Sunday, December 14, 2014

Historical Note on the Establishment of Calcutta Public Library

Historical Note on the Establishment of Calcutta Public Library

The Editor of the Englishmen newspaper Mr. J.H. Stocqueler circulated an address in August 1835 among principal inhabitants of the Calcutta city, advocating establishment of Calcutta Public Library. He wrote:

"As considerable inconvenience is sustained by almost all classes of the community of Calcutta, owing to the absence of any thing like a General Library, combining the advantages of a Library of Reference and Resort with those of a circulating library, it is proposed to take measures for immediately establishing such an institution, upon a scale commensurate with the interest and wants of the reading population.

From the inquiries that have been made, it is believed that such a library, if based upon broad and liberal principles, will receive very general support throughout the metropolis. No establishment at present exists in any degree calculated to answer the purposes to be attained by a Public Library, and hence the accumulation of expensive Book Clubs and the continual disbursement of large sums in the purchase of works of ephemeral value.

But to render a Public Library permanent and every way worthy of the name it adopts, it is of the last importance that the spirit of exclusiveness be renounced and repudiated by all who may desire to share in its foundations. To use the words of an able speaker upon the occasion of the formation of a similar institution elsewhere, an Indian Public Library should be a mighty reservoir to all who burn with the thirst of knowledge. We should not ask the comer from what land he arrived, what tenets he professes; we should not mete his understanding by his creed, nor his worthiness by lot of which he fills in life; but of whatever country, of whatever desert he was born a denizen, before whatever shrine he was taught to bow, to whatever hue the north-wind has bleached or the southern sun has mellowed his complexion, we should bid him to approach, to drink and be filled".

In a word, the honourable task is proposed of diffusing a literary spirit amongst all classes, and creating means for its gratification; of opening a rich source of instruction and enjoyment TO ALL RANKS AND PROFESSIONS, subject only to that moral propriety and strict observance of decorum, without which no society can long remain respectable.

To ensure the most complete success to the proposed institution, and to render it acceptable to all persons of whatever station, it is intended to establish two rates of admission - viz., five and three rupees per month, charging also a small entrance of two gold-mohurs to the former, in order to create a fund at the commencement, and granting to the first class subscribers sundry privileges that may not desired by the second.

It is requested that those who are favorable to the plan now submitted for consideration, will sign their names below; and as soon as a sufficient number shall appear upon the list, a meeting will be called to arrange the details and all necessary preliminaries.

Hon'ble Sir John Peter Grant in a public meeting in Calcutta on 31st August 1835 observed:

"I believe this the only society of the same extent which has not a library of some description; at the Cape, at Bombay, they are better provided, and Madras has its Literary Society, but here in Calcutta, we are without the means of reading, except by purchasing books, from Humphrey Clinker up to Hume's History of England. This I think is a very great inconvenience, and we even have no means except the expensive one I have just mentioned, of procuring books of light literature which form the main reading of the greater part of the community; or of those books which no man would purchase or refer to, except for the purpose of seeking out some particular information or referring to some point. But the particular object we have in view, will be better developed by the resolutions which I hope will meet with general approbation. They have been drawn up to meet the convenience of all classes of the community, by no means excepting those young men, natives of this country, who are most meritoriously pursuing their studies".

All these efforts led to establishment of Calcutta Public Library (CPL) in 1836. CPL later became Imperial Library in 1891 and then finally the National Library of India in 1948.


Calcutta Public Library (1846), Preface, In: Catalogue of the Calcutta Public Library, pp. iii-xx.