“A library does not stand in isolation in a community. It plays an integral part in the educational, 
cultural and recreational life of its town.” (Ringer, 1980)

Hamilton City Library and Courthouse, date unknown. HCL_11247

After the tumult of the New Zealand Land Wars, the settlement of Hamilton began to grow, with the arrival of military settlers taking up allotments of confiscated land. As more residents arrived, the need for cultural and recreational activities grew. The Hamilton Institute was founded in 1870. Supported by a donation of books from the Auckland Provincial Council, by 1874  a collection of 209 books, periodicals and daily journals had been established. 72 of 666 townsfolk were subscription members of the Institute. However, in July 1874 disaster struck as the building burnt to ground, and subsequently it was discovered the secretary had decamped with the funds, leaving the Institute unable to continue.

After some temporary private libraries failed, and much debate by the Hamilton Borough Council, in 1883 the Public Library was founded, as many surrounding towns with smaller populations already supported reading rooms/libraries and it was a matter of civic pride for many of the 1361 residents that Hamilton should have a library of its own.

The first Public Library was officially opened on 10 Oct 1884. The building had been supplied by the Hamilton Borough Council, a former toll house of the traffic bridge between Hamilton East and Hamilton West.

 Union Bridge, from River Road, c.1880s. In the left corner you can see the Toll House which was later used to house the first Hamilton Public Library. HCL_09264

The following years were turbulent for the library as funds were scarce, and the building not wholly suitable. The decision was made in 1896 to build a new building, and introduce a new model of operation, a composite of both free and subscription services. Fundraising began in earnest, this included a Library Ball, which later became a beloved community event, benefit performances by the Dramatic Club as well as public subscriptions.

Victoria Street, c. 1904. On the extreme right you can see the second Public Library in Hamilton. HCL_ 00939

 The new building was built just south of Grantham/Victoria St intersection and was formally opened 22 April 1899. However, Hamilton was an ever-growing town with an ever-growing library. Many towns in New Zealand benefitted from funding provided by Scottish/American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, however Hamilton Borough Council had to commit to an annual grant before Mr Carnegie would agree to contributing to Hamilton’s new facility. The new building was designed by local firm Rigby and Warren and built opposite Garden Place. It was officially opened by Premier Sir Joseph Ward on 17 February 1908 and became known as the ‘Carnegie Library’.

Opening of Carnegie Library by Sir Joseph Ward in 1908. Image taken from Garden Place hill. HCL_00122

 “Entrance to the Carnegie Library was provided somewhat dangerously by a large modern revolving door. 
Subscribers; hands often got caught in it (‘we would hear the ‘crunch’, said one librarian), and dogs
sometimes got trapped to circulate howling until released…The reading room was provided with cane chairs
and enormous dark-stained tables. It also had coal fires, in front of which old gentlemen liked to sit
dozing on cold winter days. Librarians occasionally had to turn some of them, like toast.” (Ringer, 1980)


Inside Carnegie Library, 1951. HCL_09362

Frankton had been established as a town in 1902, and quickly grew with the establishment of the railway. In 1917, the Frankton and Hamilton Borough Councils amalgamated. By the early 1920s, the community demanded their own library. The Frankton Library opened on 22 December 1923 and operated as a separate entity until 1950 when it became a branch under the governance of the Hamilton Public Library.

The first Frankton Library in Hall St. It was demolished in 1983. HCL_M00301.18

By 1960 the main Hamilton Public Library had again outgrown its premises but was also occupying prime real estate. The Library was moved into the new Council Building on Worley St and the old Library site sold.

In 1968 the Library relocated again, this time into the William Paul Hall, Alexandra St (then known as Barton St, then Worley Place with road adjustments). The Hall had been built to house the Waikato Winter Show and was no longer required for the purpose. Space in the building quickly filled, and a mezzanine floor was added a few years later for extra space, however the building was not ideal, and calls grew ever louder for a new central Library building to be built.

William Paul Hall, 1977. HCL_M00192.20


Inside William Paul Hall, 1980. HCL_09344

The move to create branch Libraries across Hamilton was approved in principle 1977, however growth across Hamilton was beginning to slow and funds were not immediately available. The calls for a replacement Central Library were also continuing, and the Council agreed to construct a new building as part of its long term infrastructure development in 1979, however it was at least three years away, with other projects more pressing given priority.

Despite the approval in 1977 to begin the establishment of branch Libraries, it was not until August 1982 that the first branch, at Hillcrest was opened. The converted house quickly became too small for the purpose and the Hillcrest branch was relocated to its present Masters Ave site in 1997.

The second and third branches to be built followed quickly, Chartwell opening 10 September 1984 and the only one purpose built as a Library, opened in Dinsdale on 17 August 1985.

Glenview was opened on 8 Nov 1989 and was expanded in July 1992.

St Andrews Library, which opened on 23 Feb 1990, was a replacement for the Frankton Library.

Hamilton was served by six libraries for over 30 years. Most recently, Te Kete Aronui - the city's seventh branch - was opened in Rototuna North on 21 July 2023.

A Mobile Library service was implemented in 1975 but was deemed too costly to run and was decommissioned in December 1996.

The Central Library continued in the William Paul Hall until the present building, formerly Arthur Barnett/DIC on Garden Place became available. The former department store opened as the Central Library on 20 March 1993. Earthquake strengthening work forced the Central Library to close to the public in November 2016 and the Central Library reopened to the public on 9 July 2018.

In March 2019, as part of the Boon Hamilton Street Art Festival, the Central Library was given a refreshing update by artist Christie Wright.

The Libraries were again closed to the public in March & April 2020 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Reopening was undertaken in stages, with a contactless Click & Collect service offered until restrictions on public facilities were lifted in June 2020.

 Hamilton Central Library, Garden Place, c.2018

For a more detailed history of the Hamilton City Libraries, Hamilton Public Library A Brief History by J.B. Ringer and Hamilton City Libraries 1980-2009 by Jeff Downs are both available on Level 3 of Central Library in the Heritage Collection.

Article References

Ringer, J. B. (1980) Hamilton Public Library A Brief History. Hamilton, New Zealand: Hamilton Public Library.

Downs, J. (2009) Hamilton City Libraries 1980-2009 A Brief History. Hamilton, New Zealand: Hamilton City Libraries.