land-owners, a blacksmith, butcher, baker and quite possibly a candlestick maker all contributed to the founding membership

A one hundred and fifty-year-journey had started.  Although the locals knew the township as Leithfield, the name was not officially changed from Kowhai until 1877. Unfortunately, in the previous year the railway by-passed Leithfield and Amberley became the primary Canterbury settlement north of Kaiapoi

In 1869 The Mechanics Institute became The Leithfield Book Club; and in 1871 “Leithfield Public Library” emerged. A hundred years later it became an incorporated society.

1871 two hundred and thirty books were purchased from London for £39.12d a cost of 3/6d (39 cents) a copy. In today’s values the consignment would be $5,470 and each book cost a surprisingly low $23.48.

With a growing membership and a collection of over a thousand books, suitable accommodation became a priority. In 1874 a redundant flax store owned by the Loan Mercantile Agency was purchased for £80 ($160). The following year £104 ($208) was spent on alterations and additions.  A Government grant of $150 ($300) helped to make the purchase.

Expressed in today’s language $24,252 was spent on the building which was to be the Library’s home for the next eighty-seven years. The Government grant of $20,195 meant that the citizens of Leithfield and district contributed over $4,000. No mean effort for a community of around five hundred!

Ten Years On – 1876

Fifty-one members subscribed a total of £14.15.0d ($29.50). In 2016 terms an average of $42.51 for each member. The New Zealand Insurance Company paid a company subscription of £2.  Other income was received from The Oddfellows and Chess club and from social functions and meetings held in the Library. This was the equivalent of $1,717. A Government grant of £75 was received, translating to $11,150 – somewhat greater generosity than currently prevails!! 

In current values book purchases were $16,883 – the Insurance bill was $602 – the librarian was paid a salary of $1,710. Painting and maintenance was $424. The surplus carried forward to the following year was the equivalent of $1,180.

So in ten years our library had grown from infancy to adolescence.

And the next one hundred and forty

The following years saw the Library growing into adulthood and becoming an established part of Leithfield rural life. Following life’s pattern there were ups and downs. In 1926 membership had dropped to 26 with a family subscription of 7/6d – which would have been about $36 in 2016.

However, in the nineteen fifties the building had finally come to the end of its life as a library and fundraising for a replacement began. Public commitment is demonstrated by the community participation. In today’s values a public collection received over $16,000. A variety of activities – dances, eucre and housie evenings, a hare drive, and a public auction contributed a staggering $22,000. The old building was sold for $5,373 and the good old Government put in $5,209.

Building work began in 1954. Again a community effort, and the new library opened in 1955 costing $46,400, leaving a surplus of $2474. Donations of shelving and chairs were received from the Oddfellows Lodge and the Amberley Jaycees.

The building still houses – almost to bursting point - a fine collection of modern fiction and operates only with the dedicated help of many volunteers.

Fundraising is always a challenge and the library is subscription free due to the weekly raffling of frozen chooks sold at our ever-helpful neighbour - The Old Leithfield Hotel. These started in 1988 and still provide an income to purchase books for the benefit of the community.

Throughout its proud and long history, the survival of the library is due to dedicated citizens serving the community. Down from the original president James Moore, the first librarian J. Morrison and treasurer J Woodhouse, to the innumerable dedicated volunteers that followed them.

Worthy of mention are Tom May, June and the late Neville Coulbeck who were all involved for over fifty years – a record difficult to see being beaten.

Today the library still serves the community, keeping, perhaps a rather lower profile than it should. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm remains and we look forward to the next one hundred and fifty.


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Anthony | Reply 09.09.2016 14.44

A fascinating history I don't know of any community libraries let alone one with this continuing story

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26.09 | 20:42

I know how that must have felt Gerry! We recently had no power for 2 weeks; lots of buckets full of water from outside, luckily we have a tap at bottom of tank.

26.09 | 15:23

Good stuff Gerry.
Your No 1 Fan, Pam

12.10 | 19:10

Jerry- I am so glad to see that you are firing on all four cylinders, your impish sense of humour comes through again in this piece. Regards, Brian.

09.09 | 14:44

A fascinating history I don't know of any community libraries let alone one with this continuing story

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