Monday, September 29, 2014
Library - the first
Situated within the complex of buildings under the Department of Public Instruction, this building houses what is arguably the first 'lending library' in the country. It was not originally intended to be a library. Started as the Madras Literary Society in 1812, its objective was to be forum - a learned forum to present papers and discuss advances in science, geology, archeology, anthropology and sociology, and then to be a repository for these papers and related collections.
Those papers and collections went on to be the seeds for starting several other institutions such as the University of Madras, the Connemara Library and even the state government's Archeological Department. Even so, it still retains about 80,000 books, which are lent out to the Society's ~200 members. The books are mostly door-delivered; keeping in sync with the institution, most of the members are senior citizens, who are grateful for this service. The library, however, does not lend its older books. Even though the members - at different points, the roster of members included Annie Besant, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan and Subas Chandra Bose - are very careful about handling the books, the library is careful to circulate only newer books: meaning, ones that were printed after 1950.
It is worth a visit to take a look at some of the older volumes. The oldest is probably a 1619 copy of Aristotle's Opera Omnia. There are of course several stacks of other reference material, going back to the early and middle 20th century. Of course it is a wonderful place for historic research in any of the subjects it specialized in. But if you are a true bibliophile, you must consider volunteering time to help the Society sort and categorize its collections. Otherwise, we might end up continuing to see 'Pride and Prejudice' displayed in the New Arrivals section!