Monday, September 27th, 2021

TinyCat’s September Library of the Month: The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute

To read more about TinyCat’s Library of the Month feature, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine, who is the Librarian at one of the oldest athenaeums in New Zealand—the Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute—this past month. Christine was gracious enough to answer my questions during the nation’s latest COVID-19 lockdown (a big thanks!):

The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute in the 1930’s.

Who are you, and what is your mission—your “raison d’être”?

We are The Dunedin Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute, a subscription library established in 1851 by the Scottish settlers who founded the city of Dunedin in New Zealand in 1848. They held the strong Scottish belief that education was the key to prosperity and that knowledge was something to be obtained at all stages of life. Once they had weathered the first year of erratic food supplies and the privations of primitive shelters they turned their attentions to the higher things of life and founded an Athenaeum library with the remit to entertain and educate. They also established a Mechanics’ Institute to provide a more vocational education. Ten years on each organisation decided their aims overlapped to such a degree that merging would be sensible. The Athenaeum & Mechanics’ Institute prospered and quickly faced a seemingly eternal problem of moving to larger premises only to then almost immediately outgrow them. In 1870 they moved into a purpose built building in the Octagon, the centre of the city’s civic life, where it remains.

Tell us some interesting things about how your library supports the community.

Although we predominantly operate as a lending library we record a fortnightly radio show where I review the new books into the library and discuss any topics that have caught my interest. It is called Wireless Books and is broadcast by Otago Access Radio 105.4 FM. We host a monthly book group, the Athenaeum Book Club or ABC. Every Tuesday we hold an open lunchtime event where I read short stories by New Zealand writers. We also host various literary events. Dunedin has City of Literature status within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and the Athenaeum has a close relationship with the City of Literature coordinator.

What are some of your favorite items in your collection?

Victorian-style archways within the library.

It is not strictly an item in the collection but the thing we most value is the building in which we’re located. It was purpose built for us in the grand Victorian style and we have been operating there since May 1870.

What’s a particular challenge your library experiences?

As we are a subscription library the biggest hurdle we face is convincing people in the internet age that it is value for money to pay a small subscription to gain the services of a dedicated librarian who comes to know their reading tastes and caters to them.

What is your favorite thing about TinyCat, and what’s something you’d love to see implemented/developed?

I love watching the animated cover display, I find it mesmerising. I think it would be really helpful to have a showcase function where people looking at your collection could select that and see a selection of books that you wanted to showcase. For us it would duplicate the shelf we have in the Athenaeum that holds the newest books and where most members make all their selections from.

Great suggestion! While we do allow you to show your animated cover display by “Recent items”, we have had some requests on giving more customization to the display.

Want to learn more about the Dunedin Athenaeum? Check out their Facebook Group, visit their website here, and find their full TinyCat collection here.

To read up on TinyCat’s previous Libraries of the Month, visit the TinyCat Post archive here.

Calling all TinyCat libraries: become TinyCat’s next Library of the Month—just send us a Tweet @TinyCat_lib or email Kristi at

Labels: libraries, Library of the Month, TinyCat


Leave a Reply