This historic city library is inspiring a new generation of readers

The 200-year-old Madras Literary Society, home to over 65,000 books, is being instrumental in inculcating reading habits among the children and young adults through storytelling and other workshops.
This historic city library is inspiring a new generation of readers


Located in the Directorate of Public Instruction (DPI) campus on the bustling College Road in Nungambakkam is the 200-year-old Madras Literary Society, one of Chennai’s well-preserved gems. With a colonial-style structure featuring minarets, tiny yet charming false balconies, and mammoth book shelves filled with sweet-smelling old texts running from the floor all the way up to a nearly 50-foot high ceiling, the building oozes a yesteryear charm. Since its inception in 1812, the library run by the Society has been housing over 65,000 books, with some of the oldest residents being more than 300 years old, like texts on the Buckingham Canal, Greek philosopher Aristotle and English physicist Isaac Newton. Apart from housing some of the world’s most influential books, the library has taken it upon itself to inspire the city’s younger generation to find joy in reading through activities like storytelling, group reading and ‘find a book’.

“Even in the time of internet, there is a tremendous excitement one gets from reading a book, especially if it is filled with pictures. While a section of adults may have moved on to reading via digital media, they still have a soft corner for a physical book. We are mainly targeting children through our initiatives because if we manage to inspire children to read more, we inspire a whole generation and get them to read for many decades. Over the past two years, we have held over 20 events for children alone, including book reading sessions, storytelling, historic walks, among others. Children love coming back to the library and being surrounded by books,” the Madras Literary Society’s General Secretary Thirupurasundari Sevvel tells DT Next.

Soon as one enters the library, he or she is sure to be greeted by the librarian V Uma Maheswari’s warm smile. Over the past 20 years that she has been working at the library, her enthusiasm about “We have been cataloguing all the books housed at the library, which is a detailed process of maintaining manual logs. School children and college students also volunteer to help us with the process, by cleaning the books, writingthe catalogue cards and classifying the texts based on their genres. We love having children over at thelibrary and taking part in quizzes, games like locating a book in the library,” says Uma.

Through some of their other initiatives like ‘adopt a book’ and ‘adopt furniture’, students and adults can contribute monetarily to the restoration of any old book, or a piece of furniture at the library, and help in extending its lifespan. Students can also volunteer at the library for a few years and assist in the cataloguing process. The library, run purely on memberships and donations by one full-time and two part-time staff members, hopes to receive the support of more people to care for the ageing texts that chronicle history. 

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