After denying entry to under-18s for 102 years, the National Library appears all set to lift the age bar to boost membership and shore up the bottomline.
The National Library came into being in 1948 with the passing of the Imperial Library (Change of Name) Act.
The library's latest move is significant because the institution has been losing readers to other libraries which have no age bar, offer a bouquet of services and use the latest technology to attract members.
'We are going to lift the age bar and open the library's doors to readers who are 16 and above,' Sudhendu Mandal, National Library director, announced on Sunday.
He said the move follows appeals from guardians and their wards seeking permission to use the library for reference and scientific projects.
Only last week, a 16-year-old student of Class XI of an English-medium school asked Mandal why the country's largest library should be out of bounds for him only because of his age.
'It's true that a host of young readers, who have either passed Madhyamik, ICSE and CBSE examinations, approach the library almost daily but we can't help them because of the age bar. Now, we have decided to do away with the system,' Mandal said.
The move having been approved by the Union culture ministry, Mandal said: 'We have convened a meeting of our five-member management committee towards the end of July to ratify the decision on lifting the age bar.'
This will come as a boon to young readers.
'Reference work is now a must, even for school-going children, because of fast progress in scientific and other research,' said a library officer, adding: 'This is possible only if we can ensure extensive library facilities.'
As the demand for reference books is on the rise, students, particularly those in senior classes, have to depend on other city-based libraries, like the British Council Library (BCL), the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture and Calcutta University's (CU) central library, where there is no age bar.
But libraries such as BCL charge huge membership fees, though its collection has depleted over the years. In contrast, members don't need to spend a single paisa to use the National Library reading room.
'We will be happy if city-based libraries provide us at least reading facilities,' said a student of Class XI from St Xavier's Collegiate School.
The National Library's membership for the lending section has remained static at 15,000, while the average number of students and scholars visiting the reading section daily varies between 400 and 500. 'Our membership will go up if young readers are allowed to use the library. We are expecting more than 500 readers on an average every day,' Mandal said.
The library has the country's largest and rarest collection ' 25 lakh books and more than 30 lakh magazines and periodicals. However, a library can only be judged by the quality of service it provides.
Soumitra Sarkar, who looks after CU's central library, having the second largest collection of books after National Library, said: 'We have decided to open the library's door to outsiders.'