General Library turns 50

Commemorative brochure for the official opening. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

Commemorative brochure for the official opening. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

During the summer of 1968-69, around 300,000 books were moved from the old library in the ClockTower to the new General Library building. The 14,000 cartons of books were packed, moved, unpacked and shelved in 10 days.1

The Library, which took more than two years and cost $2.5m to build, was quickly open for business and by April students were reportedly appreciating, “the functional, aesthetically satisfying building, and the greatly increased seating, at individual, mostly screened, tables.”2 This was in marked contrast to the cramped conditions they had endured in the ClockTower.

Unpacking and shelving. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

Unpacking and shelving. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

Designed by architects Beatson, Rix-Trott, Carter & Co to eventually house 500,000 books and seat 1,100 students, the Library initially occupied the lower four levels, while the English Department and Law School occupied the upper floors. Among the library facilities were dedicated study areas for visually impaired students, a bindery and air-conditioned storage for rare books and archives. A commemorative brochure noted that the building’s main design feature was “the truly impressive main floor and ingenious ceiling-lighted mezzanine”.3 The Library also showcased the works of leading contemporary New Zealand artists including Don Binney, Kees Hos, Colin McCahon, Irene O’Neill, Stan Palmer, and Alison Pickmere. These works form part of the University’s Art Collection.

The building was due to be officially opened by Arthur Kinsella, Minister of Education, on Saturday 26 April 1969. However, a ‘chill’ laid Kinsella low and Rob Muldoon, Finance Minister, was the last-minute stand-in. So last-minute that the plaque unveiled by Muldoon (dubbed in Craccum as the “effective miser of Education”)4 bore Kinsella’s name. According to the New Zealand Herald, Muldoon quipped: “This is the most inaccurate thing I have done for some time.” 5 Although Vice-Chancellor Kenneth Maidment said the Kinsella plaque would probably remain, its whereabouts is now unknown while one bearing Muldoon’s name is preserved in Special Collections.

Muldoon tours the Library. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

Muldoon tours the Library. University of Auckland Library historical collection. MSS & Archives E-10.

The ever-combative Muldoon used the occasion to deliver a lecture to the university. Craccum’s photo caption read, “Muldoon: told us not to be naughty again”.6 While no one wanted “bargain basement education”, Muldoon, the Herald reported, told the assembled dignitaries it was “time for universities to come down from their ivory towers and into the market place … to demonstrate that they are a vital part of the community.”7 After the speeches, Muldoon and invited dignitaries took a tour of the new building, escorted by University Librarian Arthur Sandall. Photographs taken on the day, preserved in Special Collections, show Muldoon passing bemused students, or, as Craccum’s reporter described it, “successfully disturbing many students’ Saturday swot.”8

History Professor Keith Sinclair in a 1970 article on progress at the University reminded readers that, “In 1950 the library was so small that it was more of a promise or an aspiration than an actual scholarly library. Now it is rapidly growing and is incomparably better.”9 Opinion was less positive in the pages of Craccum, however. Perhaps damning with faint praise, the new library was, according to unnamed architecture students, “of a simple design and was thus efficiently erected, and it is possible to praise its architects for putting up such a structure in a hurry when it was needed.”10

Photographs of the official opening and related items are on display until 10 May outside Special Collections, within the General Library on Level G.

Ian Brailsford, Special Collections

References

1 Johnson, O.A. (1988). The true university: a short history of the University of Auckland Library 1883-1986 Auckland: University of Auckland Library, p.23.

2 Events. (1969, April, Vol. 11, No. 1). University of Auckland Gazette, p.9. NZ Glass Case 378.95 A89u, Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.

3 University of Auckland Library commemorative brochure. University of Auckland Library historical collection. Part 1. MSS & Archives E-10, file 8/2, Special Collections.

4 Muldoon Opens Library Kinsella Is Sick (1969, 1 May). Craccum, p.16.

5 Minister Is Stand-In At Opening (1969, 28 April). New Zealand Herald, p.5.

6 Muldoon Opens Library Kinsella Is Sick (1969, 1 May). Craccum, p.16.

7 Minister Is Stand-In At Opening (1969, 28 April). New Zealand Herald, p.5.

8 Muldoon Opens Library Kinsella Is Sick (1969, 1 May). Craccum, p.16.

9 Sinclair, K., Progress at the University, 1950-1970 (1970, April, Vol. 12, No. 3). University of Auckland Gazette, p.28. NZ Glass Case 378.95 A89u, Special Collections.

10 Where have all the Architects gone (1969, 25 September). Craccum, p.14.

One Comment

  • Rashmi Kotin commented on 20/04/2019 Reply

    Congratulations on turning 50! You are getting stronger as you age! 🙂

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