Andrea King and Ian Littleworth looking at the commemorative plaque at Elmer Turner Library at its official unveiling last week. Photo: Sinead Ogilvie.

170 years of Nelson libraries


The founders of Nelson’s first library were told to “take 700 books and grow a library”, 170 years on it’s the oldest in the country.

Nelson Public Libraries celebrated its 170th birthday last Thursday with the unveiling of a plaque titled “Take 700 books and grow a library”.

The commemorative panel depicts the libraries’ history from its formation in 1841 through to today and was unveiled to a crowd of library friends and supporters by Ian Littleworth, manager of Nelson public libraries.

A long history has accompanied the Nelson public libraries from its first formation as the ‘Nelson literary scientific institute’ on board the immigrant boat Whitby during its journey to Nelson in 1841.

The first 700 books were donated by passengers on board, and Nelson’s first library building opened on 27 September 1842 on Trafalgar St.

Nelson Public Libraries also happily claims the title of longest continually operating library in New Zealand, spanning from 1841 and expanding to the flourishing libraries you see today.

Ian says the plaque and celebrations were all about looking back to where the libraries started.

“It’s such a great achievement, and we spend so much time looking ahead, we need to spend a bit of time looking back at our roots and our heritage, and celebrate those.”

Nelson city councillor Peter Rainey attended the ceremony, describing the libraries as “a fantastic multifaceted community hub”.