Connemara Public Library – More Than Just a Library

I wanted to write a post on any significant place in Chennai for this Madras Week, so after narrowing down some options I decided to write about a place which has been quenching down the knowledge thirst of many for more than a century. Its Connemara Public Library which is one of my most favorite places in Chennai. This library is one of the earliest libraries established in India by the British and got so much historical significance in it. Some of the prominent persons like Anna, Rajagopalachari, R Venkatraman, C SubramaniamSandilyan, SujathaK. A. Nilakanta Sastri etc., have been active members of this library and spent more time here. S. R. Ranganathan who is known as father of Library Science worked in this library for 2 decades as a librarian.

For many who doesn’t know where the library is, Its is located in Egmore Pantheon Road, in the Govt Museum campus.

History is very important (Varalaru miga mukkiyam amaicharey), so some history about the library.

Once upon a time (in 1860) There was a college named Haileybury College in Hertford Heath, Hertfordshire, Britain where the civil servants of the Indian Civil Servants where trained and they had hundreds of surplus books in their library, without knowing what to do with it they sent them all to the Madras Government, which in turn handed them over to the Madras Museum. Captain Jean Mitchell who was superintendent of the Madras Museum at that time decided to set up a small library as part of the Museum with the books they have received, as there used to be a famous library named British Museum Library as part of London Museum. Nothing changed until 1890 when Governor of Madras Presidency Lord Connemara realized the need for a public library. He laid the foundation stone on 22nd March 1890 for a new public library inside the same museum campus. After the construction was over the library was officially inaugurated and opened to public in 1896 and it was named “Connemara Public Library” after the man behind the vision Lord Connemara. It was designed by H.Irvin who was consulting Architect to the Government of Madras, and reflects the architectural unity demonstrating the various stages of Indo-Saracenic development, from Gothic-neo-Byzantine to Rajput Mughal and Southern Hindu Deccani.

Old Library Building With Museum Theatre , Image Source : Internet

Old Library Building With Museum Theatre , Image Source : Internet

In 1950 the Connemara Library became the State Central Library with the enactment of Madras Public Libraries Act 1948, which was the first concerted effort in India to institutionalize, structure, otherwise, coordinate and organize public library services. With enactment of Delivery of Books and Newspaper Act 1956 a copy of any book or newspaper or magazine published in India should be sent to this library. In 1981 Govt Of India ordered the library to be one of the four National Depository Libraries. In 1973 new library building was built in 55,000 Sq-ft area was built to accommodate new books and increasing readers to the library. In 1998 a  new 12,000 Sq-ft 3 storied centenary building was added to the library, and in the same year Govt Of India released a commemorative stamp of the library. That’s all the history I could get.

Commemorative Stamp

Commemorative Stamp

Initially there were around 40,000 books when the library was started, but today the library houses more than 7,22,000 books and more than 2.00,000 old periodicals collection in its 3 buildings and it also receives 3500 periodicals and 160 newspapers. It contains more than 10000 Tamizh books which is the largest collection of Tamizh books in a place. Some books here are very old and rare ones, the oldest book in the library is “Omnes Quae Extant” by D. Hieronymi Strido which was published in the year 1553. The oldest tamilzh book is “ஞானமுறமைகளின் விளக்கம்” (Nyanamuramaigalin Vilakkam) which was published in 1781. An atlas 2 ft wide and 2.5 ft long which contains maps of India and Srilanka and was specially printed for Queen Victoria is the largest book in the library.

The Library has Text Book section, Reference section, Language section, Periodicals section, Microfilm section, Book Preservation section etc.. The digitization section of the library does a great job by  scanning and electronically storing old, rare books and documents which are preserved for posterity.  It also has a Civil Service Study circle which is a great boon to those who prepare for civil service exams. It got a huge collection of competitive exam books and digitized versions of old newspapers and periodicals which are very useful for the civil service aspirants. The library is completely computerized one, It has an Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) which helps the readers to search for books, its availability and its location inside the library. It also enables the members to renew and reserve books online.

New 3 Stories Centenary Building

New 3 Stories Centenary Building

Anyone who is 17 or above can visit the library and refer to books but to lend books from the library one has become a member. Any resident of Chennai who is 17 or above can become a member of the library. All you have to do is fill in the Membership Application Form and submit it in the library with a photocopy of your address proof. Annual membership of the library is Rs 50, but initially one have to pay a refundable security deposit depending upon the number of books he would like to lend simultaneously, its Rs 100 for 2 books or Rs 200 for 4 books or Rs 300 for 6 books.

The library serves the public daily from 9.00A.M. To 7.30P.M. On weekdays and from 9.30A.M. To 6.00P.M. On Sundays without any break. The library is closed on three National holidays and selected festival holidays a year. I.e. Pongal, Tamil New Year, Pooja Holidays, Deepavali and Christmas.

I first started going to the library in early 2006 and became a member in 2007. I mostly go there to get books for me and my mom, but I also like to sit in the library and read for hours in silence among other readers. Whenever I go to the library its very very rare for me to return without having Bread Omelette in the sandwich shops just outside the Alsa Mall which is near the library, It had almost become something like a tradition to me.

I would like to end with a small note to fellow readers. Please never misplace books, keep back the books in the same place where you took them from, When books are misplaced its difficult for other readers to find them. If you are issued a book which is a bit torn or damaged or got pages coming out of it, don’t just return it in the same or worse condition, do stick the pages with some glue or tape before start reading so that you could avoid some damage to the books.

Sources of Info :



5 thoughts on “Connemara Public Library – More Than Just a Library

  1. krithika

    Thanks Gokulane ….such nostalgia to see the building; many of my under grad and post grad days here, such a boon to students. Expecting you to write on many such wonders of Chennai. All the best !!!


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