National Library, Kolkata: India’s biggest library could be worth over Rs 125 crores

[] Located in Alipore, the National Library is a part of the 30-acre pristine Belvedere Estate in Kolkata and is the biggest library in India, with a collection of over 2.2 million books

The National Library of India needs no introduction for bookworms and bibliophiles. One of the grandest, most elegant and prized national treasures of the country, the National Library is situated at Belvedere Estate in Alipore, one of the swankiest and posh localities of Kolkata. It is the biggest library in India in terms of volume and public records and falls under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The library was established for the purpose of collection, preservation and dissemination of printed material that is produced within the country.

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The National Library was created as a result of the merger of the Calcutta Public Library and the Imperial Library. The National Library and the then Imperial Library had several Indian and British titles and was also open for the general public. It has been collecting titles, books and periodicals in all Indian languages while its exclusive collection comprises a minimum of 15 languages. The Hindi department possesses books that reportedly date back to the 19th century and include the first books ever printed in the language too. The collection also has 3,200 manuscripts and 86,000 maps too.

National Library, Kolkata

(Source: National Library of India on Facebook)

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Kolkata National Library’s valuation

It is not surprising that the National Library has a staggering net worth, as well. Located in Alipore, it is a part of the 30-acre pristine Belvedere Estate in Kolkata. While taking the whole estate into consideration would throw up an unbelievable value, let us consider the total covered area in the buildings, which is 62,825.157 sq ft. Assuming a price point of Rs 20,000 per sq ft, which is the standard market rate for any property along Belvedere Road, the estimated value of the buildings alone works out to a mammoth Rs 1,25,65,03,000 which is roughly rupees one hundred and twenty-five crores and sixty-five lakhs. Of course, it goes without saying that owing to the historical, cultural and social value of the landmark, its price will far exceed any attempt to demarcate its market value.

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National Library Kolkata: History

The Imperial Library preceded the National Library and was formed in 1893, by merging several secretariat libraries in Kolkata (then, Calcutta). The most interesting and important of these was the Home Department library, which had several rare titles formerly in the possession of the libraries at Fort William, East India College and the East India Board at London. However, usage of this Imperial Library remained restricted for the leading officers of the administrative government. Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee was appointed as the president of the Imperial Library Council in 1910 and he donated his own collection spanning 80,000 books to the establishment, which were housed in a demarcated section, as well.

After independence, the Indian government changed the name of the Imperial Library to the National Library and the collection was transferred to the current Belvedere Estate from The Esplanade. The National Library was opened to the general public on February 1, 1953 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Dignitaries present included BC Roy, BS Kesavan, SS Bhatnagar, HC Mukherjee and Humayun Kabir, among others.

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National Library Kolkata: Interesting facts

There are several interesting facts surrounding the National Library that many people are not aware of. These include the following:

  • A hidden chamber was discovered by the Ministry of Culture in 2010. The Ministry was about to restore the building with the help of the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and while assessing the library building, engineers unearthed a secret ground floor room of 1,000 sq ft, which seemingly did not have any opening and was previously unknown.
  • The ASI could not find any trapdoor or escape route out of this room in the first-floor area. This led to major speculation about the room previously being a torture or punishment room used by British officials including Warren Hastings, or a room used for storing treasures. In reality, officials announced in 2011 that the room was filled completely with mud, in an attempt to possibly stabilise the structure.
  • The National Library is the biggest in India with a collection crossing 2.2 million books.
  • It was once the official residence for the Lt Governor of Bengal.
  • It was founded as the Calcutta Public Library and remained a non-governmental organisation (NGO) when it started in 1836 at Esplanade in erstwhile Calcutta.
  • The library was a proprietorship concern at the time of its establishment, with the first proprietor being none other than Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who was also the first librarian for the Calcutta Public Library.
  • The first donation of books to the library came from the College of Fort William, with the initiative being taken by Lord Metcalfe, then governor-general of Bengal. This donation comprised 4,675 volumes of priceless books.
  • The Calcutta Public Library was fused with the Imperial Library in 1903. The latter was founded in 1891 and this became a common unit supervised by lord Curzon with the reading places opened to the public from January 30, 1903.
  • The first librarian of the Imperial Library was John Macfarlane.

National Library India

(Source: Shutterstock)

The National Library is open for the general public between 9 AM and 8 PM on all working days, while being open between 9.30 AM and 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays, as well. It remains closed on January 26 (Republic Day), August 15 (Independence Day) and October 2 (birthday of Mahatma Gandhi) which are all national holidays. It is certainly one of the grandest cultural, literary and historical treasures and monuments for the country, its government and citizens alike.


Where is the National Library situated?

The National Library is located at Belvedere Estate in Alipore, Kolkata.

What was the previous name of the National Library?

The National Library was earlier called the Imperial Library into which the Calcutta Public Library was also amalgamated in 1903.

When was the National Library renamed and opened for the public after Independence?

The National Library was opened for the general public, by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad after its renaming on February 1, 1953.

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Debora Berti

Università degli Studi di Firenze, IT

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