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Mohammed Ali Library: Journey from traditional to new-age library-cum-information centre

The 93-year-old library off Zakaria Street, a sought-after centre for Urdu literature researchers is undergoing a facelift

Kolkata: Mohammed Ali Library, located on the ground floor of Barry House, on Kanai Seal Lane is one of Kolkata’s oldest public libraries. Lost in the hustle-bustle of the ever-so chaotic, ever-so-charming Zakaria Street is this 93-year-old library being resurrected to its past glory.

Many local residents and researchers in the past have complained about the treasure trove of Urdu literature being in ruins and how not much is being done to preserve the library’s legacy and the thousands of rare books that lie in it.

“This library was established in the year 1930, by Mulla Mohammad Jan to create a reading space for the community youths. After the death of Mohammad Ali Jauhar, a fellow Khilafat leader and prominent freedom fighter, in 1931, the library was named in his honor. Mohammad Ali was a visionary, who was also one of the co-founders of Jamia Milia Islamia,” said Anwarul Haque, librarian of Mohammad Ali Library.

Admitting that the library had been in a deplorable state and needed a shot in the arm, Haque said, “The library, in need of a complete makeover, had long been the subject of demands from locals and visiting researchers.”

Rising from its ashes

Taking a cue from the public demand, and a pump of new blood in the committee that takes care of the almost century-old library, a slew of changes has been initiated to not just preserve the books but to also transform it into a new-age library that caters to the new age readers and researchers.

Speaking to eNewsroom, the president of the library committee, Nasir Ahmed, said, “We had been thinking about this makeover for a long time. But the fact that the library is in a rented space, initiating a renovation seemed a mammoth task. However, with the induction of new members who were willing to work for the betterment of the library, we realized the importance of having a new-age library for the readers. The books were decaying, racks were falling off, and we were seeing the legacy of the library being destroyed. So, we had a couple of meetings and decided to go for a complete renovation.”

On being asked about the library’s rare collection, Haque said, “It houses some rare books and manuscripts like the Urdu translations of the Mahabharata and Ramayana and the Awadh Punch, an Urdu satirical weekly.”

From archaic library to new-age library-cum-information centre

A budget of Rs 10,00,000 has been estimated to give a face-lift to the library, which is being done under the leadership of Usman Ghani, head of office and ALIO, National Library.

Ghani explained the transition that the library is undergoing at the moment. He told eNewsroom, “The library will be undergoing a gradual metamorphosis, where we will witness its transition from a local library to a state-of-art library cum information centre that will cater to the needs of the new-age readers, researchers and bibliophiles.”

Elaborating on the slew of changes that the library will undergo, he said, “A complete structural makeover has been initiated, which will be followed by the restoration of books, cataloguing, digitization of rare books that the library boasts off. I will be overseeing the indexing, cataloguing and digitization of books.”

Adding to that, Ahmed said, “Once we are done with the renovation, we plan to introduce computers and digital readers. We also plan to make the library air-conditioned and use it as an information centre from where the youths can not just get information about the competitive exams but also use other resources available here to prepare for the exam.”

Ghani also mentioned that the library would have its own website and offer online services, enabling readers to register, request, renew, and even read books online.

The proposed upgrade will take almost six months to complete. Talking about funds, Ahmed said, “We sought help from Siddiqullah Chowdhury, minister-in-charge of Mass Education Extension & Library Services. We are hopeful to get some help from him. Local MP and MLA have also been approached to help us bring Mohammed Ali Library to life

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