The Making of Public Libraries – in Delhi and the Presidencies

Compared to the three libraries established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, the Delhi Public Library was a late starter.

Great civilisations gave birth to great cities. And most ancient cities were known to have their own great libraries.

Be it the 7th century library in Nineveh – built by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal – or the library of Alexandria built by Ptolemy I in 295 BC, or other ancient libraries such as the Imperial Library of Constantinople, the library of Aristotle or the library of Nalanda, what is common between them is a continuation of a tradition going back over 2,000 years.

All over the world, libraries were open to those who could read or write. These skills were always an elite privilege and slaves would have had no access to public libraries. A great majority of slaves would have been unlettered and even if some had acquired access to the written word, they would have been denied access to libraries. In the case of India, the so called ‘lower orders’ would have met the same fate, except it was perhaps less complicated – the Shudras were not permitted access to texts. So even if there were public libraries, no Dalits would have been able to enter.

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