Reading Room At Clock Tower Was Once Kovaiites Favourite Spot
Indians have been literate for thousands of years. Languages like Sanskrit and Tamil are very old. Politicians and scholars alike diddle with the antiquity of the old languages. The Indus Script is often found in a debate. Unfortunately we do not have a Rosetta Stone kind of a find for sorting out this problem. We are however aware of the various palm leaf manuscripts, copper plates, inscriptions found on caves and temples. This amply proves that Indians have been reading and writing for the last several thousand years. Scholars and pontiffs used to teach with the aid of manuscripts and they had a library in their houses or mutts. Kings had libraries too. Temples were places of knowledge. Universities like Nalanda and Vikramashila were endowed with a huge number of books. Books were also part of the treasures sought by invaders who were keen to expand their knowledge.
Frequent interventions in the form of invasions had destroyed quite a bit of knowledge. Manuscripts were plundered and set on fire too ! Indians lost quite a bit but their quest continued to simmer. They were quick to learn languages and scripts. Coimbatoreans in particular understood that they had to learn English along with Tamil, Hindi and Sanskrit and therefore they set up libraries long ago. Reading rooms and libraries came up in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. K.Narayana Sastri of Race Course was a propounder of the free library movement. He was one of the 15 people who founded the Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club in 1891. The very first meeting had resolved to set up a reading room in the club. A reading room used to exist in the Tower Clock for a long time. It had been established by the A.T.Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar, Rao Bahadur A.T.Krishnaswamy Mudaliar and A.T.Devaraja Mudaliar in the sacred memory of their father Rao Bahadur A.T.Thiruvengadaswami Mudaliar those days. A library authority was set up later and a number of people contributed their might towards the development of the same.
Diwan Bahadur P.S.G.Rangaswamy Naidu was keen to put up a good facility for developing reading habits in Coimbatore. He approached Ranganathan, the library pioneer in order to develop the same at his institutions in Peelamedu.
B.R.Krishnamoorthy (BRK) the Principal of P.S.G College of Arts and Science was the Chairman of the Local Library Authority. He had contributed much towards to the development of both – P.S.G Institutions and the Local Library Authority. BRK had also been an author of several articles of scientific and cultural interest. The Social Service League was launched by him. He was keenly interested in promoting adult education during his times. Municipal Councillor and Deputy Leader of the Congress in the Municipal Council G.B.Balaraman Chettiar was the Committee Representative of the Municipal Council in the Local Library Authority. Another later day Principal of P.S.G.College of Arts and Science, D.K.P.Varadarajan took a keen interest in improving the college library.
The Local Library Authority was constituted under the Madras Public Libraries Act of 1947 and was formed by representatives of Municipalities, Panchayats, aided libraries, Reading Rooms and a few nominated educationists, Headmasters and a Principal. The library fund consisted of a library cess of six pies in the rupee collected from the tax payers and an equal amount was given by the Government. The Central Library in Coimbatore Town had been handed over to the Library Authority and was to be housed in the Gandhi Memorial Library Building. The branch libraries were in Gobi, Bhavani, Mettupalayam, Tirupur and Dharapuram. A ‘Book Mobile’ was also created around 1954 and it was to also screen educational films to promote education. Periodic lectures by scholars were also arranged those days. The Central Library and branch libraries were always open free of charge. Readers could take books on payment of the required deposit. The Chairman of the L.L.A., B.R.Krishnamoorthy and the Members had done commendable service.
Libraries and Reading Rooms existed in the Students Literary Association, Kovai Tamil Sangam, YMCA, Devanga Young Men’s Association. The Agricultural College Library founded in 1876 and the Government College Library founded in 1819 were managed by the Government for the benefit of the students. A Library and Reading Room was managed by the Coimbatore Arya Vysya Samajam for its members. The Municipality had maintained free reading rooms in Ramarkoil street, Oppanakkara street, Puliakulam, Anuparpalayam, Marakkara Nanjappa Gounder street, Ramanathapuram, Pappanaickenpalayam, Srinivasapuram, Selvapuram, Okkiliar Colony, Devangapet, City Municipal High School and Kenwyn Elementary School (for Dalits).
More than 75 libraries existed in the old Coimbatore District (Coimbatore, Erode and Salem districts of today). The District Central Library was housed in a beautiful building at the V.O.C Park and was endowed with more than 13000 books as of 1957. It used to be open between 8AM and 8PM. Wednesday was the weekly holiday. Many branches existed in the district and many of them had delivery stations within a range of 9 to 10 kilometres. 120 delivery stations served villages with a population between 1000 and 5000 people. The library possessed a stock of 70 films. A record player existed alongside the book mobile and it was used to make people listen to speeches and entertaining songs. The district was divided into four zones. Mobile library used to visit about 30 villages in each zone with a stock of 4000 books.
To promote social education it was proposed to build up a small museum of models and charts by collecting exhibits of educational interest – physiological, geological, astronomical and scientific. Industrialists and leaders like C.M.Padmabhachar, N.S.Ramaswamy Iyengar, Dr.R.K.Shanmukham Chetty, G.D.Naidu, Kovai Kizhar C.M.Ramachandran Chettiar, Sivakavimani C.K.Subramania Mudaliar, G.R.Damodaran and S.M.Sriramulu Naidu had their own private libraries and books in their homes.
The libraries of Coimbatore added to the lustre and growth of the region. Let us salute the pioneers who took reading forward. One is but reminded of Tenali Rama who told Goddess Kali that both knowledge and wealth were required for progress.