In 19th century New Zealand, though life was a struggle for many immigrants, small towns like Akaroa had thriving social and cultural lives. In 1860, a group of Akaroa residents formed a Literary and Scientific Institute (which was later renamed the Mechanics Institute). The organisation was formed so the members could participate in activities aimed at mutual instruction and improvement.
After meeting for some years in the Town Hall (see Former Town Hall), the thriving organisation needed larger premises of its own. With a grant from the Provincial Council, the Institute engaged Samuel Farr (a Christchurch architect who had lived in Akaroa from 1850 until 1862) to design its new building. The simple building opened on 22 May 1875.
From its earliest years it served as a library as well as the meeting place of the Institute By 1911 it needed repairs. With funds available for a memorial for the coronation of George V, it was raised on new foundations, its roof was repaired and its frontage renewed. The new frontage gave the building an Arts and Crafts/English Domestic Revival look. After a combined school and public library opened, the Coronation Library ceased to be the town’s main library, but a local trust assists with caring for the building and maintains a reference library in it.