Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962

On Monday, October 3rd, 1904, the Waihi Municipal Library was opened to the public in the newly-erected Borough Chambers. Prior to this date, there had been a public library housed in business premises, administrated by a committee drawn from the reading public, and subsidised by the Borough Council. The new library boasted a main library room off which was a reading room on one side and a chess or card room and a ladies' room on the other. Waihi was doing itself proud.

Three days earlier, the Borough Council had been debating the appointment of a permanent librarian. Opinion had been evenly divided as to whether a man or woman be appointed to the position. Councillor Donaldson rose to heights of oratory and the Waihi Daily Telegraph reported: "Cr. Donaldson said he was usually a battler for the weaker sex, but on this occasion he would battle for the sterner sex. He did not speak disparagingly of the ladies when he said the position was for a man. In his modest way (Cr Foster: I know all about the modesty) he had admiration, adoration and esteem for the gentler sex, but it would be a backward step to saddle a lady with work that would deprive her, as pointed out by her champion, Cr Katz, of home life.

Cr Donaldson continued that it should not be the object of man to remove woman from her proper sphere, (Cr Foster: Hear, hear!) and put her in the position of competing with her brother and father for a livelihood. (Cr Katz: What about the ones with no father and brother?). Besides the loss of the comforts of home life, the position was unreasonable and unsafe.

The Mayor: "I think there is far too much sentiment on this subject."

It was decided that applications be invited from both males and females, and three councillors and the mayor were elected to serve on the Library Committee, subscribers to nominate another three representatives.

Twelve women applied for the position and seven men. On October 14, 1904, Mrs Robert Simms was appointed librarian and the library settled down to a pattern it was to preserve for the next forty years.

Mrs Simms was followed by a Mr Bishop and in 1911 a Mrs Adams was acting as librarian. A catalogue of books stocked by the Municipal Library, dated October 1911, shows 1047 books by known authors and 41 by unknown authors. In addition there were 25 volumes of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, a world-wide atlas, a Cyclopaerio [Cyclopedia? – E] of New Zealand, a Cassell's History of England and a dictionary. The catalogue shows the library to have been strong on Marie Correlli, A. Conan Doyle and William Le Queux.

Library rules — there were 16 of them — exhorted members to see that the books they took out were in good order, that books were to be used with good care and returned to the Library in good order and that books were not to be passed from one member to another, or otherwise lent outside the member's house. A fine of threepence per book, per week, was imposed for detention of any book beyond 21 days, and this must be one of the few instances of costs not advancing with the times. The same rule applies today. Subscriptions were 7/6 a year for two books and 5/- a year for one book.

In 1919, Mrs Adams was succeeded by Mrs A. Woodland and as one of the best-known and best-loved of public figures in Waihi, she was to serve as librarian for the next 28 years. Under her guidance, from small beginnings, the Library came to be recognised as an institution worthy of the town.

For twenty-four years she worked under the handicap of short finance for book purchases. At the December, 1925, meeting of the Borough Council, the Telegraph reported a councillor pointing out that no grant had been made for book purchases during the past twelve months and moved that £20 be allocated for the purchase of new books. Several local citizens had been generous in presenting books to the Library and Mrs Woodland cites Mr Crawford Brown, a local Bank manager and Mr S. N. Miller, who is still the Library's chief benefactor in this respect. Of recent years, Mr Miller has presented some hundreds of books to his fellow-citizens through the public library.

In October, 1944, encouraged by the Town Clerk, Mr F. Murray, a change was made from the subscription to the free system, and the Library became affiliated with the Country Library Service. The library premises were altered — the ladies' room, the chess and card room, the library room and the reading room, all gave way to the one large room as we know it today. During the changeover, the Library operated from an empty shop in the main street, and Mrs Woodland was assisted in the re-organisation by the Town Clerk and members of the staff of the High School. It was indeed a proud day when the new Library, resplendent with new look and new stock, was opened to the public. By changing to the Country Library Service system the Library resources of the whole country became available through the National Library Service.

Mrs Woodland resigned in August 1948, and a public farewell was tendered her in the Borough Chambers. She was succeeded by Mrs H. Extel and Miss S. Say (Mrs W. Lawrence), and in 1953, by the writer.

— R. P. Bell.