A Guide To 20 Of India's Most Unique Libraries For Every Kind Of Book-Lover

A Guide To 20 Of India's Most Unique Libraries For Every Kind Of Book-Lover

The world’s been forced to play catch-up with the digital age ever since the inception of the internet. All industries and services have been forced to reconsider their workings but some actually retain the charm of their old-world offerings, almost more desirable for their quaintness. Libraries are undoubtedly at the top of that list.

The old ways of reading have certainly been dying a slow death, but like everything else that’s going extinct today, there’s a surprisingly large number of people who (thankfully) refuse to give it up. The joy of curling up with a book while taking in the fresh musty smell of their pages isn’t something that they’d consider a tradable commodity, and libraries have become the central attraction for this dying culture.

In the midst of all these ruminations, we compiled a list of some of Mumbai’s best book-lover havens a few months ago but decided we weren’t anywhere near done with the topic. We opened up the search to the entire country and found to our relief that library culture is still alive and well in our little corner of the world. In fact, we’re lucky to house some of the most fascinating libraries, both in terms of concept, as well as collections, in the world. Right from a completely dedicated Japanese-only literature and manga comics to a tiny tea-shop in the middle of nowhere in Kerala, that doubles up as a library to encourage its rural readers, we scoured the country’s entire landscape to present you with this compilation.
Scroll on to indulge your bibliophile tendencies…

I. Akshara Arts & Sports Library, Edamalakudi, Kerala

The little library in the middle of nowhere

Popularly known as the Wilderness Library, this little mud-walled teashop in the middle of nowhere in Kerala’s Edamalakudi is run by 73-year-old P.V. Chinnathambi. With a collection of only 160 books, Chinnathambi’s library may be tiny, but it’s making a big difference. His is the only reading establishment in Edamalakudi, of which his village Iruppukallakudi is a part. The total population is less than 2,500 but the titles offered by Chinnathambi encompass works by Kamala Das and MT Vasudevan Nair amongst others—and the books are read.

What makes it unique: It’s in the middle of nowhere. Literally. It’s an 18km walk from Pettimudi near Munnar and then a little more to get to the teashop-library.

Where: Iruppukallakudi, Edamalakudi, Kerala

P.V. Chinnathambi psainath.org

II. Akshara Library, Mumbai

A library to educate and empower women

Akshara Library came first into existence in the ’80s with campaigns against violence against women and was formally opened in 1995. Akshara is a free reference centre with over 5,000 books, journals and newsletters in English and Marathi.

What makes it unique: Its vision and mission

Where: Balasheth Madurkar Marg, Elphinstone Road (West)


III. Bhavan’s Library, Mumbai

Where you can browse through Western India’s largest Indology collection

Established in 1947, Bhavan’s Library is located just off Mumbai’s cacophonous chowpatty is a research and public library. It holds over a thousand manuscripts and numerous rare works in Sanskrit, and the ancient Indian languages of Pali, Prakrit and Ardha-Magdhi.

What makes it unique: Apart from being home to Western India’s largest Indology collection, Bhavan’s also has a rare manuscript of the Mahabharata from Rajasthan whose writing is so tiny, you need to use a magnifying glass to be able to read it.

Where: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 3rd Floor, Munshi Sadan Kulapati K.M Munshi Marg, Mumbai

Bhavan's Library. Image source: nearfox.com

Where kids are taught that reading can be fun

Varsha Ramesh started Books ‘n’ More after deciding that the city needed a space for people (especially kids) to fall in love with books once again. Out of the 15,000 books on offer, 9,000 are children’s books. Books ‘n’ More also conducts workshops in storytelling and theatre and programs in communication.

What makes it unique: The utility of various interactive methods and activities to get children to read, and teach them it can be enjoyable.

Where: Plot no 292, Street No 2, West Marredpally, Secunderabad, Telangana.

Books 'n' More. Image source: Books 'n' More

 V.  Connemara Public Library, Chennai

Home to precious texts and a Braille library

The Connemara Public Library in Chennai is one of four National Depository Libraries in the country—it receives copies of all books, newspapers and periodicals published in India. Its history can be traced back at 1860, when Captain Jesse Mitchell set up a small library as part of the Madras Museum, which grew as part of a cultural complex named The Pantheon. Today, the library is vastly expanded and embraces a host of architectural styles including Gothic-Byzantine, Rajput Mughal and Southern Hindu Deccani, and has a theatre, museum and art gallery as well.

What makes it unique: Aside from being a repository library for the UN, the library also holds a Braille library.

Where: Pantheon Road Egmore Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

Connemara Public Library, Chennai. Image source: Travel and Leisure

VI. Crowdsourced, Mumbai

India’s first crowd-sourced library

As the name suggests, this library in Vasai, started by Pushpendra Pandya, works on the principle of open sourcing and sharing—anyone can contribute and borrow. And they mean it. Even their motto is ‘Books from the people, for the people.’ So take all those books you’ve had for years—the ones that are just collecting dust—and donate them to Crowdsourced. You’d be helping them spread their message.

What makes it unique: The fact that anyone can contribute or borrow and the fact that they don’t have a physical location yet.

Where: Evershine City, Vasai (East)


Where you can while away the afternoon under the shade of a tree with your favourite book

This beautiful Gothic structure has been around since 1870 and is one of only 145 buildings protected by the Indian government. Its collection of over 45,000 books in English, Marathi and Gujarati covers topics such as architecture, arts, and the palaces of India. It also has several old and rare books, the oldest of which dates back to 1798.

Why its unique: While it does hold quite a few rare books, for us, the fact that it has a quiet and beautiful back garden is unique enough, considering the lack of green space in Mumbai. Take your book and while away the afternoon under the shade of a tree with your favourite sandwich in hand.

Where: 152, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Library Marg, Fort, Opposite Jehangir Art Gallery, Off David Circle Road, Kalaghoda, Mumbai,

David Sassoon Library & Reading Room, Mumbai. Image source: photos.suchit.in

VIII. Japan Foundation Library, New Delhi

For all Japanophiles

If you’re a Japanophile, the Japan Foundation Library in New Delhi is something you’re going to want to check out. It has a comprehensive collection of material on Japan, its culture, and its literature and language in print and audio-visual media. It also has a selection of Japanese periodicals including The Japan Times and Hiranaga Times.

What makes it unique: Its seriously covetable collection of Manga titles including Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Kimi ni Todoke, and Black Butler.

Where: 5A, Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar 4, Near Moolchand Metro Station, New Delhi.

Manga Cafe at Japan Library Foundation. Image source: www.wochikochi.jp

IX. Little Free Library, Mumbai

A public borrow-and-donate policy

A mini-library of sorts, Vibha Kamat’s Little Free Library lets anyone borrow from their collection. There are many libraries that operate on the same principle—for every book you take, you leave one in its place—but this is Mumbai’s first. Frankly, we think it’s a great way to get more people to read and we really need more spaces like this.

What makes it unique: Its concept, of course.

Where: Juhu-Versova Link Road/ D’Monte Park, Bandra (West)

Little Free Library. Image source: Little Free Library's Facebook page

X. Leaping Windows, Mumbai

India’s first and only comic book library

Leaping Windows is India’s first and only library dedicated solely to comic books. If you’re a comic book fan, you can bet there’s a good chance you’ll find whatever you want here. And we’re not just talking about mainstream stuff like Archie or Tintin—we’re talking real comic book gold: Manga titles like Vampire Knight, Usagi, and Lady Snowblood, and graphic novels spanning the Marvel and DC universe along with other titles like John Woo’s Seven Brothers.

What makes it unique: Like we said, Leaping Windows is all about comics, comics comics. But, we also really dig the fact that they have graphic novel adaptations on some serious heavyweight titles like Julius Caesar, Hamlet and The Great Gatsby. If this doesn’t get an entire new generation interested in some of English literature’s best works, nothing will.

Where: 3 Corner View, Dr. Ashok Chopra Marg, Off Yari Road, Opp. Bianca Towers, Versova, Andheri West, Mumbai,

Leaping Windows. Image source: Zomato

XI. Raza Library, Rampur

Where you’ll find the most comprehensive collection of ancient manuscripts from South Asia

Founded in 1774 by Nawab Faizullah Khan of the erstwhile princely state of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, The Raza Library is a treasure trove of Indo-Islamic culture. Aside from nearly 60,000 printed books, the library also has a valuable collection of 17,000 manuscripts, 3,000 works of Islamic calligraphy, 5,000 miniature paintings, astronomical instruments, rare illustrated works in Arabic and Persian, and nearly 1,500 rare gold, silver and copper coins dating back to between 5th century B.C to 19th century A.D. Nawab Muhammad Yusuf Ali Khan ‘Nazim’, the successor of the Nawab who set up the library, was himself a famous Urdu poet and a disciple of Urdu poetry’s most famous son, Mirza Ghalib.

What makes it unique: Raza Library holds the most comprehensive collection of ancient manuscripts from South Asia. It also houses one of the oldest pieces of Arabic calligraphy—a 7th century Quran written on parchment in the early Kufic script, attributed to Hazrat Ali.

Where: Hamid Manzil Qila, Rampur, Uttar Pradesh

Raza Library. Image source: razalibrary.gov.in

 XII. Reading Caterpillar, New Delhi

With an aim to bring children back to reading

Rabani Garg started Reading Caterpillar in 2009 when she realized that Delhi was seriously lacking children’s reading spaces. She also met parents, teachers, and writers, all of whom felt the same. Shortly after, Reading Caterpillar was born. With a selection of children’s books ranging from modern classics to pictorial stories. They also have a selection of multi-lingual books as well as folk tales from around the world. Reading Caterpillar aims to bring children back into reading and positions itself as a library, a reading space, a book club and an artist space.

What makes it unique: Its vision and commitment to bring children back into reading—something that is definitely important in this digital age.

Where: Nizammudin West, New Delhi

Reading Caterpillar. Image source: Reading Caterpillar's Facebook page

One of India’s oldest libraries

The State Central Library in Bengaluru is one of the oldest libraries in India—it was established by the then Maharaja of Travancore Sree Swathi Thirunal in 1829. Moreover, the planning and execution of the museum was given to Col. Edward Cadogan, the grandson of Sir Hans Sloan, the founder of the British Museum. The Maharaja’s descendants, as well as those of Cadogan, took an active interest in the progress of the museum, making it almost a familial affair. Today, the State Central Library has a total collection of 3,67,243 documents in multiple languages such as English, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil, and Sanskrit.

What makes it unique: The atmosphere. Situated in leafy Cubbon Park with a rose garden in front, reading a Victorian novel here will almost catapult you back in time.

Where: Cubbon Park, Near Century Club, Bengaluru.

State Library. Image source: outofthestacks.wordpress.com

 XIV. The Asiatic Society, Kolkata

Where you can find manuscripts autographed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan

The story of The Asiatic Society in Kolkata began in 1784, when it received seven Persian manuscripts from Henri Richardson. Several other gifts and donations followed and in 1808, the library threw its doors open to the public for the first time. It holds texts in European languages, Sanskrit, regional Indian languages, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, and Sino-Tibetan languages. With over one lakh volumes rich in Indology and 47,000 manuscripts, The Asiatic Society’s collection is one of the most venerated in the country.

What makes it unique: Its beautiful and rare works, which include books from the Palace of Tipu Sultan, and illuminated manuscript of the Quran, an old text of Gulistan, and manuscripts bearing the signature of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

Where: 1, Mother Teresa Sarani, Taltala, Kolkata.

Asiatic Society. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

 XV. The Asiatic Society, Mumbai

Home to one of the world’s two oldest manuscript’s of Danté’s The Divine Comedy

Founded as the Literary Society of Mumbai in 1804 by Sir James Mackintosh, it was established with the aim of encouraging Oriental art, science and literature. This gorgeous Mumbai landmark holds many amazing volumes of work on its bookshelves—over 100,000 at last count. Books are available in various languages, including Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Italian, German and French. There’s also a huge collection of scientific reading material here encompassing biology, genealogy, politics, and travel. It’s also home to one of the city’s oldest library collections and also stocks old coins, manuscripts, magazines, and newspapers.

What makes it unique: It contains an extremely rare manuscript of Danté’s The Divine Comedy that dates back to 1350 AD.

Where: Town Hall, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Fort, Mumbai.


 XVI. The Hardayal Library, New Delhi

Home to 8,000 rare books

Originally founded as The Hardinge Library in 1912, it is home to one of the richest collections of historical material in the capital, including translations of Hindu and Muslim religious works as well as a 1677 edition of Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World. Out of its 170,000 books, approximately 8,000 are extremely rare. The library initially started out as a book club for British officials who donated from their personal collection.

What makes it unique: Its collection of rare books in regional languages from 19th and 20th century India, and its collection of many first editions.

Where: Gandhi Maidan, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi

 XVII. The Hippocampus Library, Bengaluru

Where kids are shown that reading is an all-round activity

The Hippocampus Library was started by Umesh and Vimala Malhotra in 2003. With over 15,000 books across 50 genres, all of Hippocampus’ books are for children, except for a select few that are for young adults. The bookstore works with schools, NGOs and corporations to promote reading habits amongst young children. They also organise events, such as their three-day carnival Hoophoria, musicals, and book collection drives. The store is large and well lit and on weekends, it’s packed with eager kids and proud parents. Hippocampus also has a Chennai branch.

What makes it unique: Hippocampus’ one-of-a-kind all-round approach to reading.

Where: Koramangala 525, 16th Main, Koramangala 3rd Block Bangalore

Hippocampus. Image source: scroll.in

XVIII.  The Mythic Society, Bengaluru

Home to a copy of the original Magna Carta Liberatum

The Mythic Society is one of the first institutions in India entirely devoted to Indological studies. Founded in 1909 by a small group of Europeans who were captivated by the subcontinent and its life and culture, the institute is the go-to library for anyone who’s interested in anthropology, archaeology, history, epigraphy, culture, tradition, art and architecture, folklore ethnology, literature and allied subjects.

What makes it unique: It houses maps of Bengaluru dating back to the year 1854 as well as a copy of the original Magna Carta Libertatum.

Where: 14/1, Nrupathunga Road, Opposite Reserve Bank, Bengaluru.

The Mythic Society. Image source: wikiwand.com

XIX. The Reading Room, Bengaluru

It’s not jus for kids—parents are taught how to raise children that love to read

 This little initiative aims to raise readers. Kids are allowed to sit and read for as long as they like, or take books back home if they prefer. While at present The Reading Room only has 700 books for kids up to 10, they plan to expand. Their current reading material spans children’s classics, picture books, and fiction. They will have a Hindi section soon, too.

What makes it unique: The Reading Room also hosts sessions for parents that will teach them how to raise readers.

Where: 165/A 1st Floor, Shashi, 6th Main Rd, 3rd Phase, J P Nagar, Bengaluru

Where you’ll find some of India’s finest writing in 24 languages

While the Sahitya Akademi has been in the news lately thanks to many of India’s finest writers returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards in protest of the government’s curbs on free speech, the library itself is just as beautiful as ever. It stocks some of the country’s finest writing in 24 languages and contains works spanning topics ranging from literary theory and criticism to women’s studies, cultural history and translation. It also contains works on and by Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo and Mahatma Gandhi. If you’re looking for reference books on Indian and world literature, philosophy, religion, art and culture, The Sahitya Akademi Library has works you won’t find elsewhere.

What makes it unique: Its exhaustive collection of post-colonial literature.

Where: 35, Rabindra Bhavan, Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi.

Feature Image: (For representational purposes only)