Emerged at the dawn of the 20th century, the Boys’ Own Library & Young Men’s Institute was founded by three school-going teenagers, Krishna Prasanna Ghosh, Jiban Krishna De and Prodyut Kumar Rudra, on 1st May 1909, with a handful of only 20 books, at 12 Ram Narayan Bhattacharya Lane. It was the residential building of Dr Girish Chandra Dutta, an eminent physician of the locality, who generously accommodated the library at free of rent, along with an old and rickety almirah to accommodate the books.
The foundation of the library was the seed of the epoch-making library movement in Bengal, which developed the urge to read and acquire knowledge among the new urban middle class Bengali society, especially, the young generation. Initially, it did not have any written constitution and started with only eight members, with monthly subscription of two annas, without any admission fee or caution money deposit. With the passing of time, as the number of members increased substantially, it became necessary to formally frame and write down the Library Rules by 1911. At the same time, a ‘Book Committee’ was formed and the library activities were extended, with the formation of a Debating Section. The Memorandum and the Articles of Association of the library was registered in 1918 and in 1919, the Calcutta Corporation sanctioned an annual grant of 75 Rupees in their favour.
As the habit of reading books, especially books out of the curriculum, increases the horizon of knowledge and power of imagination, a hand-written Bengali magazine, named ‘Balya Pratibha’ was started on behalf of the Library in 1912, to inspire the young adults to express their ideas and giving them an opportunity to improve their writing skill. However, due to the prevailing taboo, the complimentary copy of ‘Mewar Patan’, gifted to the library by the author, the eminent dramatist Dwijendralal Ray, with an endorsement in his own handwriting, was shelved in the Library, after a marathon discussion in the Executive Committee.
From its inception, Boys’ Own Library underwent several shifts. While in 1915, it shifted from 12 Ram Narayan Bhattacharya Lane to 7/3 Beadon Street, within two years, in 1917, it had to move again to a rented room at 71 Masjid Bari Street. However, in 1920, it moved back to 12 Ram Narayan Bhattacharya Lane, the same building where the library was born.
The Boys’ Own Library & Young Men’s Institute celebrated its silver jubilee in May 1934. By that time, it had a rich collection of 2123 volumes of English books, 2776 Bengali Books, 73 volumes of English and 394 volumes of Bengali Magazines. Nevertheless, to solve the acute space crisis, the Library moved to 76/2 Bidhan Sarani in 1936 and even today, the morning section of the reading room along with the Text Book section operate from this building. The Children Section of the Library started in 1939-40 and with the aim to help the research scholars and serious readers in Bengali language and literature, a new department called the ‘Vishesh Bangla Sahitya Bibhag’ started its journey in 1949.
It was the dawn of a new era in the history of library in Bengal, when on 5 October 1961 the Boys’ Own Library acquired a plot of land on CIT Road (now known as the Boys’ Own Library Row) for the construction of its own building.
Dr Satyendra Nath Bose, the then National Professor, laid the foundation stone of the library building on 6 May 1962 and the building was officially inaugurated on 22 December 1968, by the then Central Education Minister Dr Triguna Sen. Boys’ Own Hall, the auditorium of the library, was added to the new building in 1971.
Considered as a treasure trove, the Boys’ Own Library, with a huge collection of about 45,000 books and more than 900 members, has already started to equip itself with the latest traits of library science.
In collaboration with the State Central Library, Government of West Bengal, digitization of old books and magazines took place in 2007. The digital preservation of the heritage books and magazines certainly added a new crest in the history of the Library.
Unfortunately, the condition of the building on 76/2 Bidhan Sarani, from where the morning section of the reading room and the Text Book section of the library still operate, presents a pathetic picture of negligence and calls for immediate attention.