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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 3, may 16-31, 2010
A user’s view of
Connemara Library
(By M Ramanathan)

In the 2002 Country report: India titled Public Library Services in India: Systems and Deficiencies (, R. Bhattacharjee, the then director of the Raja Rammohan Roy Library Foundation (RRRLF), identifies the enactment of the Madras Public Libraries Act, 1948 as “sensational and monumental because the Act symbolised “the first concerted effort in India to institutionalise, structure, and otherwise co-ordinate and organise public library services.”

The Act was a result of the efforts of S.R. Ranganathan (SRR), who received the necessary support from T.S. Avinashilingam Chettiar (a former student of SRR), the first Education Minister of the composite Madras State. Sadly, not many among the current generation of library users know SRR. In 1991-1992, on his birth centenary, the Government of India released a postal stamp and a first-day cover honouring him. But the announcement to declare ‘August 12’ as Library Day in India has not materialised.

The Directorate of Public Libraries (DPL), born out of the Madras Public Libraries Act, 1948 (now Tamil Nadu Public Libraries Act), is responsible for public libraries in the State. A quick look at the DPL’s website ( leaves you feeling that much more is needed. Historical details of the Connemara Library and of the Madras Public Libraries Act are incomplete. There is also no mention of SRR. In contrast, the Karnataka Public Libraries Department recognises SRR ( It is painful to see that his home State has failed to recognise SRR, who was born in Sirkãzhi and worked in Madras.

Equally painful is that the 150-year-old Connemara Public Library (CPL; est. 1860, from seeds sown by Captain Jesse Mitchell) is not a registered member of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). Now that the Government’s big budget Arignar Anna Centenary State Library, said to be modelled on the National Library, Singapore, is scheduled to be ready for inauguration in June 2010, I hope that the CPL will not suffer still further.

In its Citizens’ Charter published in English and Tamil (, the DPL states that its aim “is to develop and enroll all educated persons as members of the library … Other activities of this Department are to provide facilities in the library, stack books useful for a variety of readers, open public libraries with the co-operation of the public, etc.” The DPL should seriously reconsider rewriting their charter based on ‘Suggestions for the Organisation of Libraries in India’ authored by SRR and the guidelines published in 2001 by IFLA–UNESCO (http://archive.ifla. org/VII/s8/proj/publ97.pdf) for a public library service.

Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that struck me after a few visits to the CPL:

1. There are in the CPL two portraits, one opposite the counters and another hanging on a pillar close to the counters on the ground floor. Both are of SRR. Not many know that he was the first Librarian of the Madras University, initiated the famous ‘Five Laws of Library Science’ while living in Madras (Sami Pillai Street, Triplicane), and wrote a book on Madras mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. But I could not locate A Librarian Looks Back, an autobiography of SRR, on the CPL’s shelves.

2. Book access needs to be better. It is becoming common to find books of a particular subject placed on a different subject shelf. The users’ role in misplacing books cannot be denied; but the onus is on the library staff to see that books are properly shelved and also to educate users.

3. According to SRR: “Whatever be the library location, hours of operation, type of furniture and the way in which books are kept, it is the Library Staff that ultimately make or mar a library.” Library staff should keep this dictum in mind when interacting with members and non-members alike.

4. Routing of electrical cables inside the CPL complex is an eyesore, especially in the imaging section on the ground floor. Adjacent to this section, facilities for Internet browsing and digital access (CD-ROM section?) exist in airconditioned rooms. With massive investments made on electronic gadgets and other infrastructure, the ‘weak link(s) in the chain’ need to be better tended. Ironically, the imaging section is named ‘Xerox’ in the banner that refers to services offered. True, that’s common usage, but the CPL administration should recognise that Xerox refers to a brand name of a multinational company and use, instead, a term such as ‘photocopying’ or ‘imaging’ or ‘reprography’.

5. What happened to the renovated section of the old block (OB)? Users’ direct access to collections in that part of library is still not allowed. Is it the intention of the CPL to protect the valuable collection or to preserve the expensively renovated OB? If users wish to access books from the OB, which can be reached via a small footbridge accessible from the magazine section, they have to present the book details to the library staff seated at the entrance. The reader may get access to a book if s/he is lucky on that day and if the staff wishes to go that extra mile to locate the book(s) for the reader.

6. Search facility (via the 3 or 4 computers in the ground floor) is a welcome service, but the computers are badly maintained. Ball mice attached to some of the computers are clogged. In some of the computers the search interface is not configured properly, hence even a simple query does not work. The systems need to be brought to a level that make them easily usable, immaterial of the hardware and software configuration.

7. Persons using the men’s toilet should be careful if they are particular about personal hygiene.

8. Can the CPL, Tevaneya Pavanar District Central Library and the upcoming Arignar Anna Centenary Library explore the idea of common membership, inter-library loans and similar such facilities? The common factor is that all the three facilities are State- run.

9. Members of the American Library and British Council Library will be surprised to learn that membership to the CPL and Tevaneya Pavanar libraries still require authorisation from multiple gazetted officers and proof of residence. Is this rigmarole necessary?

10. I had no answer to this question from my 7-year-old daughter: “What are the names of those different kinds of huge trees found in the Museum-Library garden.” Can CPL take the initiative to provide name boards for trees indicating both common English and Tamil and botanical names?

Leading libraries around the world are adapting themselves to the evolving needs of the users and the communities they serve, without compromising in service and delivery, by constantly upgrading their websites. The CPL should do the same for its site. The powers-that-be should educate themselves by looking at the website of the National Library, Singapore (


In this issue

Preventing demolition is not enough
Does ‘T’Nagarisation’ of Mylapore lie ahead?
A user’s view of Connemara Library
Museum, Library and Theatre
Historic Residences of Chennai - 42
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for your Diary


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