This lovely old library was constructed of red brick with a tiled roof. The Architects Hall & Marchant of Timaru completed the design and the builders, P Foster & son, also of Timaru finished the job in good time and the Carnegie Fairlie Public Library opened on a Friday afternoon on the 7 August 1914.
In its original state it contained a large and well-lit reading room, featuring a couple of fire places for winter months. A good-sized lending room, together with rooms for the librarian and caretaker. The Library and reading room were well used and greatly supported by the local populace.
The library was among numerous Carnegie Libraries built in New Zealand thanks to the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, a Scotsman who made a fortune in steel after immigrating to the US in 1848. Mr Carnegie expressed the view that the rich should distribute their wealth during their lifetime and funded 2500 free public libraries around the world before his death in 1919.
The deal was that the Carnegie Corporation would donate the money for construction if the council would provide a site and donate the same amount per year for maintenance, in this case 1000 pounds.
The first appointed and resident librarian was a Mrs West; she lived in the small sunny flat on the upper floor and was an important and valued member of the community till she retired after 31 years. During her tenure she saw the membership of 100 grow to 750 members at Fairlie and a further 400 at district depots around the surrounding country areas.
She oversaw the sending of book parcels to her outlying subscribers using, as her delivery system, the butcher, the baker, service car and haulage trucks. She knew their tastes and preferences and was often fondly referred to as the “cultural dictator of the Mackenzie”
In the mid 1990’s the town library combined with the high school library at Kirke St and the building was turned into a café.
The building was severely damaged by fire in October 2011. By December 2104, some hundred years after opening, the rebuild and earthquake strengthening work, where carbon strips were built into its brick walls, was completed and the building reopened.
It still retains a Heritage 2 listing and the decision to repair rather than to knock it down is one that’s appreciated by those of us that value our character and quality heritage buildings.
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