Over century-old library to get digital push
The entire collection of books at the Central Archaeological Library is set to be digitised for preservation.Updated: Oct 07, 2018 13:31 IST
The Central Archaeological Library — a treasure trove of historical texts, publications and pictures — is all set to add another feather to its cap. The entire collection of centuries-old rare books at the library is all set to be digitised for preservation in the coming months.
Established in 1902, the library is owned by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and boasts having 1.5 lakh books, including 25,000 precious compilations of manuscripts, sketches, drawings, handwritten notes and images. One of the oldest possessions of the library is a Bengali novel — Gaudrajmala — that was published in 1319.
Usha Sharma, director general (DG), ASI, said digitisation of the collection of rare books was an ambitious project, which would take off soon.
The unique assortment of published work housed in the library includes Collection of Ishqiyya and Other Trades (philosophy on Sufism by different authors in English, 1332), Sirai-i-Imani-i-Rabbani, the being and biography of Hadvat Shaikh Ahmad, Duyadid-i-aif-e-thane of Sarhind (a biography of sufi saint in English, 1347), Voyage Round the World by John Francis (reference book based on travel accounts in English, 1693), and Journey from India towards England (travel accounts in English, 1797), and Reflection on the Government of Indosland (Politics in English, 1739).
A senior ASI official, associated with the digitisation project, said valuable collection at the library is a ‘lifeline’ for scholars and history enthusiasts doing research in archaeology, religious-cultural perspective of India and allied subjects.
“Deliberation regarding the matter is going on. Several meetings have already taken place to finalise details and to select an agency for the purpose. Rare books are being sent to science branch to initiate their preservation,” said the official.
The ASI’s central library was founded in 1902 in Shimla following the efforts of its then director general Sir John Marshell, who was appointed by Lord Curzon. He started a dedicated fund of Rs 4,000 for setting up of a library. After assuming charge, Marshell set principles for conservation and restoration of ancient structures that are still followed by modern conservation experts.
It was Marshell who started the arrangement of publishing of ‘annual reports of the D-G (ASI)’. The report contains all the works and research activities carried out by the national watchdog of heritage structures and are available in the library.
After shifting to Delhi, the library was housed in the barracks on Curzon Road — now known as Kasturba Gandhi Marg — till the 1960s, later relocating to a building near Vigyan Bhawan and then National Archive Annexe around 1970s at Janpath, said Kailash Nath Dixit, former joint director general of ASI.
The library, at present, functions from Tilak Marg’s Dharohar Bhawan, the headquarters of ASI which is the national watchdog of heritage structures in the country. The facility moved to its present building in July, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Around 12,000 books on various subjects were digitised at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA) in 2009.
Besides books and periodicals on various subjects — such as history, archaeology, anthropology, architecture, art, epigraphy & numismatics, Indology, literature, geology, and Buddhist scriptures in Hindi, English, Urdu, Sanskrit, Persian, Russian, and French — the library also houses original centuries-old plates, drawings, sketches, portfolios, gazetteers, gazette notifications, and handwritten texts.
“We have sketches and portfolios of monuments made in 1878, annual reports, original hand written diary of Alexander Cunningham (first D-G, ASI, 1861-1885) and Marshell (1902-1928). Oriental collections of religious books and those on ancient Indian history, which are with us, are not available in any other library in India,” said a library official.
The ASI’s library is also known for original books and inscription of Kharosti and Brahmi. The Kharosti script is an ancient form of writing used in ancient Gandhara (now part of Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan). Brahmi is the earliest writing system developed in India after the Indus script.
Shikha Jain, the Haryana convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), said digitisation is an effective method to preserve books, which are out of publication. “The (ASI) library has an excellent collection of old books. Digitisation is important because several old books are out of publication now. It is not possible for all scholars to come physically to the library always. Hence, conversation of rare texts into digital form plays a significant role. Moreover these old books are like artefacts, which need to be preserved,” said Jain, who is also a member of the heritage committees under Union ministry of culture and Union ministry of human resources development.
The library, which sees visit ors from India and abroad, has a special collections of Tibetan manuscripts, memoirs, maps, and topographs, which are only available with the survey of India (being used for excavation and exploration purposes), portfolios related to Ajanta, Ellora, and other important sites.
Madan Thapliyal, an author and former director (public relations) of the New Delhi Municipal Council, said the library was one of the important sources of information for all scholars.
“I have been there on several occasions when I was researching for my book on New Delhi. I took several references for the same. One photograph of Jantar Mantar, which was used, was sourced from the ASI library,” said Thapliyal, who has three books on Delhi penned by him.
On digitisation, he said microfilming is a useful tool to preserve books and documents given the shortage of space. “It is a difficult task to keep them safe from rats and termite. If we have technology and resources, we must use it to retain our heritage for the coming generations,” he said.
The library remains open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm. Several distinguished scholars like Helmut Hoffmann of Munich University, RC Majumdar, a well-known historian, BR Ambedkar, among others,
have visited the library, said an official.