Libraries of India

On our travels around India I’ve been able to visit some of the biggest, and oldest, libraries in the country.

Kolkata National Library

This library was established as a subscription library in 1836. At the time, the Governor General of Fort William, Lord Metcalfe, donated 5,000 books to the library. In addition to English, the library purchases books in Gujarati, Marathi, Pali, Sinhalese, Punjabi, and more. It was the first public library in eastern India. Members could join by subscription, or poor students could use the facilities for a specified time period. In 1948, the library was shifted to its present home, at the Belvedere Estate in the Alipore neighborhood of Kolkata (the former home of the Lt Governor) . Today, students and researchers can use the facilities, and if they pay a deposit of 150% of the book, they can check it out for two weeks (but not if the library only has one copy). With over 2.2 million holdings, it’s the largest library in India, and the 14th largest in the world. It has 45 kilometers of shelf space!

Asiatic Society Mumbai Library

In 1804, the Asiatic Literary Society began meeting in Mumbai (then called Bombay). They became affiliated with the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain in 1830. It is now funded by a grant from the Central Government of India. It has over 100,000 holdings, in English, Persian, Sanskrit, Prakrit. It even has some books written on palm leaf. Amazingly, they possess one of the only two original copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy (a gift from the governor of Bombay Mountstuart Elphinstone)! Mussolini asked for it to be returned in 1930, but the library declined, saying that it had been a gift from a patron. The Town Hall building which houses the library is a heritage building, built in 1833. It’s a popular spot for young people in Mumbai to visit for selfies, as it was in a famous Bollywood movie called Lage Ra ho Munnabhai.

David Sassoon Library

I wasn’t able to enter this gorgeous library in Mumbai, as it is entry by members only- but what a gorgeous building! The reading room and library was begun in 1823 for workers of the government mint and the dockyards, with a local Baghdadi Jewish banker, Sir David Sassoon, donating 60,00 rupees to get started. It’s current building was completed in 1870, and is designated a heritage building. Built in a Venetian Gothic style, it was the first building to be built in the south esplanade area of Bombay. It is open every day of the week.

State Library of Karnataka


The State Central Library of Karnataka, located in Bengaluru, is no shy and retiring library- I love the shocking red of the building! Constructed in 1908, the building became a subscription library in 1915, and has remained in that place for over a century. The building was named after Sir Kumarapuram Seshadri Iyer, a long-standing public official of Karnataka. It is now a public reference library only, with none of it’s 300,000 books in circulation. However, people can come to the library and use the resources six days a week. Notably, the library has a large Braille section- over 800 books, each with an accompanying audio book. It’s quite busy during the day, and when I visited, there were a couple dozen people using the facilities. I even noticed a sign-up for Improv comedy classes! I think it’s great when libraries reach out to the interests of their constituents.

Encompassed in the same building is a children’s library, featuring over 5000 children’s book. In addition, the library sponsors two mobile book busses that drive to four stops around Bangalore each Wednesday. Residents of those neighborhoods can apply for a library card with just a passport photo and proof of address. The membership cost is 40 rupees a year, plus one rupee for the application cost.


Do you like to visit libraries when you travel? What are the best ones you’ve seen?


One thought on “Libraries of India

  1. Pingback: India: The Southwest – PalmTreeMusings

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