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Carterton library celebrates 150 years

The Carterton community celebrated its library service’s 150th year this month, culminating in a ceremony at Carterton Events Centre – complete with a miniature library in cake form.

The milestone makes the Carterton branch of the Wairarapa Library Service [WLS] something of a “grande dame” – it is one of New Zealand’s oldest public library services and is housed in the longest-serving purpose-built library building in Aotearoa.

The Carterton library was established by 400 residents – including the town’s “founding father”, Charles Rooking Carter – in 1874, and moved into its current building in 1881.

“What began as a library started by a local community with 200 books in 1874 has blossomed into a shared service spanning four towns,” a Carterton District Council [CDC] spokesperson said. “Today, the WLS has 10,000 members, 70,000 print items and a further 80,000 digital items.”

And while all that library goodness is free of charge to its users today, it wasn’t always the case.

An annual subscription was payable until 1963 and, in the 1870s, cost 10 shillings, as well as an entry fee of two shillings and sixpence.

Andrea Darbyshire, Carterton branch librarian, imagined Charles Rooking Carter would probably be a bit surprised by the unrestricted access as well as “how noisy it can get sometimes”.

“But I hope he would be heartened by it and delighted by the fact that now access for people is free.”

As part of the celebrations, WLS librarian Madeleine Slavick and members of the Carterton District Historical Society [CDHS] curated a public exhibition in the foyer of the Carterton Events Centre.

It provides a comprehensive chronology of the development of Carterton’s library service and its building, complete with historic photographs, maps and plans.

“It was a big job and took a lot of time to pull together”, Pene Will, CDHS president, said, “But it was very enjoyable.”

Slavick, Will and fellow history buffs “hunted” for material for the exhibition from a range of sources, including the internet, CDHS’s own files and archives, and the library service.

The exhibition documents dozens of names, facts and snippets of news associated with the library service’s long history – such as the names of the town’s first female librarians [Miss Campin and Elizabeth Roydhouse], the date the library became “debt free” [February 1875], and the opening of Carterton Toy Library in 1989 by then mayor Barry Keys.

For Will, the project tapped into her long relationship with the town, its library service, and the people who ran it.

“I grew up in Carterton and I used to come to this old library as a child and Nancy [Blackman, who joined the library service in 1963] used to find books for me. So I have a personal connection to it.”

The commemoration of the library service provides “a touchstone to the past”, Will said. “And it’s so nice to see so many people who obviously still value this place and who use it.”

Organising the exhibition gave Will the opportunity to see how welcoming, safe and warm the library space was for so many people in the community.

“It was really interesting to see the range of people that came through the door. The care the librarians put into making people feel welcome is lovely,” she said.

This sense of inclusivity and welcome is something Darbyshire is committed to maintaining as the Carterton branch of WLS heads into its next sesquicentenary [which is fancy for 150 years].

“We also want to be inclusive to everyone. Something I’m very passionate about is that we are open to everybody.

“It’s one of the few places in society where you can go, where you don’t have to be a member, and sit in a warm building. You can spend all day there, and you don’t have to spend a penny.”

And with the library service’s continued focus on helping educate and share knowledge, Darbyshire is confident it will continue to be a valuable hub for the community.

“Education is still our driving motivator,” she said.

“Some people who don’t use libraries think they are just leisure pursuit. But if you come in, you’ll see libraries provide so much teaching.

“It’s not just people coming in to get the latest thrillers or romances. It’s children coming in to get books to help them learn to read. It’s people coming in for computer education. We also have groups like Divine River [a personal wellbeing charity] coming in to do workshops. And Digital Seniors [providing tech support to older people] come in and deliver workshops. The Justices of the Peace come in every week. And Community Law.”

A library is “so much more than a building,” Darbyshire said. “It’s a service to the community. This was the case back in 1874 and continues today in 2024.”

Attendees at the celebration enjoyed a morning tea, with the library cake – made by local resident, Meredith White – a particular stand out.

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