Sue Sutherland, was deputy city librarian to Dorothea for eight years, she described her as “very, very passionate about the role that libraries play in a society. She was quite a formidable woman. If you were going in with a proposition you had to be pretty sure of your facts because she was always on top of the information.”
Dorothea’s early years
Dorothea Jongejans was born in the Hague in Holland in 1938. During the war her family moved to Utrecht where she went to school. As her family could not afford to support her at university, she was faced with the choice of either office work or emigrating to New Zealand. She says, “New Zealand sounded more fun”.
After a long sea voyage, she arrived in Christchurch in 1957. She had a married sister living in Christchurch who arranged Dorothea’s first job in New Zealand at a soil testing laboratory. She was laid off after a few months and approached Vocational Guidance. They suggested that with her background in languages she might enjoy library work.
First library roles
In 1958 she successfully gained a job at Canterbury Public Library. After five years she was a senior library assistant and had completed the New Zealand Library Certificate. She married Ed Brown, a Scotsman, and in 1961 the two of them travelled overseas to visit their home countries.
She later worked as a cataloguer at the University of Canterbury library for about five years. This was followed by a year working at Massey University.
On moving to Invercargill, she worked for three years at New Zealand Aluminium Smelters as their only librarian. This gave her a degree of independence and experience in the reference work of a special library. She came back to Christchurch and the University of Canterbury where she worked in acquisitions.
In 1976 Dorothea was appointed Waimairi District Librarian. The Bishopdale Library had just been built but had not yet opened. While still working out her notice at the university library she had to interview and appoint staff for the new library. She had nine years working for the Waimairi District Council and found, especially after her university experience, that it was a relatively small and innovative organisation to work for. It also gave her the experience of working with politicians. She began to regularly attend council meetings. In this job she was responsible for the Fendalton, Redwood and Bishopdale Libraries and a mobile library.
Christchurch City Libraries
Dorothea was city librarian and libraries manager of Christchurch City Libraries from 1986 to 1995. She started at Canterbury Public Library, as it was then known, as the Deputy City Librarian. Dorothea was forthright, a dedicated librarian and not afraid of hard work. She was persuasive with elected members and when long term planning first came in was successful in getting a ten-year plan for library developments. Inevitably they took longer than ten years to achieve and she had moved on from the library before many of them became realities, but without that initial push and foresight they may well not have happened.
In 1995 she took on the role of Director of Human Resources at the Christchurch City Council and during that time introduced a wide-ranging programme to upskill managers through the different levels in the Council. She retired around 2004.
Christchurch Families Outreach Librarian Lynette Griffiths remembers working with Dorothea, “I thought she was scary to start with – I was straight out of school. She was one of only a few women in a leadership position then. She seemed so confident. I thought libraries were quiet places, but you could hear her laughing in her office. Her office was crowded with books and the room was smoky, it was those days. But she always smiled and was approachable. She could talk to anyone, make anything doable. Like getting me to do the library certificate.”
Dorothea was a strong supporter of LIANZA and served as the president from 1982-83. She was often a speaker at conferences in the 1980’s and gave one very spirited address to the Local Authorities Division session at the February 1988 conference in defence of free public libraries.
- Heritage. Christchurch City Libraries Dorothea Brown- 150 years, celebrating Christchurch City Libraries
- Sue Sutherland NZ-Libs October 4, 2021
- www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/126663998/life-story-dorothea-brown-first-woman-to-be-appointed-city-librarian-in-christchurch; October 16,2021
[ii] Interview with Dorothea July 9, 2009 in Heritage. Christchurch City Libraries, Dorothea Brown-150 years