Book Reviews

P.B. Mangla

Librarianship and Library Science in India. By Mohamed Taher and Donald Gordon Davis, Jr. New Delhi: Concept Publishing, 1994. 240 p., ISBN 81–7022–524–8.

In a radio talk in April 1956, S. Ranganathan said that “an account ol libraries in the first four periods (the Vedic, the Buddhist, the Medieval, and the Muslim) must necessarily depend upon historical research. This research has not yet been done. The library profession is too small in India to spare a person to fill this antiquarian gap. Those trained in the scientific method of tracing history are too preoccupied with dynastic and political history to spare sufficient time for cultural history in general and library history in particular.” While commendable changes and vast developments have taken place in the library field during the past four decades or so, yet library history continues to be an area of lesser interest among library professionals and other academics in this country. In library schools there is no independent paper or course in the curricula at university level post–graduate courses leading to the BLIS or MLIS dealing with library history as such. Certain aspects of Indian library history are taught as topics in different papers such as ”Library and Society” or “Library Organisation.” Even for the M.Phil, or Ph.D. theses library history is generally not chosen as an area of priority by the researchers. Technical subjects such as classification, cataloging, indexing, or documentation received top priority almost up to the late 1970s. During the past 15 years or so there certainly has been much change in this trend. Researchers and other library professionals are now more interested in areas such as bibliometrics, library management, collection development, library use, computerisation of libraries, networks, and manpower development.

It is really paradoxical that in a country with a long, varied, and rich cultural history, not much attention has been paid towards historical studies in this field. Among the several possible reasons for such a situation the two which deserve special mention are (1) like several other countries in the East, India had libraries in the past with almost no concept of library service — with the result that research scholars did not find much interest in collecting and analysing data about them. They felt such libraries did not provide intellectual stimulus for their scholarly pursuits; and (2) after independence in 1947, because of the extensive programmes of national development and reconstruction, the need for establishing libraries on scientific lines became much more urgent than to spend time on historical studies.

Among the few historical works which appeared during the past two decades or so, some which deserve mention are B.S. Kesavan, History of Printing and Publishing in India: A Story of Cultural Awakening (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1985); P.B. Mangla, et al., Fifty Years of Librarianship in India: Past, Present and Future (Delhi: Indian Library Association, 1983); D.N. Marshall, History of Libraries: Ancient and Medieval (New Delhi: Oxford, 1983); and J. Mishra, History of Libraries and Librarianship in Modern India (Delhi: Atma Ram, 1979).

The present volume is certainly a welcome addition in this field. It will help fill a gap in historical studies in this country. Also, it should provide some inspiration to several others to get interested in this area of academic pursuit. It has seven chapters: (1) Introduction; (2) Ancient India, 3000 BC–1206 AD; (3) Medieval India, 1206–1757; (4) Modern British India, 1757–1947; (5) Independent India, since 1947; (6) Library Developments in the States; and (7) Conclusion. There are two appendices: Appendix I—Select Chronology of Noteworthy Events; and Appendix II—Select List of Foreign Library Consultants. A bibliography and keyword index follow.

In this rather small volume the authors have made an appreciable attempt to outline the historical developments spanning over 5,000 years of India’s history. They have relied upon primary and secondary sources in English and other languages which are generally found quoted in the text and are also listed in the bibliography. Rightly realising the inherent difficulties and limitations in such a historical study, the authors have defined the scope in the preface by saying that

although this work will fill a great void in the world history of librarianship and library science, it too is only a beginning. As an outline it serves as a kind of synthesis and bibliographic essay that ties together the long history of libraries in India and points the reader to the existing literature. Students of library science in South Asia and elsewhere will benefit the most from this effort. However, as a contribution to the study of international and comparative librarianship, the work should also initiate and facilitate in depth research in areas which are identified as understudied and in areas which are unexplored.

The introduction describes general aspects such as sources of information, art of writing, writing materials, growth of subjects, literacy, etymology of the terms book and library, and the art of historiography. In chapters 2 and 3, which bring the historical account up to 1757, the text has been organised under three subheadings: libraries attached to palaces or courts, centres of learning, and centres of religion. Chapter 3 also contains some information about libraries owned by nobility and the elite. Certain useful details about their administration and management have also been given in these chapters. Chapter 4 gives information about the different types of libraries as well as about professional associations, professional leaders, library literature, education for librarianship, and administration of libraries during the period up to 1947. Chapter 5 contains a brief summary of developments in the field during the post–independence period. Chapter 6 describes details of developments in 21 states out of a total 33 states and union territories in the country. In chapter 7 the authors have made a useful attempt to give suggestions for future work.

This volume certainly reveals several interesting facts in the library history of this country. It is interesting to know that Kautalaya’s Artheshastra mentions an “adhyakasha” as an officer in charge of the manuscript collection entitled “Nibandha Pustak Sthana.” Amir Khuero (d.1325), who was a great poet in the Hindustani language and whose contribution in literature is greatly admired even today, was librarian of the royal library during the Sultanate period. The Mughal rulers (1526–1707) had great interest in literature and culture. They established an imperial library at Agra which can be rightly called the first national library of India. Vincent Smith, a well–known historian of Indian history, describes the collection as one “to which probably no parallel existed or even has existed in the world.” The library had a collection of about 24,000 rare manuscripts, reports, and other documents. Emperor Akbar (1556–1605) even created a separate department to look after libraries at Agra. Abdul Rahim Khan–i–Khanan, a great noble in Akbar’s durbar and son of his guardian Bairam Khan, established a library during this period. Some rare manuscripts of that library are found in much coveted collections of certain manuscript libraries today, such as Raza Library, Rampur; Khuda Baksh Library, Patna; Asiatic Society library, Calcutta; and Andhra Pradesh Oriental manuscripts Library, Hyderabad. Prince Dara Shikbu, son of Emperor Shahjehan, who was a great scholar of his time, is another great name which deserves special mention in this historical account. The remnants of his library building can still be seen in Old Delhi. Certain details about the administration of these libraries, which have been culled out from scattered sources of information, provide some insight into the status of these libraries and their library staff.

The major developments that took place during and after the second half of the nineteenth century are better known and well documented. Details given in Chapter 6 about the post–independence era are quite sketchy and somewhat disappointing. This period of study certainly has many developments and changes which deserve careful analysis and comprehensive treatment. Undoubtedly such a study would require a multi–volume publication and the 15 pages of this volume devoted to it can hardly do proper justice to it even in an outline form. The authors, however, seemed to be more interested in narrating the historical past rather than the recent past and that may account for this brief description of the post–independence era. This description, however, has certain facts which should been properly scrutinised so as to provide a more authentic description of the various events and developments. For example, NISSAT certainly was not the brain child of Peter Lazar. The conceptual framework and need for such a system had already been discussed and debated much before Lazar came as a consultant and submitted his report. Also, the present NASSDOC was so named in the late 1980s and its official name till then was Social Science Documentation Centre (SSDC). It would certainly not be correct to conclude that “today the majority of academic libraries — especially in the institutions of higher education — despite some progress share a bleak outlook” (p. 96). Such a remark tends to create an impression that the authors have not studied the developments in these libraries with proper detail and analysis. Actually, libraries in institutions of higher education have progressed in a much better manner during the past four decades or so than several other categories of libraries, and their future looks to be quite promising. Another area which should have been dealt with more optimism is that of computerisation and/or modernisation.

It is certainly pertinent to mention here that historical studies are essential to have a better grasp of the past and for proper planning and careful development in the future. Unfortunately, however, it is noticed that even in developed countries such as the U.S., U.K., France, and several others not much interest is being taken by the younger library personnel in this vital area of research. The present void certainly needs to be filled up and for that purpose concerted efforts would have to be made, both locally as well as at the international level, by agencies such as professional associations and funding organisations such as UNESCO, IDRC, and others.

The present volume is certainly written in a highly readable style and is well produced. It would certainly be of much interest to students, teachers, and practising library professionals. The authors should add a glossary of terms in future editions, so as to facilitate better understanding of Sanskrit, Persian, and Turkish terms. Also a paperback edition, with reasonable price, would certainly promote its wider distribution in developing countries.

floral device About the Author

P.B. Mangla is Professor of Library Science, University of Delhi, and a member of the Advisory Board for Third World Libraries.

© 1995 P.B. Mangla.


Mangla, P.B., “Review of Librarianship and Library Science in India, by Mohamed Taher and Donald Gordon Davis, Jr.,” Third World Libraries, Volume 6, Number 1 (Fall 1995).