National Library

National Library

National Library

The National Library
Belvedere, Kolkata, 700 027

M: 91-33-2479 1381 to 87, Esplanade Reading Room: 91-33-2248 7831, Director’s Tel: 91-33-2479 2968, Librarian (PLIO): 91- 33-2479 2467


After Independence, the Government of India changed the name of the Imperial Library to the National Library under the Imperial Library (Change of Name) Act, 1948 and the collection was shifted from the Esplanade to the present Belvedere Estate. The National Library opened to the public in 1953.

The Imperial library itself evolved from the Calcutta Public Library established in 1836. It was not a Government institution. Dwarkanath Tagore was the first proprietor of Calcutta Public Library. Both Indian and foreign books, especially from Britain, were purchased for the library. The library had books in Gujarati, Marathi, Pali, Simhalese and Punjabi. Donations were regularly received from individuals and from the Government of Bengal and North Western Provinces.

The Imperial Library was founded in 1891 by combining a number of Secretariat libraries. The most important was the library of the Home Department, which contained many books belonging to the libraries of East India College, Fort William, and the East India Board in London. The use of the library was restricted to the superior officers of the government.

Lord Curzon, Governor General of India in the early years of the twentieth century, is usually credited with the idea of opening a library in Kolkata for public use. He decided to merge the collection of Calcutta Public Library with that of the Imperial Library, subject to certain terms.

The new library, called Imperial Library, was formally opened to in 1903 at Metcalf Hall, Kolkata. The objectives defined in a Notification in the Gazette of India: ‘It is intended that it should be a library of reference, a working place for students and a repository of material for the future historians of India, in which, so far as possible, every work written about India, at any time, can be seen and read.’

John Macfarlane, Assistant Librarian of the British Museum, London, was appointed the first Librarian of the Imperial Library. After his death, the polyglot scholar Harinath De took over the charge of the library. J. A. Chapman succeeded him in 1911. During Chapman’s term, the library experienced remarkable growth and improvement. After his retirement, Khan Bahadur M.A. Asadulla was appointed librarian and he continued in office till July 1947.

The policy of acquisition broadly adhered to by the Imperial Library was outlined by Lord Curzon in his speech at the inauguration: ‘The general idea of the whole Library is that it should contain all the books that have been written about India in popular tongues, with such additions as are required to make it a good all-round library of standard works of reference.’

About the collection: The National Library receives books and periodicals in almost all Indian languages. These are received under the Delivery of Books and Newspapers (Public Libraries) Act 1954 (D.B. Act).

Language divisions acquire, process and provide reading materials in all major Indian languages. Hindi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Sindhi, Telugu and Urdu language divisions maintain their own stacks. Other language books are stacked in the Stack division. Language divisions are also responsible for answering reference queries. The library has separate Indian language divisions for Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Sanskrit language division also collects and processes Pali and Prakrit books. English books published in India are collected under D.B. Act.