Bryce Jones


Bryce Jones - Nelson City Librarian, 1955-86

Bryce Jones (G.M.B. Jones) played a pivotal role in shaping the Nelson Public Libraries as we know them today, overseeing the transition from a subscription library into a free and rental library, and paving the way for the move into better library buildings.

Bryce was born in Nelson in 1926. Her father did not ever want to leave Nelson after moving there from Invercargill. As a tomato-grower, he had frequent contact with the Cawthron Institute regarding soil sterilization, and both he and Bryce's mother were members of the Nelson Institute Library. Bryce recalls her mother being keen on books about mountaineering, mountain plants, travel and biography.1

Bryce attended Tasman Street School, Central School and Nelson College for Girls. Her father was very proud of her and her three sisters and encouraged her into further education. When deciding on which university to attend, Bryce chose Otago because of her father's roots there. Embarking on a degree in science, Bryce's subjects included psychology, logic and ethics. She soon chose to switch to a degree in psychology and philosophy, in spite of the fact that this would likely limit her job opportunities once she completed her studies.2

Although teaching was a common career path, Bryce opted to attend Library School in Wellington for a year in 1949 instead. Offered a job on completion of her studies, Bryce worked at the Library School for a year before being offered a job at the public library in Blenheim. J.W. Russell, a teacher at Nelson College and committee member of the Nelson Institute, persuaded Bryce to move to Nelson as librarian of the Nelson Institute Library in 1955. By this time a debate about the future of Nelson's library was emerging, and Bryce embraced the challenge ‘of getting a decent library up and running.'3

The Nelson Institute Committee operated a subscription library, and was in charge of choosing the library's books, although Bryce's role as librarian soon included choosing the books, thanks to lobbying from Nelson City Councillors Elma Turner and Sonia Davies. [Bryce recalls that some books in the library were available by request only, due to the sensitive nature of their subjects, and although her choice of books did not usually spark controversy, ‘there were protests about pages in some books, and some members would go to the lengths of tearing the page out....or even cross section out so that it couldn't be read.'4 The importance of Bryce's authority in this area was never more evident than in the early 1980s, when the availability of feminist magazine Broadsheet in the library was brought into question by some Councillors.5]

1 October 1973:front page photo with article "free and Rental Library Service opened". [pictured Mr JW Russell, Elma Turner, HB Cowey and Bryce Jones] Geoffrey C. Wood Collection:9462fr1. Nelson Provincial Museum.  Click image to enlarge

With the support of Councillors Elma Turnerand Sonia Davies, Bryce actively promoted the change to a free and rental library service, with Nelson being one of the last centres in New Zealand to make this shift. She saw library fees as a definite barrier to people using the library: ‘It was a very private sort of institution.'6 After heated debates in the late 1960s, Council assumed responsibility for the library, and finally switched to a free and rental library system in 1973.7

Next on the agenda was the library building, with Bryce reporting to Council that the Hardy Street building was ‘no longer sufficient for the times.'8 As library stock increased over the years, shelving became a significant problem. Bryce increased the amount of worthwhile fiction in the library, sourcing books through periodicals such as the Times Literary Supplement and the New Yorker magazine. As well as shelves along every available wall-space in the two-roomed library, Bryce arranged for extra shelving in the middle of the rooms to accommodate the additional stock, even though this meant the library was more crammed.9

City Librarian Miss G.M.B.Jones and staff member Marian Gunn with a donation of large-print books. Nelson Evening Mail, 7 August 1981. Click to enlarge

Colleague Marian Gunn recalls that Bryce ‘amassed an amazing book collection....Nelson was very lucky to get her - she was a very well qualified librarian coming into a small town and of course working for the Institute who didn't have much money, and then working with Councillor Elma Turner to get the agree to take over the Library - I would see that as a major accomplishment.'10

Bryce's ultimate vision was for an improved library in Nelson. With the support of Mayor Peter Maloneand Councillor Elma Turner, a Council Library Committee was formed. Malone arranged for Bryce, Elma and Councillor Seddon Marshall to tour around libraries in the lower North Island, and sent Seddon to look around libraries in the South Island, after which it was agreed that a new library building was needed in Nelson.11

Although Bryce retired before the long awaited move into the new Elma Turner Library in 1990, she left the library much improved, with the prospect of a better building. As she recalls: ‘It seemed to me, looking back, that all my working life I'd been fighting for something, and... only in those last few years did I feel that I'd got somewhere.'12

From interviews conducted with Bryce a few months before her death on 30 October 2011

Sources used in this story

  1. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  2. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  3. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011; Unimaginable life without books (2011, March 3) The Leader
  4. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  5.  Feminist magazine's backing sparks male-female row (1982, July 15), Nelson Evening Mail; Feminist mag's place in library questioned (1982, August 5) Nelson Evening Mail
  6. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  7. Nelson City Council Minutes, Minute No.15417.
  8. Nelson's Library Lament (1977, June 24) Nelson Evening Mail
  9. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  10. Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.
  11. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  12. Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.

Want to find out more about the Bryce Jones ? View Further Sources here.

Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.

Comment on this story

Post your comment


  • The first large print books were actually bought for the library in November 1965. I was a staff member then and have a photo taken of them (and me) then.

    Posted by Priscilla Schroder, ()

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments

Further sources - Bryce Jones



  • Dissmeyer, T. (1992)  150th Anniversary of the Nelson Public Library. North and South, Oct 1992,  p.26-27
  • Feminist magazine's backing sparks male-female row (1982, July 15), Nelson Evening Mail
  • Feminist mag's place in library questioned (1982, August 5) Nelson Evening Mail
  • Kwasitsu, L.(1986) Early libraries in Nelson New Zealand Libraries 45(1), p.1-6
  • Nelson Provincial Museum and Library (1977) Journal of the Nelson Historical Society, 3(3), p.12-13
  • Unimaginable life without books (2011, March 3) The Leader
  • Traue, J. E  (2006) Public libraries and access to reading materials in early colonial Nelson. New Zealand Libraries, 49(13): p.465-473
  • Verran,  D. (2007) Mechanics' institutes in New Zealand .New Zealand Legacy, 19 (1):p.13-19 
  • What the other man does: Bryce Jones (1963, August 10) Nelson Mail.


  • Interview with Bryce Jones, 5 September 2011.
  • Interview with Marian Gunn, 14 September 2011.
  • Nelson City Council Minutes, Minute No.15417.

Web Resources