National Library of India
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The National Library of India (Bengali: ভারতের জাতীয় গ্রন্থাগার) on the Belvedere Estate in Alipore, Kolkata, is the largest library in India by volume and India's library of public record. It is under the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism & Culture, Government of India. The library is designated to collect, disseminate and preserve printed material produced in India. The library is situated on the scenic 30-acre (12 ha) Belvedere Estate. It is the largest in India with a collection in excess of 2.2 million books. Before independence, it was the official residence of Lt. Governor of Bengal.
The Calcutta Public Library
The history of the National Library began with the formation of the Calcutta Public Library in 1836.
That was a non-governmental institution and was run on a proprietary basis. People contributing ₹300 (US$4.80) in subscription became the proprietors. Prince Dwarkanath Tagore was the first proprietor of that Library. ₹ 300 at that time was a significant amount, so poor students and others were allowed free use of the library for some period of time.
Lord Metcalfe, the Governor General at that time, transferred 4,675 volumes from the library of the College of Fort William, Kolkata to the Calcutta Public Library. This and donations of books from individuals formed the nucleus of the library.
Both Indian and foreign books, especially British, were purchased for 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-organized and efficiently run library was rare even in Europe during the first half of the 19th century.
Because of the efforts of the Calcutta Public Library, the present National Library has many extremely rare books and journals in its collection.
The Imperial Library
The Imperial Library was formed in 1891 by combining a number of Secretariat libraries in Calcutta. Of those, the most important and interesting was the library of the Home Department, which contained many books formerly belonging to the library of East India College, Fort William and the library of the East India Board in London. But the use of the library was restricted to the superior officers of the Government.
Amalgamation of CPL and Imperial Library
In 1903, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, the Governor General of India, conceived the idea of opening a library for the use of the public.
He noticed both the libraries—Imperial Library and Calcutta Public Library—were under-utilized for the want of facilities or restrictions. He decided to amalgamate the rich collection of both of these libraries.
The new amalgamated library, called Imperial Library, was formally opened to the public on 30 January 1903 at Metcalfe Hall, Kolkata. Metcalfe Hall had earlier been the home of the Governor-General; Wellington, Cornwallis and Warren Hastings had lived in the building, and the last-named had fought a duel with a member of his governing committee on its grounds.
The Gazette of London reported, "It is intended that it should be a library of reference, a working place for students and a repository of material for the future historians of India, in which, so far as possible, every work written about India, at any time, can be seen and read."
Declaring the Imperial Library as the National Library
After the independence the Government of India changed the name of the Imperial Library as the National Library, and the collection was shifted from The Esplanade to the present Belvedere Estate. On 1 February 1953 the National Library was opened to the public.
In 2010, the Ministry of Culture, the owner of the library, decided to get the library building restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). While taking stock of the library building, the conservation engineers discovered a previously unknown room. The ground-floor room, about 1000 sq. ft. in size, seems to have no opening of any kind.
The ASI archaeologists tried to search the first floor area (that forms the ceiling of the room) for a trap door, but found nothing. Since the building is of historical and cultural importance, ASI has decided to bore a hole through the wall instead of breaking it. There are speculations about the room being a punishment room used by Warren Hastings and other British officials, or a place to store treasure.
As of January 2012, however, no further information on the chamber has been publicly released.
The National Library is located on Belvedere Road in Alipore, Calcutta. It is open between 9 am and 8 pm on all working days and between 9.30 am and 6.00 pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Government of India holidays.
Access to the National Library main reading room (Bhasha Bhavan) is strictly controlled. The visitors need to have an approved Reader's pass to reading hall. For that they need to fill in an application form (available on the National Library website) and get it attested by a Government Gazetted officer. The reader's passes are issued only between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm, and between 3.00 pm and 4.00 pm, from Monday to Friday, excluding a string of National and State holiday.
- Over 2,270,000 books
- Over 86,000 maps
- Over 3,200 manuscripts
- Over 45 kilometers of shelf space
- Reading rooms can accommodate over 550 people
- "Useful Information". National Library.
- Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey (22 November 2010). "Secret chamber in National Library". The Times of India. Retrieved 20 November 2010.
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