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Public Libraries in India

1. Introduction: In 1770, John Andrews established a circulating library at Fort William, Calcutta. Later on it was converted into a public library. A few public libraries started appearing sporadically here and there during the same period in this country. The notable among them are Asha Granthalaya, Waltair (1800), Calcutta Literary Society’s Library (1818), United Services Library, Poona (1818), Raghunandan Library, Puri (1821), Bombay General Library (1830), etc.

2. National Library of India: Calcutta Public Library was established in 1835. It was meant to serve the needs of all ranks and classes without distinction. It was opened on 21 March 1836 for the public. The then Governor General, Lord Metcalf transferred 4,675 volumes from the library of the College of Fort William to the Calcutta Public Library.
The Imperial Library was founded in 1891 by combining a number of Secretariat libraries. Lord Curzon, Viceroy and Governor General of India in the early years of the twentieth century, is usually credited with the idea of opening a library in Kolkata for public use. He found that the Imperial Library and Calcutta Public Library were not being used as expected because of limited access and lack of amenities. He decided to merge the collection of Calcutta Public Library with that of the Imperial Library, subject to certain terms. Lord Curzon bought the rights of the Library from the proprietors and later merged it with the Official Imperial Library consisting of government departmental libraries of the East India Company. The new library, called Imperial Library, was formally opened to the public on 30 January 1903 at Metcalf Hall, Kolkata. John Macfarlane, Assistant Librarian of the British Museum, London, was appointed as the first Librarian of the Imperial Library. Later on, Khan Bahadur M.A. Asadulla was appointed librarian and he continued in office till July 1947.
In 1948, one year after the independence of India, Imperial Library of Calcutta (Kolkata) was transformed into National Library (of India) through the “Imperial Library Act” (change of name) 1948 and was transferred from the Esplanade to the Viceroy’s Palace in Calcutta, namely, the Belvedere Palace. On 1 February 1953, the National Library was opened to the public, inaugurated by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. B. S. Kesavan was appointed as the first Librarian of the National Library. The Library is under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Government of India. Till 2019, Shri Shravan Kumar is the Director General (head of the institution) and Dr. K. K. Kochukoshy is the Officer on Special Duty of the National Library.

3. Central Reference Library: The Central Reference Library (CRL) is a subordinate office of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. This institution has been curved out of the National Library in order to compile the Indian National Bibliography (INB) after the promulgation of the Delivery of Books Act, 1954. After 1970, it began to function under an independent Librarian cum General Editor instead of previous custom of Librarian of National Library working as General Editor of INB. Now-a-days, CRL functions as a separate subordinate office of the Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India with its own independent position of a Librarian. CRL publishes the Indian National Bibliography and Index Indiana. Till 2019, Dr. K. K. Kochukoshy is the Librarian cum General Editor of CRL and Shri Pradip Kumar Upadhaya is the Head of Office. The aims and objectives of Central Reference Library is (i) Compilation and sale of the Indian National Bibliography which is an authoritative record for books published in the fourteen Indian Languages and English in Roman script and in respective languages and (ii) Compilation and sale of Index Indiana (in Roman Script) an index to selected articles appearing in current Indian language periodicals.

4. Connemera Public Library: In 1860, a small library was established by Jean Mitchel in Madras as a part of the Museum. This library which is known as Connemera Public Library, Madras (Chennai) was opened to the public in December, 1896. This library can be claimed to be the first true public library, and only a nominal refundable deposit was required.  The Connemara Public Library in Madras became the State Central Library in 1950 under the provision of Madras Public Libraries Act 1948, and became one of the three depository libraries in 1955.

5. Delhi Public Library: In 1951 the Delhi Public Library was established by the Ministry of Education, Government of India in collaboration with UNESCO. Now it is being managed by Delhi Library Board. It has a Central Library, a zonal library at Sarojini Nagar, and three branches at Patel Nagar, Karol Bagh and Shahdara and sub-branches and community libraries at different places in the National Capital Region of Delhi. Delhi Public Library is functioning as depository libraries.

6. Asiatic Society of Bombay: Asiatic Society Library, Bombay (now Mumbai) was established in 1804. The renamed as the Asiatic Society of Bombay was done in 2002.  It is funded by an annual grant from the Central Government of India and form a depository library. The library is housed in the Town Hall (colloquially Called “Tondal” in the 19th century).

7. Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna:  In 1876, Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library (Patna) was established. Maulvi Muhammod Baksh Khan, on his death left a collection of 1500 manuscripts. It formed the nucleus of the library. In 1891, the library was opened to the public. The Govt. of India declared the Library as Institution of National Importance by an act of Parliament in 1969 which is now fully funded by the Ministry of Culture (Govt. of India).

8. Rampur Raza Library, Rampur: Rampur Raza Library, Rampur, Uttar Pradesh was founded by Nawab Faizullah Khan in 1774 AD. The Government of India took over the library on 1st July 1975 under the Act of Parliament, which declared it as an institution of National importance. Now the Library occupies the position of an autonomous institution of national importance under Department of Culture, Government of India and is fully funded by Central Government.

9. Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library, Thanjavur: The Thanjavur Maharaja Serfoji's Sarasvati Mahal Library houses a rich and rare collection of manuscripts on art, culture and literature. Conceived and christened as the Royal Palace Library by the Nayak Kings of Thanjavur (1535-1675 AD). In 1918 this Library was made as a public Library. In 1983, the Library was declared as an Institution of National Importance. A body constituted by the Government and financed by the Central and State Governments now administers the library located at Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

10. Contribution of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III towards Public Libraries: The development of public libraries as a movement may be said to have started by Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, the ruler of Baroda state in 1906. A detailed plan to open Circulating Libraries in the State was approved in March, 1907 under his guidance. He established a separate Library Department with Mr. William Allenson Borden - an American librarian as the first full time Director of State Libraries. The next step was to establish a Central Library at Baroda with a nucleus collection of 88,764 volumes which included the Maharaja’s private collection of about 20,000 books. A full time Curator of Libraries with staff strength of around 50 was appointed to manage it. He also launched publication of a quarterly journal called Library Miscellany in English, Gujarati and Marathi with Shri J. S. Kodalkar as its first editor, started Library Associations from Taluk level, organized ‘Mitra Mandal’ (friendly groups in the libraries) in the town and village libraries and organized regular library conferences. The contribution made by Maharaja Sayajirao III would be written in golden letters in the history of public library movement in India.

11. Contribution of S. R. Ranganathan towards Public Libraries: The contribution of S. R. Ranganathan is unique and remarkable. He is regarded as the father of Indian library movement. The idea of an integrated library system was first introduced by him at the first “All Asia Educational Conference” held at Benerai in Andhra Pradesh in 1930. There he presented a model library act that form the basis of the Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka library legislation and as a whole the subsequent library legislation in India.

12. Contribution of Other People towards Public Libraries: The library movement in Baroda originated as the peoples movement under the leadership of Motibhai Amin (a public leader) in the form of Mitra Mandal (Society of Friends) as early as 1906 which received state patronage in 1960. Newton Mohan Dutta, curator of libraries at Baroda also did good work. There has been a number of pioneers who made contribution to the library movement in Andhra Pradesh.  Out of them, Sir Iyyanki Venkata Ramanayya holds a place of pride. From Bengal we have the name of Monindra Dev Rai Mahashaya. Master Motilal (1876-1949), by his own effort and meager resource established Shri Sanmati Pustakalaya (a public library) in Jaipur in 1920. From Punjab we had Sant Ram Bhatia, who played an important role in promoting the cause of public libraries in Punjab. In Assam, the library movement at its true spirit was led by Late Kumudeshar Barthakur (1893-8th November 1966), a retired Secondary School teacher under the brand name of Assam Library Association.

13. Role of UNESCO: India became a member of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 4 November 1946. UNESCO for the first time started the first pilot project in library in India by establishing the Delhi Public Library in October 1951. This later on developed into Delhi Public Library. The main aim of this project was to provide information on the problem of public library service for the parts of India in particular and for Asia in general. UNESCO also brought out a publication namely “Public Library Manifesto” 1949. 1972 was proclaimed by UNESCO as the International Book Year (IBY). As a contribution to the International Book Year in 1972 UNESCO requested the Section of Public Libraries within IFLA to revise the Manifesto on Public Libraries issued in 1949. A revised Manifesto, reflecting changes in the public library situation in the last 20 years, was accepted by UNESCO in January 1972. It was published in the June 1972 issue of the UNESCO Bulletin for Libraries. Since 1972 when the UNESCO Public Library Manifesto was issued radical changes have taken place inside the public library as well as outside. The considered opinion of the Standing Committee of Public Libraries is that a revision of this important document in order to reflect changes which have occurred since publication should be undertaken and as a result a new revised version is proposed to UNESCO in 1994.

14. Role of Raja Rammohun Roy Library (RRRLF):  In 1972, Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation (RRRLF) was established. RRRLF is registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act, 1961. It is the nodal agency of Government of India to support public library services and systems and promote public library movement in the country. Its headquarters is located at Kolkata. RRRLF functions as a promotional agency, an advisory and consultancy organization, a funding body for public library development in India.

15. Role Delivery of Books “and Newspapers” (Public Libraries) Act, 1956: In 1954 Indian parliament passed Delivery of Books and Newspaper Act which was further amended as the Delivery of Books “and Newspapers” (Public Libraries) Amendment Act 1956 to include serials as well. The Delivery of Books (Public Libraries) Act, 1954 extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to this Act, the publisher of every book, newspaper or serial must deliver at his own expense a copy of the book within thirty days from the date of its publication to the National Library at Calcutta and one copy each to three other public libraries specified by the Central Government. The other copies should be delivered to the Connemera Public Library, Madras (Chennai), The Central Library, Town Hall, Bombay (Mumbai), and the Delhi Public Library.

16. Role of National Knowledge Commission (NKC): National Knowledge Commission (NKC) was set up in the year 2005 with Sam Pitroda as Chairman. The NKC submitted its report in the year 2007. The title document of National Knowledge Commission on Libraries’ is “Libraries: Gateways to Knowledge, A Roadmap for Revitalization”. Many of the recommendations of the NKC are already in the implementation stage by different ministries of the Government. This includes areas such as Libraries, e-governance and translation.

17. Role of National Mission on Libraries (NML): National Mission on Libraries has been set up by Ministry of Culture, Government of India on 4th May, 2012 in pursuance of National Knowledge Commission recommendations for sustained attention for development of Libraries and Information Science Sector. Under NML Model Libraries, it planned to develop 6 Libraries under Ministry of Culture, 35 State Central Libraries and 35 District Libraries with particular emphasis on economically backward districts, as model Libraries. In addition, 629 district libraries across the states would be provided network connectivity.

18. Role of Library Legislation: In order to achieve the second law of Library Science it is desirable that economy factor should not stand as a barrier. This will be possible through library legislation, which will provide for finance of public libraries at various levels to achieve free library services for all. In India, twenty one states have so far enacted library legislation and the rest are providing library services without legislation.

19. Conclusion: In 1808 the Bombay Government initiated a proposal to register libraries, which were to be given copies of books published from the ‘Funds for the Encouragement of Literature’. This is the first significant year in the development of public libraries in India. The contribution of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III and S. R. Ranganathan for the public libraries will be always remembered. The Delivery of Books and Newspaper Act also play a major role for the collection building in the four public libraries including the National Library of India. The Central Government through RRRLF providing different grant and assistance to the public libraries. The states that have the Public Library legislation is expected to promote the public libraries by supporting it from the back end.

How to Cite this Article?
APA Citation, 7th Ed.:  Barman, B. (2020). A comprehensive book on Library and Information Science. New Publications.
Chicago 16th Ed.:  Barman, Badan. A Comprehensive Book on Library and Information Science. Guwahati: New Publications, 2020.
MLA Citation 8th Ed:  Barman, Badan. A Comprehensive Book on Library and Information Science. New Publications, 2020.

Badan BarmanDr. Badan Barman at present working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Library and Information Science, Gauhati University, Guwahati-781014, Assam, India. He is the creator of the LIS Links ( - India’s most popular social networking website for Library and Information Science professionals. He also created the Open Access Journals Search Engine (OAJSE) (, UGC NET Guide (, Assam Archive ( and LIS Study ( website.

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