Photo: Opening of the Carnegie Library, 17th February 1908
In 1870 as part of a meeting to establish a temperance society, a committee was formed to set up a public library in Hamilton. The committee raised funds through lectures and concerts and acquired donations of books and money.
As a result the Hamilton Institute, the town's first reading room and library, was established.
By 1874 - 72 of Hamilton's 666 citizens were subscribers. The Library had 209 books, periodicals and daily journals. Later this year the Hamilton Institute collapsed - the Institute's building had been burnt to the ground and the Secretary had absconded with its funds, leaving it heavily in debt.
In 1876 several leading citizens formed the Hamilton Literary Association and opened a library in Mr Trewhellar's pastry shop and refreshment rooms. The Association had little money and also competition in the form of Mr T.C. Hammond, bookseller and stationer, who in 1877 opened a circulating library, advertising "one thousand volumes of new books, comprising complete sets of all the standard novelists" and " English and Colonial Magazines and Papers every month." By 1881 Mr Trewhellar was holding the Association's books in lieu of rent owed.
In 1883 a proposal to levy a library rate was rejected by seventeen votes to seven. The following year each of the Borough Councillors donated one pound of their own money towards establishing a public library. A library committee headed by John Bindon was formed. Mr Trewhellar surrendered the books he was holding for a nominal sum. On 10th October 1884 a reading room and library was opened in the former tollhouse of the traffic bridge between Hamilton East and Hamilton West.
On 20th June 1888 Hamilton Borough formally adopted the Public Libraries Act 1869. This allowed the Borough to strike library rates and to establish and maintain libraries, if so authorised by a poll or ratepayers.
In 1899 a new library building, designed by Mr Coyle, was built just south of the Victoria/Grantham Street intersection. It was formally opened on 22nd April 1899. As the population of Hamilton grew the demand on the library rose and the building grew too small.
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had provided funds at this time which had helped a number of New Zealand towns build substantial buildings for libraries. He was approached to help fund a library for Hamilton. Mr Carnegie insisted that the money be used for a free public library service. It was decided Mr Carnegie would give 2,000 pounds towards a new building and the Borough Council would contribute at least 100 pounds a year towards its upkeep. A Garden Place site was chosen and local architects Rigby and Warren won a competition to design it. The building was officially opened by Premier, Sir Joseph Ward on 17th February 1908 and was known as the Carnegie Library.
Mr B. Jolly had given the Borough a site for a library in Hall Street, Frankton before the Great War. The Carnegie Trust had offered a foundation grant of 1,500 pounds. Although the Borough Council was unwilling to raise a loan to pay for a library at Frankton, eventually a library and reading room were built and formally opened on 22nd December 1923.
The Hamilton City Council took control of the library in December 1948 after negotiations between the Hamilton Public Library Committee and the Hamilton City Council Cultural Committee. In July 1960 the Library was moved to a wing of the new administration building in Worley Street. This building proved to be too small and in July 1968 the Library moved to the William Paul Hall in Barton Street (now Alexandra Street). This building had been built in 1955 to house the Winter Show. In 1974 the Library also took over the top floor of the building from the Waikato Art Museum, which had moved to premises in London Street. The Library moved to its present location in the former Arthur Barnett/DIC building in 1993.
A more detailed look at the early history of the Library can be found in Hamilton Public Library : a brief history by J.B. Ringer