Subbarao Hotel, Hyderabad’s Gowliguda, offered its customers a price board that was unique in the 1940s. The board read, “Chai-ana, Dosa-ana, Pustakam-ana”, Any book could be purchased for one ana (6 pesos), and accompanied by a hot cup of Irani Chai. In the serene waters of the Krishna river, boats transported books to passengers, transforming them into floating libraries within a matter of hours. Granthalaya Yatras were carried by youth, who took mobile libraries to different villages. The Andhra Pradesh Culture library movement brought books to every public space, even in hotels, boats, and under trees, as there was no existing library network. Common and elite people joined together to achieve a common goal, which, in the words of poet Chilakamarti Narasimham, was “like air, sunlight and water, knowledge should be freely available and accessible to all”.
Glorious library movement and its largely vanished remnants
The early 20th-century saw multiple cultural and political shifts culminate in the birth of the library movement. Madras was a place where Telugus were fighting to create an independent Andhra state. Unrest was growing in Hyderabad State, a neighboring state. The Vande Mataram movement bolstered public determination for self-rule. Telugu was becoming a linguistic identity across regions. Gidugu Ramamurthy advocated for vyavaharika bhasha. This would allow Telugu to be spoken without the interference of Sanskrit. These changes placed the importance and empowerment of a literate public at their center. It was a natural progression to a literary movement to print and propagate ideas, establish public libraries, and thus spread the joy of reading as well as the purpose of thinking.
Initial efforts were scattered and limited. A Vizag school teacher established the first library of Andhra in 1886. In 1901, Sri Krishnadevaraya Grandhalayam was set up in Hyderabad. In 1905, the number of libraries in the area was just 20. A series of conferences brought together people from the Telangana, Rayalaseema, and Coastal Andhra regions to give life to these sporadic events. Leaders, educators, researchers, and businessmen like Suravaram Pratapreddy, Pathuri Nagabhushanam, Iyyanki Venkata Rajanayya, and Pathuri Nagabhushanam are all included. In 1914, the Andhra Pradesh Library Association was founded. Madapati Hanumantha Rao, Burgula Ramakrishna, who later became the Chief Minister of Hyderabad State, founded Andhra Jana Sangham in 1921 to promote a culture and social consciousness. They believed that knowledge was essential if India is to attain freedom. How effective can a library movement be when the public lacks basic literacy and education? The movement was able to change two things. It was crucial to publish Telugu literature that was clear and easy to understand. Second, adult education must be promoted. The freedom movement included book publishing. To fill the gap, publishing companies such as Ana Granthalamala and Vignana Chandrika Mandrika Mandali emerged.
However, these publications became a threat for the governments. Gadicherla Saravottama Rao was a leader of the library movement and editor for a weekly Swarajya. He was convicted by the British Government of sedition. The Nizam government in Hyderabad introduced “Gasti Nishan 53” in 1929, making it difficult to conduct library activities. In Secunderabad, where the Nizam did not have jurisdiction, there were only a few public libraries. This included the Sri Krishnadevaraya Andhra Basha Grandalayam at Sultan Bazar (Residency Bazar). Individuals were the first to establish libraries, despite not receiving any government support. They became public libraries after people took over the Andhra Pradesh Culture management of the library, collecting funds at village level during funerals or sales of cattle or new harvest. The Telugu region’s library movement was not like other regions. It was for the people, by the people.
There is a need for the revival of the library movement
The 1948 Madras Public Libraries Act was a result of the strength and philosophy of the library movement. The Andhra Pradesh Library Act 1960 was passed after the formation of (united) Andhra Pradesh Culture. This made Andhra Pradesh the only state to support its public library movement with legislation. In every village of (united Andhra Pradesh), public libraries were officially established. Today, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are the only states that collect cess for libraries. The current situation is not conducive to the vision of a once great people’s movement. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have only 1,600 public libraries. The remnants of the library movement that set up libraries to be centres for cultural awakening are slowly disappearing from our landscape. Six years after the split, Andhra Pradesh still does not have its own State Central Library. The fact is that between 2015-16, 2017-18, and 2020-21, the government didn’t budget for a State Central Library. It has not spent any money towards this end in the years it did budget for, i.e. Rs 3 Crore 2018-19, Rs 87 lakh 2019-20, and 2020-21.
The few that do exist are in desperate need of support. They face a lack of funds, staff vacancies and deteriorating infrastructure. It is hard to find the magnificent, 129-year-old State Central Library in Hyderabad (Asafia Library), with few people seated outside due to inadequate lighting. On poorly maintained premises, one can expect to find students studying for competitive exams and men reading newspapers. Books at the Tagore Memorial Library in Vijayawada (also known as the Krishna District Library), are in poor condition and not well-organized. They look nothing like the piles of books that have been left to rot in the loft. Simple tasks like searching for a book, such as finding it, can be difficult because there is no index or catalogue. Women are often unable to access functional washrooms because they are so rare. In a recent interview, Dr Raavi Sarada, Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Culture Library Association, said, “If there aren’t any new books in the library, isn’t it a museum?” She says that libraries should be accessible to all ages, including children and women. Libraries require a catalogue card, digital, computerisation, staff, and the ability to purchase new books.” However, if you walk into a library in either of these states today, what you see is the graveyard both our pasts and our aspirations for the future.