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Uttarpara Jaykrishna Public Library

Joykrishna public Library Uttarpara

The Birth of a Library :

On April 15, 1859, Jaykrishna Mukherjee formally opened the first free Public Library in India (and perhaps in Asia as well). This library, known as the Uttarpara Public Library, was originally Jaykrishna’s personal collection and open to researchers as early as 1851. Influenced by Dwarkanath Tagore and in light of the Public Library Act of 1850 (in Britain), Jaykrishna wanted to do something to spread public education and increase scholarship in Bengal. In the August 1854, he submitted a proposal, for a public library at Uttarpara, to the Divisional Commissioner of Burdwan. He was willing to donate Rs. 5000 towards this. The proposal failed, and Jaykrishna went ahead and funded the entire library by himself. The library building, a palatial construction by the side of the Hooghly, started being constructed in 1856. The land area was one acre and the entire construction cost him Rs. 85000. The staff appointed was initially 7 people: a librarian, an assistant librarian, a clerk, two gardeners, one sweeper, and one durwan. He also appointed a group of Uttarpara citizens as curators of the library. To them he "has made over a landed estate yielding Rs. 1800 a year; but as more works of English and Sanscrit [were] yet to be added, he [had] made a separate provision for the same.

Famous Visitiors :

Rather than being merely a library, the Uttarpara Jaykrishna Public Library was also a place where intellectuals met, and carried out their studies in peace while residing there. In 1866, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar came to visit the library with the noted educationist Mary Carpenter. Consequently, in her book "Six months in India", Miss Carpenter spends a not insignificant amount of space speaking about the library. She informs us that “the lower storey of the building contains the library, and the upper rooms are reserved to accommodate respectable visitors, as well as to hold public meetings. The list of these “respectable visitors” includes the names of stalwarts like Michael Madhusudan Dutta (who stayed there with his family for 2 months in 1869 and then, again, in 1873); Sir. William Wilson Hunter; John H. S. Cunningham; Rev. James Long; Sir Arthur Wellesley; Sir Ahsley Eden; Sir Edwin Arnold; Sir Rivers Thompson; Marquis of Dufferin and Ava Dufferin; Surrendra Nath Bannerjee; Keshab Chandra Sen; Bipin Pal; and Swami Vivekananda. On May 30, 1909, Sri Aurobindo gave his famous ‘Uttarpara Speech’ on the grounds of the Library.

Current Condition :

With the habit of reading fast becoming extinct, this, once great, library tells you its lost glory days through its inner condition. Many of the posts are vacant and hope of any betterment seems a distant dream. Still some groups of young people and many old people come to pass their time amongst the books, man's best friend.

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