This 115-year old Bengaluru library is home to history, heritage and other rare literature

ByFathima Ashraf

Published Feb 06, 2024 | 9:00 AMUpdatedFeb 06, 2024 | 9:00 AM

The Mythic Society Library is home to over 46,000 books. (Fathima Ashraf/The South First)

If you expect a 115-year-old library that predominantly houses books on history, geography, archaeology and more to be empty, be prepared to be wrong. At Bengaluru’s Mythic Society Library, chances are that you’d find at least 10-15 readers who are nose deep in books. Most of them are history students or young researchers. They are reading, taking notes, typing out points in their computers and seemingly hungry for information.

That’s the effect this library has on you. Make you want to learn about everything under the sun. And there are over 46,000 books here that can help you do that.

Over a century old

Situated at Nrupathunga Road, the library was shifted from the iconic Daly Memorial Hall to a modern building nearby during its centenary celebrations. The new library was renovated a couple of years back. From the flooring to the sleeves, everything is shiny and new.

“It’s important to keep the library clean for the readers,” says TN Srinivasan, the chief librarian here for over 12 years.

As we tour the place, we pick up some history. The library was founded in 1909 by a group of European and Indian residents of Bengaluru. Records show that the idea was floated by the then collector of Bangalore, F J Richards. 

“This building was constructed back in ‘76 as a conference hall. The library was shifted here a decade ago. Now everything’s been renovated from the book shelves to the flooring,” shares Srinivasan, adding that some of the old cupboards that have been retained are over 90-95 years old.

“These teakwood cupboards would cost about ₹20 lakh today,” he remarks.

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Read, don’t borrow

One can’t borrow books here. But everyone is welcome to come and spend time reading till the library closes at 5 pm.

“Until the early ‘70s, we used to issue books. But not anymore because many of the old documents were not returned. At that time, there weren’t many professionally qualified people here looking after the library. But after the ‘70s, people educated in library science have taken charge,” Srinivasan shares.

The 6-member staff here also makes it a point to update the collection. 

The collection of books here comprises everything from social sciences, religion, history, geography, literature, philosophy and a lot more. We acquire all the latest books on all subjects. We also get a lot of books donated by professors who have retired. From that, we select what we want based on its future referential value and keep it here. Rest, we give away to institutions or people who are interested,” he shares, adding that over 600-700 books are added to the collection every year. 

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Rare gems

There are over 200 rare books here. Most of them have been around since the library’s inception. Some of them even date back to the 1600s.

“The oldest book here is from 1669. There are at least 2500 books here that are from before 1900,” Srinivasan shares showing me books like The Travels of Mofieur de Thevenot into the Levant (1686), India and its Native Princes (1875) and a few other rare copies.

Not restricting itself to English, a separate section is available for Kannada and Sanskrit readers.

Works of Kuvempu, a poetic anthology of Kannada poems dating back to 1960 and original manuscripts describing Hyder Ali’s activities as king is sure to spark the interest of local readers.

There are dedicated sections with books on this history of Bengaluru and Mysuru. The invaluable items here include well-preserved old maps of Bengaluru city, a large canvas with the detailed geography of the city that would be unrecognisable to anyone today.

An 1887 edition of Karl Marx’ Das Kapital, the 1812 edition of Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith are some of the other attractions. Another main highlight is the replica of the Constitution of India, one of the few copies that was printed in 2000.

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Preserved by touch

Books have life, Srinivas states sharing details about the upkeep. 

“Books have life on its own. When not used, it will get infected or damaged.  Anything, when not touched for days, will catch dust. As long as people use these books, it will stay good. So one way of maintenance is to get more readers,” he shares.

And to get more readers, service and cleanliness is important.

He adds, “We see public libraries not being used properly because nobody cares for it. Here it’s not like that. While reader’s don’t have access to the racks, the staff here help them get what they want. Once in a month, all the books are taken out and shelves are cleaned. The human touch gives the books more life. They get energy out of that. Just like how energy is created in a temple, mosque or church when people go there, it’s the same case with a library.”

There are at least 2-3 lectures that happen here every month. The topics vary from history, ecology, inscriptions, epigraphy to so much more. Whatever subjects they speak on, the library displays relevant books to encourage reading.

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Old but up with the times

This is perhaps the only library that still relies on the physical catalog system, making it easier for old-timers who visit the place. Since 2013, the library has turned digital as well, to cater to younger readers.

While the library is revered among scholars, young researchers and history students, it’s still an undiscovered gem for many Bengalureans.

More people should make it a habit to come to a library and read, Srinivasan notes.

“For research purposes, 90% of the younger generation depend on the Internet. But there are avid readers who still come to the library, sit through the day and read. As long as we get 10-15 readers a day here, it’s worthwhile to maintain the library,” he shares. 

One can definitely get more information from books, he adds.

“The Internet is just a guiding tool. It’s like the road signs. But to get somewhere, you need to make the trip. Just like that, you have to read to learn more.”

While it’s true that the culture of reading at a library have come down, there are always takers for this experience.

“Back in the day each seat at a library would be filled. People would sit and read till midnight. That’s not the case now. But having been in the field for 55 years, I can say that there will always be avid readers who come to the library.”

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