Living History — Nilgiri Library: 153 years and counting

With exodus of European residents after Independence, the institution began languishing for want of adequate members

March 16, 2012 03:11 am | Updated 04:20 am IST - Udhagamandalam:

Standing tall: A view of the Nilgiri Library which has a chequered history. Photo: M. Sathyamoorthy

Standing tall: A view of the Nilgiri Library which has a chequered history. Photo: M. Sathyamoorthy

Shielded by stately trees from public glare, the 153 year-old and still growing institution on the Commissioner's Road is one of the prestigious visages of the Nilgiri town.

With a management zealously guarding the values it stands for, the Nilgiri Library has been in focus for a variety of reasons.

Most of the visitors to the hill station may not take a note of this elegant building with certain features of Gothic architecture which houses one of the oldest and finest public libraries in India. But many of the book lovers here are familiar with its chequered history and the number of persons showing interest in becoming part of the institution as members is on the rise.

Records including the Monumental work, “Ootacamund – A History” by Sir Fredrick Price, a retired Indian Civil Service officer, published in 1908 indicate that efforts to bring into being a public reading room were set in motion as early as 1829, but European settlers felt the need for a library. Hence a committee was formed in July 1858 to explore the possibility of forming one. With the government favourably considering a request for such a facility made by the committee, the library came into being the following year.

Its motto ‘Abeunt Studia In Mores' the literal translation of which is ‘studies pass into habits' bears testimony to the importance given to reading by the founding fathers of the institution.

Even though its existence over the decades was glorious, its financial position has off and on been a source of concern. With the exodus of the European residents from the Nilgiris soon after Independence, the institution began languishing for want of adequate membership to sustain it.

A few decades later, it turned the corner with a considerable improvement in its finances. However the joy was short lived as the growing popularity of the small screen and the internet took its toll.

It led the 11-member managing committee of the library to resort to various measures to raise the level of popularity of the library and strengthen its finances.

Matters improved dramatically a few years ago with the State Bank of India located adjacent to the library extending a helping hand by donating rupees five lakh. A few individuals and institutions also chipped in with generous contributions.

It helped the committee undertake repairs without altering the original structure and give a facelift to the interior without compromising on the old ambience.

“It was challenging but also highly satisfying,” says the president of the committee K. Chandramohan. Even the iron rings which had been embedded along one side of the building over a hundred years ago to tether horses are still intact. A locker manufactured by Oakes and Company, Madras is still in its original shape.

Adverting to its rich collection, Secretary Ramakrishna Nambiar claims that very few institutions of its kind either in India or abroad can boast of such a variety.

Out of a total of about 25,000 books around 15,000 are allowed to be taken out of the building. Stating that the total number of members now was 500 including 300 life members, he said that with the objective of making it, “the hub of cultural activities in the Nilgiris,” different kinds of programmes are being organised periodically.

Several plans are on the anvil to develop the library and promote the habit of reading.

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