In its 50th anniversary year, Children and Teens Librarian Kris Saunders takes a look at how Naenae Community Library came to be
Planning for a public library service in Naenae began in the 1940s. Ernst Peterson Hay, the Mayor of Lower Hutt and Chairman of the Provisional Community Centre Committee, announced in a radio broadcast a scheme for increasing rates to finance three new Community Centres in the suburbs of Epuni, Naenae, and Taita. Plans for the Naenae Community Centre – which was to be the most extensive, as it was the most centrally placed and served the biggest population –included a branch of the Lower Hutt Public Library for adults and children.
Ernst Plischke’s 1945 design for the Naenae Community Centre included a shopping centre with three landscaped pedestrian courts, car parks, a theatre, gymnasium, hall, library, reading rooms, committee rooms, office buildings, swimming pool, skating rink, and hotel. Plischke’s plans failed to get the full support of the Council, with the more conservative among them altering it to keep only a few elements of his design – not including a public library.
For many years the residents of Naenae relied on small private lending libraries such as Lock’s Bookshop and the Gloucester Book Depot, or travelled to the Lower Hutt Municipal Library (the city’s central library).
In 1953, through the enthusiasm of the YWCA Secretary Miss Gorick, a small room was made available in their meeting house in Treadwell Street, Naenae to be used as a community library.
It was staffed by volunteers and books were changed periodically at the Lower Hutt Municipal Library. Although not ideal for the rapidly growing Naenae population, it had to suffice until the funding was available for a full-scale branch library.
By the time the Lower Hutt War Memorial Library (the new central library) opened in 1956, the population of Naenae had grown to 12,000. A brief survey of adult book circulation at the central library in 1959 showed that more than 11% of books borrowed were by residents of Naenae. The City Librarian, David Wylie, made extensive reports to Council expressing the urgent need for branch libraries at Taita and Naenae. A mobile library service was also investigated, but was deemed unlikely to cope with the huge demand from the suburbs.
In 1962 the Council approved designs by Ronald Muston of Structon Group Architects for four new branch libraries at Taita, Stokes Valley, Waterloo and Naenae. Plans for Waterloo were eventually scrapped and Taita and Stokes Valley Branch Libraries opened in 1965. Naenae Library was the last of these branch libraries to be built, despite the fact the suburb of Naenae was by then the largest commercial centre outside of the city.
The Council made attempts to secure funding for Branch Libraries from the Golden Kiwi Lottery Trust Fund which were turned down, despite a request from the New Zealand Library Association that the Lottery Board review its policy to enable grants to build libraries. A Council deputation to the Minister of Internal Affairs in March 1963 pleaded the case for funds for a branch library in Naenae, stating “the site is at the end of the west end of Hillary Court, opposite the Naenae Railway Station, in a most advantageous position in the midst of the extensive and busy shopping area.”
This site, on which Naenae Library now stands, was originally intended as a site for any government buildings that may be required at Naenae. In 1956 Lower Hutt Council wrote to the Director of Housing suggesting that in view of the generosity Council had already shown in the matter of land provided for housing in Lower Hutt, the government might allow them to use it for public purposes. The Ministry of Works acknowledged it was likely that only a small amount of land would be needed for any future government building, and was prepared to share the section. The Lower Hutt Council stressed that the Naenae Community Centre development was “one of the largest single unified residential shopping centres in New Zealand” and as such would require “proper facilities for women and children in the form of Ladies Rest Rooms, toilet facilities, and also a Branch Library.” In May 1969, after a request from Council, the Commissioner of Crown Lands advised that action was to be taken to reserve the land as a library site and vested in Council free of charge. Negotiations between Council and the government as to the value of the land went on until 1971, after the Naenae Library and Public Restrooms were completed.
Council were approached by the Hutt Valley Electric Power and Gas Board with a suggestion that a new substation may be incorporated into the library building as an arrangement beneficial to both, and Structon Group Architects altered their plans accordingly.
In 1968 the Local Authorities Loans Board advised that the loan for the Naenae Library had been approved, and a tender was accepted from building contractors Nicholls & Pearce Ltd for the construction of what was now called the Naenae Library, Rest-Room and Substation.
Naenae Branch Library was officially opened by Mayor Percy Dowse on 18 February 1970. There were huge crowds waiting to use the library in the first days of opening, and staff from the Central Library went to Naenae to help out. The children’s section was so popular that picture book borrowing was restricted to two books per child. A report from the City Librarian to Council one month after opening noted that good use was being made of the library, and the Branch Librarian and part-time staff were almost totally involved in looking after borrowers, leaving little time for other work to be done. The Chair of the Library Committee recorded receiving “gratifying reports from the Heads of all the Schools in the Naenae area who had expressed their appreciation of the provision of library facilities in Naenae.”
Several names had initially been suggested for the library, including the Sir Walter Nash Memorial Library, and the Hilda Birks Memorial Library. It remained as the Naenae Branch Library until 1987, when, following her death the previous December, it was officially renamed the Kitty Mildenhall (Naenae) Library.
Kitty Mildenhall (1898-1986) was a City Councillor, Chair of the Library Committee, and long-time Naenae resident.
She was awarded an MBE in the 1974 New Years Honours List for her contribution to Community Service.
By 1998 use of the library had more than doubled since its opening, with more than 160,000 items issued per year. The incorporation of Council service centre functions in 1994 also increased the overall level of activity within the cramped library. Both the public spaces and the staff workroom were inadequate, falling well short of the minimum standard floor spaces recommended by the New Zealand Library and Information Association. An independent operational review highlighted the inadequacies, stating “we have no hesitation in confirming that both expansion and refurbishment are urgently required.”
With great foresight, the original plans by Structon Group Architects had allowed for future expansion at the northern end of the building, and architect Thomas Chong designed a modern and functional extension.
Naenae Library has undergone many changes in the 50 years since its opening day in 1970 but remains a well-used service at the heart of the community.