Dunedin’s first Free Public Library opened on 2 December 1908, funded by a 10,000-pound grant from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Situated at 110 Moray Place, the Library offered a reference service only.

In 1910, a Children’s Reading Room opened and then the Children’s Lending Library. In 1911 lending services began for adults.

In 1913, Dr Robert McNab presented to the Library his collection of 4,200 volumes relating to early voyages and New Zealand history, which later became the basis of the McNab New Zealand collection.

Other major donations were the Walt Whitman Collection (Mrs J. W. Stewart) in 1927, and the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection including Bibles, examples of early printing and manuscripts, and works by Dickens and Johnston, in 1947.

In 1936 the library adopted its rental policy, whereby certain items would no longer be free. This included popular works of fiction, as well as certain magazine titles.

The library’s first hospital service was started in 1938.

1950 saw more expanded services offered, with the addition of a Bookbus service and the unveiling of its gramophone collection.

Today this collection has been expanded to include DVDs, CDs, and other audiovisual items.

In 1969, the first Housebound Readers’ Service was opened. In 1976, a second Bookbus was added, and the Children’s Library had its very own card catalogue. Further children’s services were offered in the following years, including Get Well Bags in 1979.

Dunedin Public Library moved to its current location at 230 Moray Place in 1981.

In 1982, the automated circulation system was installed. The first fully computerised Library Management System was installed in 1993. The Taiehu Collection of Māoritanga was launched in 1986. Taiehu was a Māori chief who brought one of the first canoes to New Zealand.

With local authority amalgamation in 1989, Dunedin Public Library became part of the Dunedin Public Libraries network. Two new Bookbuses were purchased in 1991 and the service was expanded to around 50 locations.

In 1998 a major redevelopment of the City Library was undertaken, with all the adult non-fiction lending collections combined, three adult stack areas opened up for improved public access, and the Audiovisual area greatly expanded to reflect the increased use of these collections.

2008 marked Dunedin Public Libraries’ Centenary. Celebrations, held from October to December, included writing workshops, guided walks, a Reed Gallery exhibition, Edwardian costumes and a fashion parade.

A library birthday party was held on Tuesday 2 December 2008 – 100 years to the day the first Librarian opened the doors of the Carnegie Library to the public of Dunedin.