The tale of two libraries

Connemara is one of the four national depository libraries in India; Anna is one of the biggest in south Asia

Updated - March 24, 2022 08:47 pm IST

Published - March 24, 2022 04:49 pm IST - CHENNAI

After Connemera Library was opened in December 1896, it became one of the sought-after places of Chennai.

After Connemera Library was opened in December 1896, it became one of the sought-after places of Chennai. | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

After a parliamentary career of 18 years in Britain, Robert Bourke (1827-1902), later Baron Connemara, became Governor of the Madras Presidency in 1886. Unlike many of his predecessors and successors, he interacted freely and cordially with people of all classes. In no time did he develop an admiration for Indian students and realised not many were able to afford the books they needed. As part of his efforts to address this need, he laid the foundation in March 1886 on Pantheon Road in Egmore for, what he called, a “free public library”, which later came to be called Connemara Public Library.

After the library was thrown open to the public in December 1896, it became one of the sought-after places of the city. “Even today, you can see scores of youngsters at the library complex, staying put throughout the day. The salubrious natural environment is a major complementary factor,” points out N. Avadaiappan, former director of the Connemara Public Library.

Virtually endorsing the former director’s words, R. Thangathurai, a long-time user of the library, says that during his recent visit, he found several youngsters at the library browsing the net and collecting materials as part of their studies.

“It is not just at the Connemara Library but also at the Anna Centenary Library (ACL) at Kotturpuram that you can find scores of young men and women filling a couple of floors and doing their studies. The ACL [own book reading section] commences only at 8 a.m. every day but, at 7.30 a.m., the youngsters are waiting for the library to open,” says M. Rajendran, former Vice-Chancellor of the Tamil University and now the chairman of a high-level committee to tone up the services of public libraries.

Invariably, the young crowds that throng the two libraries are either students, pursuing higher studies, or candidates, preparing for competitive examinations. What is more significant than the utilisation of the libraries is that the authorities have found that despite the growing trend of using online services, there exists the need for a greater number of libraries with all the state-of-the-art facilities than what is available today.

Mr. Avadaiappan, a member of the high-level committee and who has also worked as special officer at the ACL, says the proposed Kalaignar Library in Madurai will take care of the requirements of the youth in the southern districts.

Housing over nine lakh books, the Connemara Library, with a membership of about 1.46 lakh, is one of the four national depository libraries in the country. All those books, whose copyrights have been acquired by the government, and Tamil books, published before 1950, have been digitised and preserved, considering their importance. Regarded as one of the big libraries in south Asia, the ACL, declared open by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in September 2010, has a collection of 6.14 lakh books on various subjects and caters to the needs of different sections. The library’s Braille section consists of 2,600 Braille books and 1,050 audio books. Unlike the older one which lends books to its members, the ACL is only a reference library.

The Government Oriental Manuscript Library, which was functioning on the campus of the University of Madras, has been shifted to the ACL with its entire collection of ancient and rare manuscripts. As the ACL was caught in a political controversy with the change of regime in May 2011, it was left to fend for itself nearly for 10 years. After the DMK came to power 10 months ago, it is getting revived. Apart from carrying out repairs and providing new equipment, steps are being taken to make the library accessible to people all over the world digitally.

To improve the services of public libraries, the high-level committee is seeking public suggestions and views that can be sent to or to 9443269689 on WhatsApp before March 31.

Emphasising the need for making the libraries more accessible to a larger number of people, Dr. Rajendran suggests the establishment of a system of member cards, encompassing all libraries in the State and enabling a member getting a book of his or her choice from any library and returning it even to another. Referring to Karnataka’s execution of a massive digitisation of books at all its libraries in the last two years, making use of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Avadaiappan is confident that Tamil Nadu would follow suit. What is becoming clear is that the two libraries of Chennai, Connemara Public Library and the ACL, are going to play their part in the government’s plans to make the public libraries vibrant centres of knowledge.

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