Lucknow, libraries & that sweet smell of old books

  • | Thursday | 28th September, 2023

The last time Edward de Bonos The Mechanism of Mind was issued by the Acharya Narendra Dev Library, housed in the Navchetna Kendra in Hazratganj, was two decades ago.A few miles away in the citys oldest library — Amir-ud-Daula Public Library — the existentialist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauers books bite dust, as they havent found any taker since the dawn of the 21st century. In the age of ChatGPT, these rusty libraries of Lucknow, once the symbol of the citys prodigious intellectual milieu, stare from their attic windows into the golden past.But does that mean the end of the road for the iconic libraries that shaped the intellectual strata for generations? Certainly notKeeping pace with the changing times when readers do not have enough time to sit in libraries for long hours, libraries are now taking the digital route to reach bibliophiles and give them round-the-clock access to millions of books.Amir-ud-Daula library has already gone digital while Lucknow Universitys Rabindranath Tagore Library has always kept pace with the changing times. Others too may follow suit in the years to come.Besides the most popular ones like the Amir-ud-Daula Public Library, there were three other iconic libraries, including the American Library, British Council Library and the Soochna Kendra, in the city. Even the present-day Secretariat once housed a huge library. All these shaped the generations of Lucknow, recalls PC Sarkar, a scientist-turned-historian.AMIR-UD-DAULA PUBLIC LIBRARYNestled in the congested lanes of Kaiserbagh, the magnanimity of the towering white building that houses the oldest library in the city is a sight to behold. The marble-floored staircases lead up to the first floor where the library, and its huge reading room, stands. This 155-year-old library is named after Mohammad Amir Hasan Khan, the erstwhile taluqdar of Mahmoodabad and then chairperson of the British India Association of Oudh. Established in 1868, it was, initially, a part of the government museum. In 1887, it was thrown open to students.With a total stock of over 1.6 lakh books stacked neatly on wooden shelves running across the walls, the library boasts of the finest collections. From German history to medieval occult science and from clandestine literature by 15th-century women writers to Buddhist text of the Dhammapada written on copper plates, the library is a bibliophiles paradise.There used to be some veterans who would flock to our rich stock of books on philosophy and history. But things changed after the coronavirus pandemic, says library in charge Harish Chandra.Under the Smart City project, the library is going digital and almost all its books are available in digital format. It offers two types of memberships. The first is lifetime membership for a refundable security deposit of Rs 2,000 and annual charges of Rs 500. Books can be issued to these members. The other is reading-only membership with a security deposit of Rs 1,000 and annual charges of Rs 500.RABINDRANATH TAGORE LIBRARYThe one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. This famous quote of polymath and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore encapsulates the idea behind the 103-year-old library housed on the premises of Lucknow University.Entering from Gate number 4 of the university and passing through the labyrinth, one comes to a footbridge that leads you to a tall, white building adjacent to the department of social work. The entry to this one of the oldest libraries in the city is via the card-based access control system. On the left-hand side is an electronic catalogue that helps you browse books and authors. Victorian-style arch-shaped staircases lead to the first floor. On the lefthand side is the reading room, while the Picture Museum is on the other side which has paintings of Tagore, a wooden statue of Mahatma Gandhi, and a few rare paintings of Old Lucknow.Of all the libraries, this is perhaps the one that doesnt reek of neglect. It has integrated the digital revolution quite well.Tagore Library is not only the pride of the university, but of the city too. It is a symbol of its association with Gurudev, whose name is synonymous with education. We are in the works to not limit it to university and turn it into a public library, says head of the sociology department and chief librarian professor D R Sahu.The Tagore Library, initially called the Central Library of the University of Lucknow, came into existence with the establishment of Lucknow University in 1920. The plan for the new building of the library was prepared by American landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin — known better for designing the Australian capital Canberra.The library, in its present form, was inaugurated in 1972 — the 50th year of the university — by then President VV Giri. Today, it is one of the oldest central research libraries and houses the rarest books on a host of subjects.INDIA LITERARY HOUSE LIBRARYLocated on the busy Kanpur road, near Transportnagar metro station, Indian Literary House and its esteemed library have a plethora of resources on Indian and Western history, Hindu mythology in Persian manuscripts, and manuals that went on to become the cornerstone of Indias crusade against illiteracy.It was started by an American native, Welthy H Fisher, who was deeply stirred after a momentous rendezvous with Mahatma Gandhi. On the suggestion of Gandhi, Fisher single-handedly started out her journey toward adult education in independent India. In 1953, she established the Indian Literacy House in Lucknow.Designed like an Indian village by Laurie Baker, the campus, established in 1953, consists of a cluster of simple, yet innovative, brick buildings. Towards the very end of the premises stands a singlestoreyed red-colored brick building — the Indian Literacy House library.In 1978, when India formally launched a National Programme on Adult Education, Literacy House was recognised as the first resource centre for adult education. Its library houses over 50,000 books and numerous resources on innovative teaching-learning methods — many of which are still used in the National Education Policy (NEP-2020). For decades, the Literacy House and its library have been the central resource centre that pioneered the literacy revolution in the country — a fact many are grossly oblivious to. For decades, it has served as a resource centre for the state and national-level programmes on literacy and education. Be it its pedagogy, which became the manual for literacy programmes or its rich stock of books, this library is in itself a goldmine, says India Literacy Board chairman Sanjay Bhoosreddy.ACHARYA NARENDRA DEV LIBRARYAcharya Narendra Dev Library was established in 1959 by former UP Chief Minister Chandra Bhanu Gupta in the loving memory of one of the tallest of socialist thinkers, Acharya Narendra Dev. Started for undergraduate students, it was initially housed in a two-storey building on the west side of Moti Mahal in the Moti Mahal complex on Rana Pratap Marg. As its importance grew and the need for more books was felt, the library was shifted to its current location in the 80s. In 2001, when the British Council Library closed down, its rich collection of books was brought here with the hope that this would give a fillip to the library.This library has now become a space for aspirants who want a quiet space for studies, says librarian Jyoti Kumari. The library offers membership to students at an annual charge of Rs 250 along with a onetime security deposit of Rs 150; and general membership with Rs 500 annual charges and Rs 250 one-time security deposit.LALA LAJPAT RAI LIBRARY AND READING ROOMA stones throw from the Amir-ud-Daula Public Library stands the Lala Lajpat Rai Public Library and Reading Room. It was once a gathering point for research scholars and budding political leaders drowning into deep discourses on a range of topics, from literature to history and national to international politics.Founded by the Bharat Seva Sansthans president Chandra Bhanu Gupta in 1971, the library was established to further the cause of reading and knowledge-seeking. Since the library offers free-of-cost reading space to everyone, it does not have any revenue model either. Grants do come but they are few and far between. Over the years, the reading habit has declined, as a result of which, the value of this place has waned. Very few students visit, but theybring their own books to prepare for exams, says librarian Vandana Vajpayee.

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