Sunday, 23 June 2019

Historical Town Hall and Thrissur public library - a legacy of the princely state of Cochin

A town without a library and a temple is as bad as an arid land. We need them to expand our knowledge and improve our spiritual experience. ''Reading is to the mind what  exercise is to the body'' according the English essayist  Sir Richard Steel. The Thrissur Public Library was opened during the princely State rule in the late 19th century to serve the local community. 

Among the libraries of south India during the colonial period, the Public library at Thrissur, Kerala is one of the oldest ones. When Kerala was the princely State, during reign of the British raj, it was started by Diwan Sankunni Menon (A. Sankarayya?) in 1872. Because of inadequate space, it began functioning at St. Mary's College. It was in 1939, the library was shifted to the  first floor of the Thrissur Town Hall that had a floor space of  1,200 square feet space enough to meet the initial demand by the public. Thrissur Library has the unique honor of being the first one to have been computerized in Kerala as far back as 1996. Credit goes to  Sri. K Karunarakaran, the former chief Minister who granted Rs. 5 lakhs for this purpose. This money came from his MP funds.  
Town Hall, Tirussur Public library, Kerala
Town Hall, Tirussur Public library, Kerala
Diwan  of Cochin  in 1873 arranged for a meeting with a handful of 21 youths  and had a wide discussion with them as to how to put the library to maximum so that the public will be benefited by it. From utilitarian point of view it was a good move on the part of the Dewan who was very particular about proper use of the library. 

American Novelist Sidney Shelden.

In those days, the print media comprising books and magazine  had a limited audience because of cost and even the elite of the society had hesitation in either buying them or getting subscription. The printed materials were far beyond the reach of people from middle and lower middle classes. The Diwan had a fruitful discussion and made a decision  to start a reading room in a public building  where all sections of the society could  access the printed materials and get benefits.  That public building  is the place  where the St. Mary's college library stands today.  Keen readers made a beeline to this reading room, but had to be content with few journals and books of the old type, The library slowly grew in stature and functioned there for more than six and half decades on the same premises. Serving a large section of reading public in an old building  was obviously beset with some inconveniences. 
Thanks to the steps taken by the then ruler of Cochin who had a plan to build a Town  Hall in 1938, to conduct public meetings, conferences, etc. Upon its completion, the Maharajah had the library - actually a reading room  shifted to the front  of the Town Hall located in the middle of a 4 -acre square compound. This beautiful building is an impressive landmark of Tirussur city to day. Not only did the ruler bear the cost of shifting - Rs.1200.00 the library to a new location, but also generously provided plenty of wood, etc to build long reading tables and chairs. 

With the passage of time and good growth of print media, the space in the town hall was not adequate for the readers. After India's freedom from the British, Monarchy  was replaced by democracy. Realising the shortage of space and increasing readership,
 Sri. C Achutha Menon, the then visionary chief Minister of Kerala granted more space for Trichur Public Library in the upper story of the building.

 With old racks and cramped space the ambiance was not conducive to good readership. By 2004, the Tirussur Public library saw vast improvements. Besides getting a face lift a separate section called Central Library of Science and Technology (CLST) for the promotion of scientific and technological research had begun to function. All the major reference books, magazine, etc  in science, engineering, medicine and allied subjects were  made available at the CLST, including those magazines, newspapers and other publications printed and published in India and abroad. They had a plan to open a separate section for the young children to encourage them to improve their knowledge and to equip themselves to face new challenges in the frontier of modern acknowledge, engineering and science. Kudos to the then Diwan, the then Maharajah and the politicians who evinced keen interest in the successful functioning of well-equipped public library, because they were aware of  the dictum that ''Access to knowledge is the supreme act of great civilization. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone  in accomplishing this mission.''