Although the University of Calcutta was formally launched in 1857, it had no permanent building of its own, at least in the early years. It might be recalled that the University was initially authorized only to hold examinations and award degrees. In those rudimentary stages of its growth, library, museum and other common facilities did not receive as much attention as they deserved. It was only after the University got a permanent home of its own in 1872 that attempts were initiated for the setting up of a library. Its nucleus was formed out of a small gift of Rs. 5000 by Joykrishna Mukherjee, the public spirited Zamindar of Uttarpara. While donating the money in 1869, he expressed the hope that a small library could be set up by the University. At about the same time Esan Chandra Ghose donated a small collection of books to the University. These efforts marked a small but auspicious beginning towards the setting up of the Calcutta University Library..
In 1874-75, an addition of Rs. 3,500 was made to the Library Fund, the total amount of which at that time exceeded Rs. 9,000. The Syndicate considered that a commencement should be made of the building up of a library stock with this sum, the problem of accommodation of the Library having been solved by the completion of the Senate House. A committee comprising Mr. Tawney, Mr. Heeley, Captain Jarret and Mr. Sutcliffe, was formed which reported that the sum was so small that it was impossible to attempt to build a library stock which in any sense could be termed complete. They were, therefore, of opinion that the Calcutta University Library collections should exist as supplementary to other existing libraries in Calcutta especially the newly founded Indian Museum Library. At that time there was no library containing a suitable collection of books except the Indian Museum Library. As technical libraries of Law and Medicine already existed in Calcutta and English literature, Mental Philosophy and many other subjects were represented in several collections of books available to all or most of those who were likely to have recourse to a University Library, the Committee recommended that the sum might be distributed among different subjects in the following way:-
|Physical subjects (including Botany and Zoology)||3,000|
The report of the Committee was accepted by the Syndicate and the University Library occupied one of the two side rooms of the Senate House building. It may be pointed out that the University’s income in those days was very small. In 1874-75, the total income amounted to Rs. 96,290, out of which the contribution of the Government was Rs. 47,316. Calcutta University Library continued in its humble way till the passing of the Calcutta University Act in 1904 and the appointment of Sir Asutosh Mookerjee as Vice-Chancellor.
The Calcutta University Act of 1904 provided a special clause which empowered the University to maintain Libraries, Museums and Art Galleries. Henceforth the University began to allot larger sums towards the purchase of books. The first notable acquisition by the Calcutta University Library was the purchase in 1909 of the entire Library of Prof. R. Pischel of Berlin. His collections contained practically everything that had been published within the preceding thirty or forty years in Europe and North America in the fields of Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Philosophy including comparative Philosophy, in addition to many other works of interest.
As the University activities were expanding in all directions, pressure for accommodation was being increasingly felt. In 1912, the Calcutta University Library had a new home, thanks largely to the munificence of the then Maharaja of Darbhanga. The Central Hall with its side compartments in the first storey as well as the large hall and its side rooms in the second floor were set apart to accommodate the rapidly expanding Library collections. About this time, three whole-time Assistants were appointed for the Library. Prior to this there was no whole-time Assistant for the Library during the first few years of its existence, the Second Assistant in the Registrar’s office used to look after Library matters as a part-time job.
In 1886, a new Assistant was taken in for the Library and was given the designation of Assistant Librarian but the Registrar continued to be responsible for the administration of the Library. In 1912, the Government of India contributed one lakh of rupees for the building up of the library stock and agreed to place the University Library on its distribution list for the free supply of all Government publications. In 1913, Sir Asutosh Mookerjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of the Calcutta University, acknowledging the contribution made by the Government of India remarked “the improvements in the Library have been rendered practicable by means of the funds placed at the disposal of the University by the Government of India.”
The Calcutta University Library was originally meant for the use of the Resident Fellows only, although permissions were granted from time to time to bonafide research workers to use the Library. Later on, rules governing the use of the Library were revised and included Resident Registered Graduates and University teachers and scholars as well.
When the Post-Graduate Department was opened in 1917, the establishment of a lending section for the use of the students was considered essential and the first disbursement on account of books and periodicals was made as follows:- Rs. 18,048 (Arts) and Rs. 8,393 (Science).
The Post-Graduate Lending Library (Arts) was first housed in the ground floor of Darbhanga Building and then in the Asutosh Building of the Calcutta University till 1935, when it was shifted to the top floor of the Asutosh Building along with the collections of the University Library known as Maharaja Rameshwar Prosad Singh Library. The Library functioned till Sunday, the 5th of March, 1967, in the old premises, i.e., at the top floor of the Asutosh Building. From 6 March, 1967, it started functioning in the newly constructed ten storey building, named the Centenary Building.
The composition of the Calcutta University Library has undergone periodic changes. At present the Calcutta University Library system consists of the Central Library, five campus libraries, forty departmental libraries and libraries of the centres for advanced studies. The libraries are spread over eight major campuses. Departmental libraries are located within the department concerned.
The Calcutta University Library, at present, has a collection of more than ten lakh books. Besides books, the eight major campuses of the University together possess nearly 2 lakh volumes of bound Journals, M.Phil. and Ph.D. dissertations, proceedings of conferences, reports, maps, standards, patents, newspapers, manuscripts, microfilms, CD-ROMs. The departmental libraries serve the academic disciplines bearing their names. The Central Library serves the entire University community.
As many as 20 departmental libraries out of the total, have a collection of over 15,000 volumes each. The Department of Law Library holds over 85,000 volumes in hard copy. The collection is strong in all aspects with special emphasis on legal history and jurisprudence, business and commercial law, taxation and international business transactions. The Department of Law Library's old journal collections include works in the fields of history and other social and behavioural sciences relevant to legal research. Located at the academic heartland of the city, the Central Library is easily accessible from all the different campuses of Calcutta University. The Central Library remains open from 10 am to 8 pm in week days (Monday to Friday); from 11 am to 6 pm on Saturdays. The library collection is arranged subject-wise.
Computerisation and networking of the Calcutta University Library has been undertaken under the INFLIBNET programme of the UGC. The University Library has started automation of the library activities using SOUL, a versatile and user-friendly software from INFLIBNET Centre.
The Calcutta University Library has its own local Network connected with a server with terminals inside the library. Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) of the library has databases of books, journals, theses, dissertations, etc. In addition to the above, the University provides access to 7,000 plus electronic journals to its users in all the campuses under the UGC-INFONET programme.
The University Library has posted an online catalogue in the University Website consisting of records of books, Ph.D. theses, medical dissertations, BNCC Collection, Peace Studies Collection and others. Now users from across the globe can get information on the collection of the University Library.
In this context it might be not be out of place here to mention that Calcutta University has now become one of the few select institutions in India whose collections can be known through the Internet.
The immense popularity of the University Library is testified by its steady growth in the number of users. At present on an average one thousand users use the Central Library facilities. In order to promote awareness about the Library among its various stakeholders, the University Library organises exhibitions on various subjects on a regular basis.