Historian Sriram speaks about ancient libraries of city

Chennai: Do you know that one of the oldest mentionings of a library in recorded history of Chennai has its origins tracing back to the 11th century? “It is said that there was a monastery near Tiruvottiyur temple where scholars came to read manuscripts,” said historian V Sriram.

He was addressing audience at Anna Centenary Library (ACL) to mark the 127th birth anniversary of S R Ranganathan, who is hailed as the ‘Father of Library Science in India’.

Delivering a talk on ‘Libraries in Chennai: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,’ organised by Ranganathan Centre for Information Studies, Madras Book Club and ACL, Sriram spoke in length with interesting anecdotes about the inception of libraries.

 40 pounds

He spoke about the Fort St George Library which was started in 1661 to help those who worked for the East India Company. Later, in the early 18th century, a court in London ordered to catalog the books. The collection was thought to be worth of £40, however, after categorizing them over a period of eight years, they hit £480. “Robert Clive was a frequent user of this library,” said Sriram.

Paving way to literary societies

The talk explored how each ancient libraries diverged and paved way to numerous book clubs and literary societies. For example, the Library College of Fort St George eventually became the Madras Literature Society in 1818, which in turn paved way for the development of the Connemara Public Library. Both have a fascinating history with over 50,000 books and several ancient manuscripts. The Connemara Library is one of India’s National Depository Libraries which receive a copy of all books, newspapers, and periodicals published here.

Archiving history

Sriram dived regarding initial days of the Mohammedan Public Library in Triplicane, Roja Muthiah Research Library, Government Oriental Manuscripts Library, among others.

He said, “The Tamilnadu Archives is the oldest archives in the world.” The archives were created on order from the Governor of the Madras Presidency, Lord William Bentinck in the early 17th century. They were called as the Madras Records Office and later donned the name as Tamilnadu Archives.

Sriram emphasised about Ranganathan’s significant contribution to the growth of library science in India and for developing the colon classification. Today, his birthday is observed every year as the National Librarian’s Day and he is well recognised across the globe. He also explained about modern libraries post ’80s and 90s, that entered our city, pleasing young readers, such as the British Council Library and of course, the ACL.