Auckland University College Library, ca. 1931-1933. MSS & Archives E-10, 11.2.

University of Auckland 140 years: Shelf life

Friday morning, 26 May 1933

It’s vacation so only a few students have braved rain and a “boisterous south-east wind” to study in the main Auckland University College (AUC) Library.1  

Located in the south wing of the Arts (ClockTower) Building on Princes Street, the Library has lost the new smell it had when the building opened seven years ago.  

The tables and chairs, designed by the building’s architect Roy Lippincott, are back in place after being pushed aside three nights ago to create one of two dance floors for the annual graduation ball. The ball decorations – a “canopy of blue and white streamers” and suspended college shields – have also been taken down. It has been a busy week of celebrations as the University also marked its 50th anniversary last Sunday.2  

As a vacation weekday, the Library is open from 9am-5pm, and will not close for 45 minutes over lunch as it does during term, to the frustration of students.3 Librarian Alice Minchin is away for another three months at the University of Michigan gaining a degree in Library Science, so it is Assistant Librarian Jean Alison who is sitting at the imposing semi-circular lending desk. Elsie Farrelly, who has been appointed assistant during Minchin’s absence, will arrive soon for the afternoon shift.4  

A student enters, passes the table with the library plan and charts outlining the Dewey decimal classification system, and searches the author and subject card catalogues, without success.5 So she asks Alison for help locating a book, having remembered the Students’ Association Handbook tip, “You will find the Librarian and the Catalogues are complementary.”6   

After it’s retrieved, Alison records the date, student’s name and the book’s call number in a ledger. Limited to borrowing two books at a time, the student must return it within a fortnight or incur the penny-a-day overdue fines. The Library regulations are pasted inside each book as a reminder.7   

Auckland University College Library, ca. 1931-1933. MSS & Archives E-10, 11.2.

Auckland University College Library, looking north ca. 1931-1933. MSS & Archives E-10, 11.2.

AUC’s 1,300 students, 13 professors, 33 lecturers and other staff have more material than ever to read; most of the 25,000 books and periodicals are held in the main Library, the rest in several small departmental libraries that in some cases also serve as laboratories and lecture rooms.8   

Library funding is tight, however, not helped by the economic slump, and the collection remains relatively small. That’s despite some substantial donations, including the 2,000-plus volumes relating to New Zealand and the Pacific gifted in 1925 by AUC Council President Sir George Fowlds. And awaiting accessioning right now are some 2,000 classics and ancient history texts bequeathed by the late Classics Professor Alfred Croom Paterson.9 

It will be up to Minchin to work out where to accommodate Paterson’s closed-access collection, and the books she hopes to purchase in coming years once the Library has met certain conditions to secure a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.10  

Another student strolls in, this time to buy, not borrow a book. He’s after the Students’ Association’s Golden Jubilee book, which was produced for the university’s 50th anniversary and advertised in Craccum as on sale in the Library. He leaves disappointed after learning that it has been delayed coming off the Students’ Association’s press.11

The Library remains quiet as most of the 164 seats are empty and there’s no piano or gramophone music drifting over from the student building. While she awaits Farrelly’s welcome arrival, Alison turns to cataloguing, occasionally glancing out through the windows to admire the view of the Auckland War Memorial Museum on the next ridge.12   

Discover more 

  • This imagined day in the life of the library, written for the University’s 140th anniversary this year, is based on sources held mainly in Special Collections.
  • View a display of these books, archives and photos outside the Special Collections Reading Room, General Library Level G, until 22 November. Or view the online version.

Jo Birks, Special Collections 


1  (1933, May 27). Yesterday’s weather. New Zealand Herald, p. 8. Newspapers accessed via Papers Past. 
2 (1933, May 24). AUC; Graduation ball, Auckland Star, p. 3, 11. 
3 Auckland University College. (1933). Auckland University College Calendar for 1933. Auckland: The College. 
4 Jean Bartlett [Alison]. Olive Johnson research papers on the history of University of Auckland Library. MSS & Archives 2008/13, folder 2.
5 ibid.
6 Auckland University College. Students’ Association. (1933). Auckland University College handbook for 1933, p. 33-34. 
7 ibid. ref. 3. 
8 Appendix to the Journals of the House of representatives for 1934, E-7, p.2 table M1; Auckland University College Calendar for 1933, p. iv-vi; AUC Library annual report 1934-35, p. 1; Johnson, A. (1988).The true university: a short history of Auckland Library 1883-1986, p. 11
9 Auckland University College Calendar for 1934, p. 20; Accession Register. University of Auckland Library historical collection. Part 1. MSS & Archives E-10, 2.1.2.
10 Calendar for 1934, p. 20.
11 Auckland University College Students’ Association; & Blow, E.H. ed. (1933). Golden jubilee book of the Auckland University College, 1883-1933.       
12 AUC Library annual report, 1934-35; The true university, p. 7; ibid. ref. 4.  

Feature image: Auckland University College Library, looking south, ca. 1931-1933. MSS & Archives E-10, 11.2.