The Calcutta National Library is the National Library of India. It is the largest library in volume and the most important library in the country when it comes to public records. Managed by the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, the national library aims to collect, disseminate and preserve all printed materials produced in India.
Established in 1836 as the Calcutta Public Library, the National Library was the very first public library in this part of the world. It is located on Belvedere Estate and now has over 2.2 million books in collection. This is a huge number, especially considering the fact that it only had close to 4,000 volumes when it opened.
In 1903, The Gazette of India described the library as “a library of reference, a working place for students and a repository of material for the future historians of India, in which, so far as possible, every work written about India, at any time, can be seen and read”. Today, the library has very clear objectives. It aims to acquire, collect and preserve all significant publications produced in the country, printed materials about the country no matter where it was produced, photographic records, and foreign materials that are required by the country.
The library also hopes to provide bibliographical and documents services to the public. Services are focused on current and retrospective materials, whether generalized or specialized. The library also acts as referral center for full, validated and accurate knowledge.
Libraries are primarily places of information and learning. Not many people consider them as interesting places to hang out. So why is the National Library of India in Kolkata considered an important tourist attraction?
The National Library is a national landmark not only for its historic and national significance, but also and primarily for its vast number of collections. It truly is a repository of knowledge, information and intellectual treasures of India. Below are just three of the library’s many collections.
First is the Bengali Language Collection with over 85,000 books. There is a number of very rare and highly valued books that date back to the 18th century. These include original manuscripts such as Bibuti Bhushan Bandaopadhaya, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhaya, Jibanananda Das and Bisnu De, as well as very old yet well preserved Bengali plays and novels. Other rare materials are 190 first edition works of Rabindranath Tagore, 154 letters of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, a Bengal grammar book published in 1778, copy of the Ramayana as translated by Krittibas, copy of the Mahabharata as translated by Kashi Ram Das, and rare 19th century newspapers.
Second is the English Language Collection. A good number of materials here date way before 1848. Most books are on the humanities, history and literature.
Third is the collection of rare books, manuscripts and microfilms with 4,700 monographs, 3,000 manuscripts and 1,500 microfilms. Any materials that were found to have been published before 1860 are considered rare, including limited editions, first editions, and books with unique design, illustration or history.
These are just three types of books among so many treasures to be found in the Calcutta National Library. Other collections displayed here, to name a few, are the Indian Languages Collection, Gujarati Language Collection, Hindi Language Collection, Kannada Language Collection, Tamil Language Collection, Science and Technology Collection, and Indian Official Documents.