Libraries in Kolkata - treasure trove of information

Libraries in Kolkata - treasure trove of information

February 20, 2014

Derived from the Latin word, ‘liber’, meaning ‘book’, the word ‘library’ has traditionally been used to define a repository for books and magazines. As times changed the word came to signify any collection of material. For example, we have film libraries, software libraries, etc.; in other words, any archival collection.

Now libraries have turned online too, as books can be accessed over the internet or intranet (a network within a particular building, etc.). Nowadays many books and magazines are published as electronic books and magazines. Also, older books are digitised, that is, the pages are scanned and the scanned pages are made searchable, like a page on the internet. Hence, searching for any information has also become more convenient.

All over the world, major libraries and other institutions have undertaken to digitise their entire collections. Many of these collections have been made freely accessible while many are available for a price, just like any library membership.

Then there is mobile library, also called bookmobile. A mobile library is a vehicle designed for use as a library. It is designed to hold books on shelves in such a way that when the vehicle is parked they can be accessed by readers. Mobile libraries are often used to provide library services to villages and city suburbs that have no library buildings. Hence, they serve as important tools for spreading literacy and reading habit.

The connoisseurs

People of Bengal have always been known to be connoisseurs of good books, be it any type of book. Kolkata being the capital of the region for well over two centuries has earned a reputation as a city of writers and connoisseurs of good writing. And any city worth its literary merit has to have good libraries, and it is no different for Kolkata.

Kolkata, and in fact, Bengal is beehived with libraries. There are libraries of all sizes, from the huge libraries like the National Library to the small locality libraries. In other words, there is something for everyone. In fact, there are few cities where you can find so many small libraries tucked away in so many nooks and corners, all with their dedicated clientele.

Public libraries

West Bengal has had a long history of public library services. Calcutta School Book Society, established in 1817, had an indirect but important role in the establishment of libraries. Calcutta Public Library was opened for all ranks and classes without distinction in 1836 as a 'public library of reference and circulation'. On the other hand, a few public libraries had also started functioning during this period. As per the Bengal Library Directory, published by the Bengal Library Association, 86 public libraries were established in the 19th century in undivided Bengal.   

Now West Bengal has a strong public library system, comprising 12 government libraries, 2463 government-sponsored libraries and 7 government-aided libraries, with the State Central Library at the apex. To keep up with the times, the Directorate of Library Services under the Mass Education Extension and Library Services Department, government of West Bengal, has implemented the computerised networking of these libraries.

National Library

The National Library owes its origin to two libraries, Calcutta Public Library and Imperial Library. Prince Dwarkanath Tagore was the first proprietor of Calcutta Public Library, founded in 1836. Peary Chand Mitra, known as the father of the Bengali novel, was the first librarian of Calcutta Public Library. Rs 300 was the subscription amount. But since it was quite a significant amount at that time, poor students and others were allowed free use of the library for certain hours of the day.

Governor General Lord Metcalfe transferred 4,675 volumes from the library of the College of Fort William to the Calcutta Public Library. This and donations of books from individuals formed the nucleus of the library. Donations were regularly made by individuals as well as by the government. The Calcutta Public Library had a unique position as the first public library in this part of the world. Such a well-organised and efficiently-run library was rare even in Europe during the first half of the 19th century. The Imperial Library was formed in 1891 by combining a number of secretariat libraries in Kolkata. It was a very good library, but use was restricted to the superior officers of the government.

In 1903, Lord Curzon conceived the idea of combining these two libraries, to combine the collections to make one huge collection, and to make all the books accessible to everybody (since Imperial Library had limited access). The new amalgamated library, also called Imperial Library, was opened to the public on January 30, 1903 at Metcalfe Hall. John Macfarlane, assistant librarian of the British Museum, London, was appointed the first librarian.

After independence the government of India changed the name of Imperial Library to National Library, and the collection was shifted to the present Belvedere Estate. On February 1, 1953, the National Library was inaugurated by the union minister of education, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. BS Kesavan was appointed the first librarian of the National Library.

Today, the National Library is the largest library in India, with a collection of more than 2.2 million books. The library also has a huge collection of newspapers, and there is a separate newspaper reading room, which is in high demand. It is one of the four depository libraries in the country where publishers are required, under The Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act, 1954, to supply books published in India, by Indians abroad or any title that might be of interest to Indians. It is also India's sole repository library where all books, publications and official documents in its custody have to be stored in perpetuity.

ADDRESS: Plot No.1A, Belvedere Road, Alipore, Kolkata, 700027

Metcalfe Hall, location of the Imperial Library

National Library (formerly Belvedere Estate)

Asiatic Society Library

The library of the Asiatic Society is the crowning glory of the institution. Its importance lies not just in the number of books and magazines in its collection, but rather more in its rich and unique contents. The collection has been built up mainly with gifts received from the members, dating back to 1784, when the Society received seven Persian manuscripts from Henri Richardson. The next gift came from William Marsden, in the form of his written book, History of Island of Sumatra. Since the foundation of the Society, books, manuscripts, drawings, coins, and antiquarian and other objects of historical importance were exhibited to the society’s meetings, and kept in the custody of the Secretary. As the Society had no building of its own, the risk of loss was serious. The Society moved into its own building in 1808 and the library was thrown open to the public in the same year.

Thus the Society laid the foundation of the first academic as well as public library in India. Since then, gifts have been pouring in from heads of states (e.g., the emperor of Russia), institutions, societies and individuals. Robert Home, who was for some time Secretary of the Society and the first Library-in-Charge (1804), donated his small but very valuable collection of works on art. The first accession of importance was a gift from the Seringapatam Committee (1808) – a selection from the palace library of Tipu Sultan. The collection contains many old and rare works. Special mention may be made of an illuminated manuscript of the Quran and an old text of Gulistan, and manuscripts of Padshanamah bearing an autograph of Emperor Shahjahan. Similarly, the surveyor-general, Colonel Mackenzie’s collection of manuscripts and drawings were received in 1822.

The collection at the library has been grouped into three departments – printed books and periodicals, manuscripts and archives, and museum objects. Printed books are there in almost all the major languages of the world. There are about 1.49 lakh volumes in the library. The printed books in this department range in date from the latter half of the 15th century. One of its special features consists of the many items of rare works, otherwise unavailable, or scarcely available, including books printed in India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The total number of manuscripts in 26 scripts and languages is about 47,000 and the total numbers of journals is about 80,000.

ADDRESS: 1 Park Street, Kolkata 700016

Asiatic Society

Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Golpark

The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, located at Golpark in south Kolkata has a good collection of books and periodicals. There is a big reading room. The library specialises in humanities and social sciences, though it has a good collection of books in other streams too. The General Library has over 2,03,766 books including 5,021 rare books and 424 Indian and foreign journals. Besides, there are rich collection of books in the research section on Indology and exclusive special titles in the Vivekananda Archive. The library also has a junior section containing over 6,182 books for children between 13 and 16, and a children’s section, with more than 14,000 books, for children between 6 and 12 years.

ADDRESS: 5 Gariahat Road, Golpark, Kolkata 700029

The reading room of Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture library

State Central Library

State Central Library is the apex body of the library system in West Bengal. It was established in 1956 at the Emerald Bower campus of Rabindra Bharati University on BTRoad. It shifted to Ultadanga in 1996, where it now stands. It is a six-stored building having all sorts of modern amenities. It has a good collection and is very useful for the general public as well as scholars. It renders services like lending of books, reading room service, reference service, bibliographical service, career guidance (including books on career guidance), service to children, reprographic services, and importantly, services to visually challenged users.

It is the nerve centre of various other library activities of the state. It implements special programmes for the public libraries with the assistance of the central government’s Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation, and other programmes of the state and central governments.

There are almost 100 state government-sponsored libraries in Kolkata alone.

ADDRESS: 1/17 CIT Scheme, VII M, VIP Road, Ultadanga, Kolkata 700054

State Central Library

British Council Library

Through their centres all over India and their programmes, British Council promotes the diversity and creativity of British society and culture. The British Council Library in Kolkata is a goldmine of information on education, scholarships and career-related tools like English language courses.  Wherever there is a British Council in India, there is a library. The library in Kolkata has a well-stocked collection of books and magazines, as well as CDs and DVDs. But British Council Library is not only about physical books. In addition to the wide range of high-quality books, one can also gain access to more than 85,000 online academic books and 14,000 e-journals through online membership. The British Council also provides opportunities for development through workshops for members of all ages.

The collection reflects the priority areas of the British Council – English, Arts, Education and Society – and also brings the best of contemporary UK to the Indian audience.  The Council is into developing resources for professional development and this includes publications and new material on skills development, management, and study skills. One can use the collection to access content to open up new professional opportunities through English teaching and learning, develop understanding of opportunities in education in the UK, and in general, engage with contemporary UK.  

ADDRESS: British Council Division, British Deputy High Commission, L&T Chambers, First Floor, 16 Camac Street, Kolkata 700 017

British Council Library,. Kolkata

American Library

The American Library, formerly known as the United States Information Service (USIS) Library, is a part of the Public Affairs Office of the American Consulate General, Kolkata. Through its various activities and resources the library aims to promote a better understanding of the policies, values, institutions and culture of the United States. It provides a wide range of current, accurate and authoritative information from a vast selection of print and electronic resources using state-of-the-art technology.

The library collection focuses primarily on US government and politics, international relations, economics, business management, social sciences, human rights, American history, American literature and global issues such as environment, drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. It maintains approximately 15,000 volumes of books, US government and think tank reports, video cassettes on current topics, CD-ROMs and electronic databases providing access to abstracts and full texts of articles from scholarly periodicals, and subscribes to 162 American periodicals. Reference specialists assist patrons in locating information for queries received in person, by telephone, by e-mail or by post.

Like the British Council Library, a member also has access to a wide range of online books and periodicals.

ADDRESS: 38 A Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Middleton Row, Kolkata 700071

The American Centre building, where the library is located

Besides these, there are many other excellent libraries in Kolkata. Some small libraries have very good collections. Eloor Lending Library in Ballygunge has a good collection of books, both English and Bengali. Another major library is the Jadavpur University Central Library, which is known for its huge collection of material on all subjects. It is meant for the students of the university.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) is the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It is the global voice of the library and information profession. It was founded in Edinburgh, Scotland, on September 30, 1927 at the annual meeting of the UK Library Association. There are now over 1500 members in approximately 150 countries around the world. IFLA was registered in the Netherlands in 1971. The headquarters of IFLA is located at the premises of the national library of the Netherlands, Royal Library, in The Hague.

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Comments (1)
Satyajay Mandal Reply
June 23, 2014
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