India’s largest library by volume and one that holds the title of India’s library of Public record is located at Belvedere Estate in Alipore Kolkata and is called the National Library. It spreads across 30 acres of the Belvedere Estate and has a collection of over 2.2 million books. Before 1947, it acted as a residence of the Lt. Governor of Bengal.
The National Library was not called so in the beginning. It started off as Calcutta Public Library (CPL) in the year 1836. This was not a government building and ran solely on proprietorship. Individuals of all race, caste and religion were given free access to it without any differentiation for a specific period of time. In order to attain the status of proprietor, one had to pay a onetime fee of Rs300, either in whole or in installments. The then governor general, Lord Metcalf transferred about 4,675 volumes from College of Fort Williams to the CPL. This formed the first core of the library. The first proprietor was none other than Dwarkanath Tagore. A number of books were brought into the library after this that was a mix of both Indian and British. They also had books in languages like Pali, Gujarati, Marathi, Sinhalese and Punjabi. The library was never short on donations from many individuals and also the Government of Calcutta. It was thus one of the first most neat and efficiently run libraries in the country.
Calcutta also had the Imperial Library in 1891 which was formed after merging various Secretariat libraries. This consisted of books that came from the East India Collages, Fort William and East India Board in London. But the access to this library was restricted to only higher officials of the government. In 1903, Lord Curzon, the then Governor General felt that both the CPL and the Imperial Library weren’t being used for their purpose and that the accessibility was limited to them. He thus decided to merge the two and form the Imperial Library. It was only after Independence that the name of the Library was changed to National Library and the entire collection of books was shifted to the present Estate.
The library operates under the National Governments Department of Culture and is designated to collect, Disseminate and preserve all the printed materials that are produced in India and any foreign works that are published about the country.
Visiting hours are from 9am to 8pm on all working days and on weekends and Government holidays it can be visited between 9.30am and 6pm. It remains closed only on Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti. The main reading room requires special reading pass in order to get access. After applying for the pass on the official website, it can be accessed from 11am to 1pm and 3pm to 4 pm from Monday to Friday.