Fading pages of a historic library

Madras Literary Society, a library located inside DPI is one of the oldest libraries in Chennai City. Photo: V. Ganesan   | Photo Credit: V_GANESAN

It baffles me how I missed the Madras Literary Society (MLS), a library located inside the DPI Complex on College Road. A resident of Nungambakkam for 10 years, I have been priding myself on knowing the locality inside out. And this is not an ordinary miss: MLS is one of the oldest libraries of Chennai and has had Annie Besant and Subhash Chandra Bose as its members.

Even if one did not take note of its history, the library would still generate interest. Its building is imbued with an old-world charm. It has features that cannot be ignored. From the entrance, one can see books stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Metallic staircases take the visitor to three storeys of books. A staircase connects the two buildings and has a special pulley, similar to what is used in ships, to transport books to various floors.

It is surprising to me that this library has only around 500 members, most of who haven’t renewed their membership.

Social History Group started by architect Thirupurasundari Sevvel is staring a campaign to bring the spotlight back on this library.

“According to Otness (1998), the society was founded in 1812 as the Madras Literary Society. In 1830, it became an auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and has generally been known as the Madras Literary Society and an auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society. The most interesting aspect of the design is that the roof of the hall is lifted into a clear storey that brings additional light into the central space,” says Thirupurasundari.

Uma Maheshwari has been working here for the past 20 years. She began as an assistant and has been the librarian for 12 years now. There is a college close by, but this place doesn’t get enough patronage. The library needs urgent attention and increasing its membership can help restore its lost glory. The oldest books found here are Aristotle (four volumes) in Greek and Latin and Travels in India (1680) by Jean-Baptiste Tavernie. We have books from all sections but we need more. We also invite people to donate books,” she says.

To commemorate World Heritage Day and to popularise the library, the group is initiating a membership drive.

“The library has less than 500 members. Through this campaign, we plan to raise the membership to 1,000 in one year. We also plan to start a book-conservation project under Dr. Jeyraj’s guidance, a conservator,” she says.

This campaign is part of ‘Nam Veedu, Nam Oor, Nam Kadhai’, which is aimed at preserving heritage in the city. Annual membership at the library comes at Rs.850. Door delivery costs an additional Rs. 50.

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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 8:05:45 AM |

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