National Library of India
The National Library of India is in Kolkata. Yes, you read it correctly – National. I set out to visit this place, but not without a plan. Actually, this is a cool thing for anyone visiting a foreign country – go to the biggest library they have and try to find books about your country. I for one was pleasantly surprised.
The library boasts of having around 2.2 million books and around 5% of them are in foreign languages and in English. From those 5% around 300 showed up as search results in its database when I queried it for anything with the keywords “Denmark” and “Lithuania” (lucky Polaks can find around 500 on their country alone). And from the 300 hundred, there were several I wanted to see, so I made a list and on the same day I left for the library.
Before I entered the library grounds I noticed a very strange sign:
But that didn’t stop me. I had a goal. The actual building didn’t look anything like the pictures in Wikipedia and if it weren’t for the guards I probably wouldn’t have found it.
The reading room was something you would expect in a library, although not as crowded as you would expect a National Library to be:
The things that caught my interest in the reading room were the indexing cabinets. I decided to see what it feels like to find books the old-school way, and found some of the indexes for the books I wanted to get that day:
Honestly, if not for the website, I wouldn’t have been able to find books about the two countries, because the indexes are only by author, genre and title.
It was after this that I found out the sad truth – you can only take out 4 books a time. On the good side, their system is very efficient so to find my choices it took them less than 20 minutes. They managed to find 3 out 4 books that were on my final list and two of them were worth mentioning.
I can’t promise you that you’ll find interesting books about your country, but you could at least show that you care by getting the books stamped with a stamp newer than 1969:
Here are two of the books I decided to leave a mark on:
Young Traveler in Denmark
This is a travel log of a group of British people traveling around Denmark with some Danish friends. I managed to find the mention of the city where I stay in Denmark, although it’s very little:
The way the author wrote about Esbjerg, reminded me of the nickname of my hometown in Lithuania:
A thing that I noticed about these books was that, since they were all written not so long after the ending of WW2, many of the stories about important people would end almost in the same way:
Lithuania – Land of the Niemen
This book was priceless and I will buy if I get the chance. It’s about a Russian guy documenting his travels and details about the history and culture of Lithuania in the ’60-ies and you could feel the mood of communism in the text:
While reading about the language I found that a long time ago a Lithuanian traveler who traveled from Lithuania to India with a motor-cycle:Since it’s a book about my home country (motherland?) I had to find a page with this:
And, of course, the book had a lot of gray-scale pictures of the working people, nature and cultural events. This particular picture shows that Lithuanians have deep roots in organizing massive open-air festivals and DJ’ing:
A thing that I found dear was that the author was actually open to feedback. The only problem was that the address he gave, is probably no longer valid:
And now, since I wished my visit was better, it’s time for a couple of DO’s and DON’Ts:
If you’re planning to go to a library in a foreign country, remember to check what the closing time is, because this library closed at 6PM on a Sunday and I didn’t have time to see all of the books I wanted.
Don’t go to this particular library on a weekend if you intend to take pictures of the books, because the office which issues you a permit like that works only on weekdays. (Of course, you can be sneaky like me, but I was lucky that there weren’t many people around.)