Sign at the front of the National Library of New Zealand

Reopening Molesworth Street

The National Library is reopening its Molesworth Street home to the world

We’re officially reopening the National Library Molesworth Street building to the public after an extensive three year refurbishment project. Our facilities have been greatly improved, our collections are now safely housed and more readily available, and our services have never been better. We would like to welcome you all to visit us here, at the Molesworth Street building, and check out what we have on offer.

Information about the National Library’s history, the relocation process, the redevelopment, the project and team behind it all, our new and improved services and facilities, the bi-cultural theme of the building and much more can be found in the text below. We have also provided an array of interesting photos that will take you through the redevelopment journey. We hope this gives you a good background to everything that has been going on here at the Molesworth Street building.

Media releases and speeches will be posted as they become available.

Images | Media releases | Speeches | Background information


Please download and use these images to illustrate your stories. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Mark Beatty, National Library of New Zealand.

Details of images of the opening of Te Ahumairangi, the new Ground Floor

Eighteen images showing the reopening of the National Library: Download this set (zip, 15MB)

Details of images of Te Ahumairangi, the new Ground Floor

Seven images showing Te Ahumairangi, the new Ground Floor: Download this set (zip, 11MB)

Details of images showing the Alexander Turnbull Library's redeveloped Reading Rooms

Five images showing the Alexander Turnbull Library: Download this set (zip, 7MB)

Details of collection images showing the Turnbull Library in previous decades
Reading Room, 1930s, Pacific stack room, 1954, and the Turnbull on Bowen Street

Four images from the collections showing the Alexander Turnbull Library: Download this set (zip, 3MB)

Details of collection images showing the National Library in the 1980s and 1990s

Three images showing the National Library in the 1980s and 1990s: Download this set (zip, 4MB)

Details of photos showing the redevelopment of the National Library building

Three images showing the redevelopment: Download this set (zip, 3MB)

Details of images behind the scenes at the National Library

Six images showing the inside of the redeveloped Library: Download this set (zip, 3MB)

Media release: Doors open on new era for National Library

27 November, 2012

The National Library building in Wellington has today reopened to the public after a three year closure for essential refurbishment.

The Molesworth Street building was closed to the public in December 2009, to address major safety and storage problems that were threatening the Library’s billion-dollar heritage collections, particularly those held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

“This huge project has been delivered on-time and within budget,” says National Librarian, Bill Macnaught.

“The doors reopen on a very different National Library than three years ago. While the Molesworth Street building itself has undergone an extraordinary renovation, the transformation to the institution of the National Library of New Zealand has also been profound.

“The Library’s most important responsibility is to make the knowledge in our keeping freely and easily available to all New Zealanders.

“The closure allowed more resources to be directed into an extensive digitisation programme that has now seen more than 250,000 images, two million historical newspaper pages and thousands of hours of digital recordings made accessible on-line to people across New Zealand and around the world.

“Our new website makes it even easier to search and view the Library’s collections.

“For those that want to see ‘the real thing’, the newly refurbished Library building offers superb facilities for researchers, students and the casual visitor. We have more space than ever to showcase our taonga and we look forward to attracting even more people when the Treaty of Waitangi and other important founding documents are moved here, in a year’s time,” said Bill Macnaught.

Contact: Allen Walley, Department of Internal Affairs: 04 495 9351 or 027 384 3009


Text of Bill Macnaught's speech at the opening

Prime Minister, Minister, Chief Executives, colleagues, and especially those who are visiting the building for the first time: welcome!

Good morning to all of you, and thank you for being with us to officially reopen the National Library building.

The world is experiencing a revolution in how we share knowledge and ideas. Today, the National Library opens a new chapter.

We live in an amazing age – we are leading the biggest technological change in libraries since Gutenberg’s printing press over 500 years ago.

Our methods are radically changing. There has never been a more exciting time for the National Library and today’s reopening of the Molesworth Street building marks the beginning of a new era.

I am honoured to have played a part in the progress we are here today to celebrate, and want to acknowledge the leadership of my predecessors, Penny Carnaby and Sue Sutherland who were pivotal in getting us to this point today.

Let me take a moment now to acknowledge the support involved in the project that brought us here today:

  • Rob Stevens and the New Generational Implementation Programme (NGIP) team
  • Sue Powell for her leadership, support and willingness to go to bat for us
  • Government Technology Services, and the other Internal Affairs shared teams – finance, operations, human resources, communications
  • the property team and the move coordinators who made sure everyone was where they should be, when they should be – and that they knew where the nearest coffee machine was
  • the Reading Room teams who adjusted to setting up shop in Thorndon Quay and Archives – and Archives New Zealand staff for being so welcoming
  • our sector colleagues in other libraries and LIANZA
  • all staff who were housed in unusual places while the renovations were completed; especially those who found good things to say about the arrangements
  • the imaging technicians who digitised over 150,000 photographs between early 2010 and July 2012 in the Pictures Online Project
  • and library users who put up with the frustrations of delayed access to important material.

Just look at what we’ve achieved together. We’ve built a state-of-the-art facility for which New Zealand will be respected throughout the world. I know from Australian colleagues how much they admire what we’ve achieved.

Our work in the digital environment is at the forefront of national library developments worldwide

We provide leadership to the library sector, but we also depend on collaboration with professional colleagues in a multitude of knowledge institutions across the country.

Our opening exhibition, Big Data, is the result of collaboration with scientists and artists. It marks a new direction for the National Library as we break down the boundaries between the different fields of knowledge. Turning knowledge into value is our business. In the months ahead we will unveil more exciting programmes that our new building makes possible.

However, we wouldn’t be here without the ongoing and steadfast commitment of this Government. Prime Minister, I’ve never been more proud than I am today, to be your National Librarian.

Thank you.

Text of Colin MacDonald's speech at the opening

Prime Minister, Minister, distinguished guests, and colleagues.

Bill, I appreciate your words of recognition of DIA staff and everything they’ve done to get us to this very exciting day.

The National Library never sleeps. All day, every day, people around the world are accessing their resources online. Who are these people?

They are researchers, working in our reading rooms, completing a PhD, perhaps. They are New Zealanders overseas reconnecting with their homeland. They are foreigners learning about us for trade, or cultural exchange.

They are students, people studying their family, whanau, hapu or iwi history, and people developing new products and services which benefit from knowledge or information from our vast holdings. They are people who want to access items from the pinnacles of Māori understanding and the peaks of European knowledge.

By accessing this information we can create new knowledge. The vision for this new era of the National Library can be summed up in three words: Collect, Connect, Co-create.

The Library collects – and of course, the Alexander Turnbull Library plays a vital part in this – New Zealand’s taonga in words, sounds and pictures. These are accessible to everyone, and that’s one of the key reasons why the reopening of this building is so significant.

This building has undergone an amazing transformation, and is now, after three long years, a safe, secure, state-of-the-art home befitting our precious national treasures.

The Library connects New Zealand and the world to its collections, in some cases with a warm welcome at the front door, or from a librarian who works alongside researchers in their work.

However, it could also be someone who helps a customer online, or a citizen interested in what their childhood home in Island Bay looked like, and is accessing Papers Past on the internet. Whether it’s in person or online, the National Library and its dedicated staff work tirelessly to make our collections accessible to everyone.

And through the Digital New Zealand team we make it easy to connect with New Zealand knowledge held in other libraries, museums and archives throughout the country.

It is this commitment to connecting people to knowledge that leads to co-creation – working with people to turn knowledge into value.

The perfect example of this is the Big Data collaboration. A very impressive list of partners brings this first Public Programme to life. I am delighted the National Library is mobilising such diverse knowledge networks.

This is the future of the National Library. Collect , Connect , and Co-create knowledge to power New Zealand.

This is the goal for the people here in this room and their colleagues around the country.

When asked some say they work for the Turnbull Library, some say the National Library, some say Internal Affairs and some say the Public Service or the government.

Ultimately, though, each has a line of sight through to the purpose of Internal Affairs: Internal Affairs serves and connects people, communities and government to build a safe, prosperous and respected nation.

We see that around us today, and the public experiences it every hour of every day through the services of National Library.

I am proud to be a part of this celebration this morning.

Background information

In 2007 the National Library of New Zealand set out a strategic vision for the future. This required ambitious and wide-ranging change to ensure the delivery of services relevant to 21st century New Zealanders. Coupled with this repositioning, the National Library building in Molesworth Street Wellington has been extensively refurbished to ensure collections are readily available and safely stored for another 20 years.

The National Library of New Zealand collects, connects and co-creates knowledge to power New Zealand.

  • The National Library collects and safeguards New Zealand’s documentary tāonga in all forms and media, including digital, to preserve and enhance the country’ shared knowledge, and for the benefit of future generations
  • The National Library is committed to serving all New Zealand communities and connects with individuals and organisations so they can easily access national and international resources though knowledge networks
  • The National Library is supporting New Zealand to learn, innovate and grow by collaborating with others to turn knowledge into value

History of the National Library

The history of the National Library, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, like its collections, is vast. Its early beginnings date back to 1858, even before the National Library itself was established.

The history of the Library can be traced back to 1858 when the General Assembly Library was formed to serve Members of Parliament. The National Library was formed in 1965, when the Alexander Turnbull Library, the General Assembly Library, and the National Library Service were brought together under the National Library Act.

The first step towards the establishment of the National Library, as it’s known today, began with the formation of the Country Library Service in 1938 and subsequent School Library Service. These two services were amalgamated in 1945 to form the National Library Service.

In 1985 the General Assembly Library separated from the National Library and was renamed as the Parliamentary Library. A new National Library building on Molesworth Street was opened in August 1987 and Library staff and collections were moved from 14 sites around Wellington to the new building.

In 1988 the National Library became a separate government department and was no longer administered by the Department of Education. It also took on the name Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa – the wellspring of knowledge.

The National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Act was passed in 2003, defining the Library’s purpose as being, “to enrich the cultural and economic life of New Zealand and its interchange with other nations”, by:

  • collecting, preserving, and protecting documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and make them accessible for all the people of New Zealand, in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga;
  • supplementing and furthering the work of other libraries in New Zealand; and
  • working collaboratively with other institutions having similar purposes, including those forming part of the international library community

Redevelopment of the National Library’s Wellington building began in 2009 with the aim to ensure the safety of collections and create storage space to last until 2030. Two years later the National Library was integrated into the Department of Internal Affairs.

New Generation Implementation Programme

In 2007 the National Library of New Zealand set out a strategic vision for the future. This required ambitious and wide-ranging change to ensure the delivery of services relevant to 21st century New Zealanders. The New Generation Implementation Strategy Towards 2017 was developed and the New Generation Implementation Programme (NGIP) was established to undertake this work.

Repositioning the National Library as an up-to-date knowledge and information centre via the physical building and through improved onsite services and online presence is the programme’s goal.

The programme included a transformation of National Library services both onsite and online, an up-skilling of staff to assist them meet the demands of a changing technological world, and a refurbishment and modernisation of the Molesworth Street building.

The NGIP has also included the establishment of the new National Library centre in Parnell, Auckland, improving the National Library's services in supporting literacy and learning in New Zealand schools and strengthening connections with communities and partners to improve access to the library's resources and programmes.

The New Generation Implementation Programme set out to:

  • address collection storage issues through to 2030
  • renew ageing plant and infrastructure in the Molesworth Street Building
  • improve access to the nation’s heritage collections, and
  • transform library services onsite, online and through the new 0800 integrated telephone system

The building budget

The total redevelopment budget for the Molesworth Street building was $65 million.

The Molesworth Street building

The Molesworth Street building was designed in the 1970s in new brutalist architectural style and built in the 1980s. By 2008 three key problems with the building had been identified:

  • the integrity and safety of the Library collections were at risk if storage space and service issues were not improved
  • ageing plant and infrastructure were increasing the risk of failure that could cause irreplaceable loss to the heritage collections
  • the impact of New Zealand’s cultural, social and economic capital was under-realised because the Library’s collections were not easily accessible.

The Molesworth Street building was originally designed to store collections for 20 years, and in 2008 it was estimated the storage space would run out by 2010. Solving the problem of collections storage space became a critical factor in the redevelopment.

A number of options were considered, including additions to the building, moving some collections offsite, and the chosen solution of increasing the efficiency of space utilisation in the building.

This solution saw the consolidation of customer service and staff work area, and importantly the reorganisation and reconfiguration of the Library’s collection storage space, adding a further 20 years of collections growth capacity within the facility.

The scope of the refurbishment project included full interior refurbishment, extensive new shelving, replacement of the ageing plant, a new leak-proof roof, improved environment control and safety features, (such as the fire alarm systems, seismic movement safety margin on stairs and improved mobility and general public access).

In December 2009 the National Library building in Molesworth Street closed to the public until 6 August 2012 when all the research collections were again made available in the new reading rooms on the first floor. (NB: During the closure some key collections were made available at a temporary reading room on Thorndon Quay, Wellington, and other Alexander Turnbull Library collections were available from the Archives New Zealand building in Mulgrave Street, Wellington.)

Bicultural Story

Te Kore Ki Te Ao Marama is an iconic, profound story, the evolution of the universe from formless potential Te Kore to the world of light, Te Ao Marama. This story has provided a strong cultural basis as well as an intellectual framework for the redevelopment. Te Kore Ki Te Ao Marama is told through the new design features of the Molesworth Street building.

The Takarangi pattern was chosen as the graphic abstract and used throughout the building design. Takarangi literally means evolving heavens or evolving universe. It is the graphic representation of the creation story, Te Kore ki Te Ao Marama.

The Relocation

Key facts

  • The relocation from and to the Molesworth Street building is by all accounts (whether by volumes moved, value, time taken, skills required or breadth of material) in totality the most significant building move removal operation in New Zealand’s history.
  • The challenge of moving a great number of the heritage collections – which includes manuscripts, rare books, cartography, photographic material, drawings, paintings and prints, oral and music recordings, among others, was significant.
  • Careful pre-packing of collections was undertaken to ensure they were protected for relocation.
  • It took over a year for custom boxing of over 6,700 individual fragile and rare books, manuscripts, photo albums and sketchbooks to be completed.
  • About 7,000 bound and unbound newspapers were custom wrapped/boxed. Fragile papers were wrapped in a corflute (inert corrugated plastic) and then shrink-wrapped in plastic.
  • Photographic glass negative and AV cassette/CD collections were re-housed.
  • The bulk of collections (valued at nearly NZ$1 billion) had to be closed, some of these moved off site in 2010 to the Archives New Zealand building in Mulgrave Street and to Thorndon Quay, Wellington, with over 80 percent managed onsite during construction.
  • Some 15,000 hours were devoted to pre-packing the collections over a period of 18 months. Storage, protection and security were key concerns and collections were stored on the ground and basement floors.
  • The Ground Floor former Reading Rooms and gallery space were filled with pallet shelving for storage of over 35,000 boxes of collections, larger-format rolled items and works of art. These collections were moved to permanent storage in the new custom-designed spaces throughout the building in early 2012.
  • It took 800 round trips by Crown Relocation removals firm trucking staff to shift approximately 35,000 archival boxes, 20,000 volumes, 10,000 microfilm, and 6000 flat folded items – and much more.

Collections and Storage Space

Key facts:

  • The nation’s documentary and digital heritage stored at the National Library is valued at nearly NZ$1 billion
  • In 2008 it was identified that the integrity and safety of the collections were at risk and the collection storage space was expected to run out in two years
  • The Library collection storage space has been reorganised and intensified, adding a further 20 years to the collections growth capacity within the facility
  • Some 860 tonnes of shelving (around 1703 cubic metres) have been brought into the building
  • Storage for heritage collections in the Molesworth St building has been improved from 55% to 100% of collections housed in controlled-atmosphere cool-room environments
  • The Library’s manuscript collections occupy almost 11 kilometers of shelf space and the total collections (including in the building) occupy 95 kilometres.


The businesses involved in the building’s refurbishment were:

  • Architects: Warren & Mahoney
  • Building Services Engineers: Beca
  • Structural Engineers: Holmes Consulting
  • Fire Services Engineers: Holmes Fire
  • Security Services Specialists: Stoks
  • Project Managers: Impact Group
  • Main Contractor: Mainzeal Construction
  • Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon (AICOM)
  • Shelving Contractor: Precision

Refurbishment facts and figures:

  • Some 2900 square metres of old roof was removed
  • 23 area work plans were submitted by Mainzeal
  • 201 method statements were submitted by Mainzeal
  • 308 cubic metres of concrete was used – weighing over 708 tonnes (91% went onto the roof)
  • 30 kilometres of reinforcing steel went into the new roof
  • 13 kilometres of timber and steel stud wall framing have been installed
  • Nearly 3000 square metres of new vinyl flooring have been put in place
  • 9800 square metres of new carpet tiles have been put in place


The refurbishment, while extensive, retained as much of the existing building elements as practical, thereby saving money, reducing waste; recycling included reusing the podium paving and exposing the existing structure.

Sustainable initiatives have helped reduce energy costs and helped the environment. These include:

  • increased insulation for the roof and collections cool storage rooms
  • a new heat recovery water chiller and exhaust heat recovery system
  • energy efficient lighting and fitting controls and provision for solar energy for water heating
  • high efficiency motors with variable speeds for maintaining building conditions efficiently
  • open plan work and customer spaces providing a higher level of flexibility for future change

The Molesworth Street Redevelopment Timeframe

In December 2009 the National Library building in Molesworth Street closed to the public until 6 August 2012 when the research collections were made available in the new reading rooms.

In 2009-2010, some 315 library staff and operations moved to four temporary premises in Wellington which ensured staff were able to get on with their work. A temporary reading room opened for customers at 77 Thorndon Quay and collections from the Alexander Turnbull Library were made available at the Archives New Zealand building on Mulgrave Street.

In July 2010 the new National Library building in Parnell, Auckland opened.

Staff began moving back into the Molesworth St building in mid-April 2012 (as planned), this was completed by the end of July 2012.

From 6 August 2012 the Alexander Turnbull Library Reading Rooms opened to customers in the redeveloped Molesworth St building.

The National Library public areas including a new gallery, programme and exhibition spaces, café and rooms for hire, reopen in the building on November 27, 2012.

Now on offer at the Molesworth Street building

From 27 November the National Library in Molesworth Street, open Monday to Saturday 8.30am – 5pm, will host a range of activities and resources that enable the public to interact and access knowledge, information and documentary heritage. These include:

Public Spaces and Services

  • Free Wi-Fi access throughout all public spaces
  • The (Te Ahumairangi, ground floor) – a social research space with PCs providing access to word processing and office tool, including open source programmes enabling customers to work, create content and continue the creation elsewhere; facilities to recharge a variety of electronic devices are available
  • AV Pods (Te Ahumairangi) – custom built for customer to experience a selection of audiovisual items from the collections, plus partnering agencies (will be regularly updated)
  • Lifelines (Te Ahumairangi) – a large interactive touch table that gives people an opportunity to connect to the National Library’s collections to discover content through prompts of date, place and name
  • Search Stations (Te Ahumairangi and Turnbull Library) – a new custom-built way to search the collections, use our subscription resources, and use resources all across the internet
  • New print facilities, including EFTPOS, will make printing, scanning and photocopying easier and more reliable
  • Programme Rooms (Te Ahumairangi) – supporting the work of Public Programmes and the National Library – these are where speaking events and seminars will be held
  • The Gallery on Te Ahumairangi and Turnbull Gallery (level one) – These spaces host and support several major programmes each year through exhibitions
  • HOME, the National Library’s new café on Te Ahumairangi is scheduled to open 27 November, and will be open between 7am-5.30pm, Monday–Saturday and late on Fridays. It welcomes the public
  • A retail space on Te Ahumairangi will stock a variety of National Library merchandise
  • The Piano Room (level one) designed for playing scores from the music collections

Venue Hire

  • Seminar Rooms (Tiakiwai, lower ground floor) – including video conferencing facilities, Wi-Fi and interactive smart boards (due to open in late November) will be available for hire.
  • Te Tiakiwai Auditorium – Supports the work of Public Programmes and the National Library. This venue will be available for hire once refurbishment works is completed.

Reading Rooms

  • Three new Alexander Turnbull Library Reading Rooms: the Katherine Mansfield on Level One (secure Reading Room) which has public seating for 40-plus people, the Independent Reading Room (level one) with public seating for over 90 people and the Charles Heaphy Reading Room on level two, which has larger tables to safely accommodate large-format items.

Other achievements of the New Generation Implementation Strategy

During the NGIP many other services were developed to support the library and New Zealanders in the digital environment, including:


During the closure an extensive digitisation programme saw the number of online images more than triple, from 80,000 to over 250,000; due to both the Pictures Online Preservation Project and the Alexander Turnbull Library Digitisation Programme.

Papers Past digitisation increased coverage of newspapers to 2 million pages and added 10 newspaper titles to the collections.

An Audio Retro-Perspective Project digitised over 2000 at-risk audio recordings that together makeup over 86 days’ worth of audio recordings (2066 hours). Preservation master files are now stored in the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA), enabling copies to be made available online. It also helped develop staff capability during the Library’s offsite period completed in March 2012.

You can now download 2,500 free high-resolution images, with no restrictions on their re-use.

National Library Online

The revamped National Library website now provides improved access to online services, better cross-collection search, more accessible online images through the Gallery search results view and a redeveloped image ordering process. As well as new on-site access to the catalogues and online resources through the Reading Room Search Stations, Lifelines, and AV Pods that provide an improved experience for all users. New digital services run on top of the Library's DigitalNZ platform that links together millions of NZ digital items from 120 different organisations from the likes of  Te Papa and the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Services to Schools

The NGIP assisted with the completion of the new Auckland, Parnell centre; this includes Services to Schools which supports literacy and learning in New Zealand schools. The centre strengthens connections with communities and partners to improve access to the library's resources and programmes through the implementation of the 0800 Advisor service which provides an integrated pathway, the online channel, and outreach expert services (programmed activities and workshops) and one on one consultations in Auckland. The centre also now provides the opportunity for targeted Public Programmes and increased visibility of the renewed Alexander Turnbull Library Research Service.

Looking towards the future

The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti O Waitangi) and other important founding documents of nationhood will be moved from the Archives New Zealand building on Mulgrave Street to the Molesworth Street building and are anticipated to be on display to the public in late 2013.

Cabinet approved the relocation of the Constitution Room from its current location to the refurbished Molesworth Street building on 30 April 2012.

A Constitution Room Relocation Project has been set-up to deliver a new purpose-built Constitution Suite in the Molesworth Street building. This will include a separate, secure room with environmentally controlled casing to house the T1840 Treaty of Waitangi, 1835 Declaration of Independence of the Northern Chiefs and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition as well as other archival tāonga.

When these documents are displayed there, the building will be renamed to reflect the fact that it houses tāonga from the National Library, the Alexander Turnbull Library and Archives New Zealand. The documents will remain in the care of the Chief Archivist.

About National Librarian Bill Macnaught

Bill Macnaught CBE

Bill Macnaught was born in Stirling, Scotland, and educated at the universities of St Andrews and Strathclyde.

In the UK he was the Director, Libraries and Arts and later Head of Cultural Development at Gateshead (in the Northeast of England) from 1991-2005, and was appointed by the UK Government in 2003 as Chair of the statutory Advisory Council on Libraries (whose role was to advise the Minister on all matters pertaining to public libraries). He was visiting Professor (Librarianship) at the University of Northumbria. He was awarded a CBE in the 2005 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, for services to public libraries and cultural life in the UK.

In 2005 he took up an appointment in New Zealand to lead the multidisciplinary team at Puke Ariki – the flagship library, museum and visitor information centre in New Plymouth, Taranaki region. In 2006 the New Zealand Government appointed him a member of the Library and Information and Advisory Commission (LIAC) advising the Minister for the National Library. In 2010-11 he was Chair of the Association of Public Library Managers (APLM) and the Deputy Chair of Museums Aotearoa.

Following the integration of the National Library of New Zealand and Archives New Zealand with the Department of Internal Affairs, Bill Macnaught was appointed National Librarian, and took up this position at the head of the National Library of New Zealand in May 2011. He says his key challenge is to ensure that New Zealand is a leader in the development of 21st century libraries.

Bill Macnaught has been an active supporter of the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, and of the Kotui project for the collective procurement of library management IT services. In both these projects the National Library has worked to support the public libraries of New Zealand.