[LIS-Forum] The lost world of libraries

madhuresh.singhal madhuresh.singhal at advinus.com
Mon May 21 12:03:15 IST 2007

You may like to read this news item taken from Business Standard
Newspaper. You can see online at

The lost world of libraries

Gargi Gupta & Arati Menon Carroll / New Delhi/ Mumbai May 20, 2007

The reading pleasure associated with the world of books no longer exists

"Lebrerii?" The cycle-rickshawwallah in front of the Sri Digamber Jain
Lal Mandir had no idea there was a library in the vicinity, let alone
three located within a radius of barely a kilometre from where he stood.

There was the Marwari Library some way down Chandni Chowk, the Hardayal
Municipal Public Library down the lane that runs off Mati Das Chowk, and
Delhi Public Library opposite the Old Delhi Railway Station. But the
poor, illiterate rickshawwallah could hardly be blamed - obviously, few
people ever asked to be taken to these places. 
And yet, these are among three of the city's oldest public libraries.
The oldest, Hardayal Municipal Public Library, traces its history back
to 1862, to the Institute Library, a reading club of books memsahibs
read on the voyage to India. 
The Marwari Library, founded in 1915 by Kedarnath Goenka, a freedom
fighter, where everyone from Mahatma Gandhi to Madan Mohan Malviya came;
and Delhi Public Library, inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951. 
But, however distinguished the provenance of these three, as also that
of the Dayal Singh Public Library in Delhi and other public libraries
elsewhere in the country, they are all rather sad places today. Only PhD
students come here now to trawl the dusty shelves of uncared for books,
rummage through the crumbling cards and brave the apathetic sloth of the
staff for the early and rare editions of novels and journals. 
There's another tribe of visitors - students and those studying for
competitive exams, who are more interested in the newer stocks, the
textbooks, journals, and (largly pedestrian) reference books. 
As semi-government bodies, Delhi Public Library and Hardayal Municipal
Public Library are no longer single libraries but a network of reading
rooms, zonal and regional libraries spread out all over the city. But
the result of this outreach has been that most of the money they get go
into paying salaries with very little left for adding quality books to
the collection or preserving what's already there. 
A library, everyone will agree, says a lot about a city, a country, its
people. And Delhi doesn't do badly on this score. As the capital city,
it has a number of good libraries that showcase the range and depth of
scholarship in the country, and are a rich source of material for
There are the eclectic collections at university libraries and clubs
like the India International Centre and Delhi Gymkhana, more specialised
ones at the Delhi School of Economics, Centre for the Study of
Developing Societies, National School of Drama and archival treasures at
the Nehru Memorial Library and National Archives. But these, with a few
exceptions, are out of bounds to the general public. 
So where does someone in Mumbai who wants a book for nothing more than
the pleasure of a good read go? 
David Sassoon Library
152, Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Fort
This institution, in the Kala Ghoda precinct, at 161 years old, is the
oldest library in the city. Having recently been restored, the yellow
malad stone facade, cobbled garden (a favourite for cultural soirees)
and a grand teak staircase stand proud. 
The terrace adjoining the reading room on the second floor with its
chaise longues and reclining chairs is a favourite among bookworms and
nappers alike. Their collection is about 40,000 books strong and with a
rather nominal lifetime membership fees of Rs 5,000, the library still
relies on the largesse of its patrons. 
Asiatic Society
Town Hall, Fort
Born as the Literary Society of Bombay, it met for the first time in
1804. Tucked into the fading grandeur of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai
is a cache of antique volumes including a first edition copy of Dante's
Inferno. The Society's holdings include over 3,000 manuscripts in
Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Prakrit from all over India and
Nepal. There is also a numismatic collection but you need permission to
view this. Lifetime membership will cost you Rs 10,000. 
American Center
4 New Marine Lines
This one is primarily a research and reference library that focuses on
promoting American culture and politics. The 13,000 volumes, therefore,
consist mainly of books, government publications and think tank reports
that aid that understanding. It does also, though, have 135 magazines
that otherwise may be hard (or expensive) to access. Members are charged
Rs 400 for a year's access. 
3 Om Chambers, August Kranti Marg, Kemps Corner
It all began in 1962, when Shemaroo pioneered Bombay's first circulating
book library. It still has over 13,000 members. Their packed children
and teenage library sections offer hope about the continuing relevance
of literature. A lifetime membership costs Rs 800 and you're charged 10
per cent of each book's price as rental fee.

British Council library
Mittal Tower "A" Wing, 1st floor, Nariman Point
Always enormously popular with students who appreciate the modern
environment and efficient services, British Council libraries are
modelled on the pattern of British public libraries. The range of
reading material is probably the most diverse, both recreational and
professional, in addition to music CDs and DVDs. They charge an annual
fee of Rs 1,400. 


Madhuresh Singhal
Assoc. Res. Scientist - Inf. Sc.
Advinus Therapeutics Pvt. Ltd.
21 & 22, Phase 2, Peenya Industrial Area, Bangalore - 560058
Phone: +91 80 28394959; Mobile 098861 82822
E-mail: madhureshsinghal at yahoo.com


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