|ONE’S IMPOSING, THE OTHER STATE-OF-THE-ART: Belvedere House (top), address of the National Library, and (below) Bhasha Bhavan, plush and spacious. Pictures by Pradip Sanyal
The National Library is shifting — from a 230-year-old mansion and two other annexe buildings to the state-of-the-art Bhasha Bhavan, on the same Alipore campus.
This is the second shift for the library in 55 years. The last time the books were shifted was in 1948, when the National Library was officially relocated from 6, Esplanade East to the white palatial building that was once the favourite residence of Warren Hastings.
Over the past four decades, two more annexe buildings have come up on the 30-acre campus and the library now houses 2,325,089 books, 87,385 maps and 3,227 manuscripts. The main building will, in all probability, be preserved as a heritage structure, once the shift is effected in around six months’ time.
The imposing library building was the official residence of the lieutenant governors of Bengal between 1854 and 1912. Earlier known as Belvedere House, it was bought from Warren Hastings by Major Tolly in 1780. Lord Curzon opened Imperial Library to the public in 1903, and it was renamed National Library in 1948.
Popular opinion may remain divided over the shifting of books from the historic structure, spread over 9,788 sq m, but the library authorities are convinced that the new building, occupying over 40,000 sq m, will benefit users.
“The historic building was not constructed with the idea of housing one of the biggest libraries in Asia. At Bhasha Bhavan, we have much more space and the most modern facilities to preserve precious books,” said library director Ramanuj Bhattacharjee.
The new five-storey building, constructed by the Central Public Works Department, has an elegant glass-and-steel façade with a plush reception area. Facing the auditorium is a fountain.
“The Centre has already spent Rs 80 crore on the building. The 580-seat auditorium is fitted with the most modern acoustic system,” said Bhattacharjee.
Those in favour of flicking through the pages of rare books in the huge reading room of the sparkling white palace with sweeping steps argued that the new library building “lacked character”.
The library authorities are now shifting the books on 14 Indian languages to the new building — raising quite a ruckus in the reading room from early evening. Around a lakh books in different Indian languages — of a total of 575,229 — have been moved to the new building.
Bhattacharjee said the Union ministry for culture has taken special interest in the shifting of books to Bhasha Bhavan and had advocated engaging private agencies for the job. “But our own employees are working overtime to shift the books,” said the director.
Once the shifting is complete, readers will no longer be required to go to the main building or the two annexe buildings. “We have plans to invite Union minister for culture and tourism Jagmohan to inaugurate the new library building,” director Bhattacharjee added.