In the 1840s, William Ewart, Joseph
Brotherton, and Edward
Edwards, became involved in a campaign to obtain a system of public libraries.
Brotherton and Ewart were both Liberal MPs but Edwards was a Chartist who was also involved in the
struggle for universal suffrage. Edwards, a former bricklayer, had educated
himself by spending his non-working time in Mechanics’
Institute libraries,
and in 1839 became an assistant in the Department of Printed Books in the
British Museum.

When William Ewart introduced his Public Libraries Bill
in 1849 he encountered considerable hostility from the Conservatives in the House of Commons. It was argued that the rate paying
middle and upper classes would be paying for a service that would be mainly
used by the working classes. One argued that the “people have too much
knowledge already: it was much easier to manage them twenty years ago; the more
education people get the more difficult they are to manage.” Ewart was
therefore forced to make several changes to his proposed legislation before
Parliament agreed to pass the measure.

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William Ewart and Joseph
Brotherton continued
with their struggle for a more generous and comprehensive approach to public
library provision. This led to two amendments to the 1850 Public Libraries Act.
In 1853 the act was extended to Scotland and Ireland and in 1855 the rate which
could be levied was raised to a penny. Borough Councils were also granted the
power to buy reading material for their libraries.

The penny rate still made it impossible for local authorities to
provide libraries without the support of wealthy entrepreneurs. These
philanthropists usually supported libraries in their own areas. For
example, Henry
Tate and John
Passmore Edwards in London. However, the greatest supporter of public libraries
was Andrew
Carnegie, who helped to
finance over 380 libraries in Britain.

Manchester was one of the first to establish a
public library and appointed one of the main campaigners for this reform,
Edward Edwards, as its first Chief Librarian. However, Edwards’ radical
political views resulted in him being dismissed in 1858.

The United Kingdom was the first country to bring into force the library
legislation as back as 1850. later in 1876 U.S.A. followed suit. Subsequently
Japan became the first Asian country to enact legislation in 1899.Taking a
queue from the developed countries, in bringing about the development of public
libraries, India also made attempts during the 1930s to have library legislation
at the national level. To quote S.R.Ranganathan at this juncture, “In our country,
the seed for library legislation was sown as far back as 1930 – even during the
British period. It was in the form of my Model library Act discussed and
generally approved by the library Service Section of the First Asian Educational
Conference held in Banaras.


An important
landmark in the history of public library services in India was made by
Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekward by introducing free compulsory elementary
education backed by libraries in 1883.

Ancient Period
(before 1200 AD):
References are available to prove that Nalanda University (in Bihar) had its
own multi-storeyed library in 600 AD with massive collection of manuscripts.
The collection of the library was housed in three buildings, each having nine
floors and three hundred rooms. This library was opened by the then Emperor of
India, King Davapal.

Medieval period
(1200-1757 AD): Muslims
ruled India in the Medieval Period and hence, it is also known as Mughal Period.
All the succession of rulers, namely, Babur, Humayun, Akbar and Jahangir made
their distinctive contributions to education and libraries.

The British Period
(1757-1947): The
University of Calcutta (1857), University of Bombay (1879), and University of
Madras (1907) were the first three universities were established along with
their libraries. There were only nineteen Universities in India before 1947. The
British also showed keen interest to set up educational societies with their
libraries and public libraries in India. The establishment of Bengal Royal
Asiatic Society library (1784), Bombay Royal Asiatic Society (1804) and
Calcutta Public Library (1835) enlightened the public. Gaya Public Library,
Gaya (1855), Long Library, Rajkot (1856), Connemara Public Library, Madras
(1860), Government Library, Janagarh (1867), Adyar Library, Adyar (1886) and Dahi
Laxmi Library, Nadiad (1892). Gujarat Vernacular Society & library,
Ahmadabad (1848), Barton Library, Bhavnagar (1882), Baroda State Library
(1877), Cochin Public Library and Reading Room, Trichur (1873), Victoria
General Library, Dhar (1856), Indore General Library (1852), Maharajah’s Public
Library, Jaipur (1899), Jammu and Kashmir library (1879), Kahtiawar library
(1886), Kolhapur library (1850), Nizam’s Dominion (1891), Travancore library
(1829), etc were the other important libraries established during British rule.
The Calcutta Public Library became Imperial Library in 1903 and later became
the National Library of India after Independence. Dr S.R. Ranganathan also
played a significant role in the library development as well asknowledge of
library science. After joining the post of University Librarian at University
of Madras in 1924, Ranganathan went to United Kingdom and gained knowledge on
libraries. Ranganathan published his Five Laws of Library Science (1931),
Colon Classification (1933) and Classified Catalogue Code (1934)
and also prepared Model Public Library Bill, which helped to enact public
library legislation in Indian states.


Period (1947 onwards):The Kolhapur Public Libraries Act (1945) was the
first library act in India and it was followed by Madras state (presently Tamail
Nadu) in 1948, Andhra Pradesh (1960), Karnataka (1965), Maharashtra (1967),
West Bengal (1979), Manipur (1988), Kerala (1989), Haryana (1989), Mizoram
(1993), Goa (1994),Gujarath (2002), Odisha (2002), Uttaranchal (2006) and
Rajasthan (2006). The Advisory Committee for Libraries (known as Sinha
Committee) which was constituted in 1957 by the Government of India, a drafted
Model Library Bill. In 1954, the Delivery of Book Act was passed and later
amended in 1956 to include newspapers also. As per the Act every publisher in
India obliged to deposit one copy each of its publications to the National
Library in Calcutta, the Asiatic Society Library in Bombay, Connemara Public
Library in Madras, and Delhi Public Library in New Delhi.