As Albert Einstein once said, "The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Here is a list of libraries in India that everyone should visit once.
As you walk through the hushed aisles, the scent of ancient parchment and polished wood engulfs you, while the soft rustling of the turning pages or the occasional whisper of a librarian guides your senses.
Visiting an old library feels like entering a time machine, with each book belonging to a different era. On one end, a scientist is discussing his inventions, while on the other end, an iconic Jane Austen heroine is rejecting a marriage proposition.
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As Albert Einstein once said, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Inspired by his words, The Better India decided to make a list of libraries in India that still retain the old world’s charm.
1. Goschen Library, Chennai
Situated in the heart of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, this iconic library is 96 years old. With its charming yellow-painted walls, the place smells of history. The library was set up by P Vijiaraguvulu Chetty and was constructed in English-style architecture. It was built to foster a habit of reading among people.
The library was frequently visited by Lady Goschen, the wife of the Governor of Madras. Subsequently, the library was named after her. In its glory days, the library housed about 15,000 books. Even today, the historical library boasts a rich collection of Tamil and English literature.
2. National Library, Kolkata
Speaking of iconic libraries without mentioning the National Library would be unfair. The library has 86,000 maps, 3,200 manuscripts and a history that dates from the British Raj. Opened in 1836 as the Calcutta Public Library, it was renamed the Imperial Library in 1903 and then the National Library in 1953.
A report suggests that “It was on these very grounds that Warren Hastings and his council member, Philip Francis, fought an early morning duel in August 1780.” Currently, the place holds a collection of digitised copies, books in 18 Indian languages, departments of foreign languages, Indian and foreign official documents, periodicals etc.
3. Connemara Public Library, Chennai
Inaugurated in 1896, Connemara Public Library is another one of the libraries in India that dates back to the British era. Designed by Henry Irwin, the same architect behind the historical Mysore Palace, the building is made in a typical Indo-Saracenic style.
As per a Homegrown report, “High wooden ceilings and carved mouldings, beautifully carved teak wood bookshelves, intricate patterns and floral motifs along the pillars; walking into the library is almost like entering a time capsule.” The library has over 6,00,000 books in its collection.
4. State Central Library, Bengaluru
Located in the heart of Bengaluru’s beloved Cubbon Park, the State Central Library with its bright red exteriors is eye-catching. As per an Indian Express report, “The State Central Library, housed in the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Hall, has existed since the building started to be used as a library 108 years ago. The origin of the building, however, goes back to Sir Seshadri Iyer, who had served for eighteen years as the dewan of the princely state of Mysore.”
Pride of every Bangalorean, the library houses over 3,140,000 books; its shelves are packed with everything from books in braille, to academic books and research material to rare periodicals. It was awarded the Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation Award for the best State library in the country in 1999.
5. Eloor Libraries, Kochi
Established in 1976, Eloor Libraries are a chain of libraries which are well-loved by the residents. While most libraries try to keep up with the times, Eloor Libraries have stayed true to their old-world charms. As per a report, “With its hand-painted signage and having largely retained its original appearance from its initial days, it offers an escape into simpler times.”
Founded by book lover and reader, P Luiz John, the library is not just a place that holds books but a place of nostalgia for residents of Kochi. According to Scroll, each branch of Eloor Libraries has 10,000 to 12,000 registered members and has a collection of 70,000 books in their libraries.
6. Hardayal Municipal Public Library, Delhi
Located in Delhi’s beloved Chandni Chowk, the library was given a new face in 2021 while keeping its authenticity. Originally established in 1862, the library, initially known as the Institute Library, was named in honour of a freedom fighter. It was originally created as a reading room for the British within the Lawrence Institute, which is now the Town Hall.
The library has a stock of 1,70,000 books and as per an India Today report, “The library houses one of the country’s finest collection of antiquarian books, including a print of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1676), a series of early British Indian travelogues and hand-written and gold illuminated translations of Hindu and Muslim religious works.”
7. The Federation Hall Society, Kolkata
Many living in Kolkata pass The Federation Hall Society but only a few are aware that it also serves as a library. Back in 1905, when the British were trying to divide Bengal, protests were brewing all over the city. On 16 October, thousands of people assembled on the very site of the library to protest the government’s move.
Ananda Mohan Bose, a fierce leader and politician, was the one who suggested the foundation of The Federation Hall with a library which will serve as a place for national gatherings and meetings on different subjects.
8. Sri Aurobindo Bhavan Library, Kolkata
Located on 8 Shakespeare Sarani in Kolkata, Aurobindo’s birthplace was converted into a library to preserve his memory and his love for reading and books. The place has a general and children’s library.
According to a report, “The former offers over 40,000 books and around 100 periodicals, while the latter houses about 35,000 books in English, Bengali and Hindi along with an updated reference service for children.” The admission is on request and you can click here to become a member.
So, how many of these iconic libraries have you visited so far?
(Edited by Padmashree Pande)
(Feature image credit: Vinaya K)