His Highness Sayaji Rao Gaekwad III, Maharaja of Baroda, was a great visionary, who pioneered the development of Public Library System in India as early as 1910. He carefully devised a programme of mass education compulsory in one district in 1893, and extended it to the entire State by 1907, and also made elementary education compulsory to all boys and girls in the State. His Highness also realized that Universal Education required, as an essential supplement to it, a network of free public libraries, which would keep literacy alive, and enable men and women in rural areas to have access to source of knowledge not hither to open to them. Again the Maharaja insisted that “libraries should not limit their benefits to the few English knowing readers, but should see to it that their good work permeates through to the many”, and that “the vernacular libraries should be encouraged” so that every citizen of the State “may enroll himself as a pupil in the peoples’ university-the library”.
With this noble idea he set up free public libraries in the State beginning from 1910. For this purpose he established a separate Library Department with Mr. W. A. Borden as the first full time Director of State Libraries. The next step was to establish a Central Library at Baroda with a nucleus collection of 88,764 volumes which included the Maharaja’s private collection of about 20,000 books. A full time Curator of Libraries with a staff strength of around 50 were appointed to manage it. It is mind-boggling to learn that even a century ago the Maharaja arranged purchased of a Photostat camera and a camera projector by the State. The projector was utilized to view the silent (Mookee) films etc.
He also launched publication of a quarterly journal called Library Miscellany in English, Gujarati and Marathi with Shri J. S. Kodalkar as its first editor, started Library Associations from Taluk level, organized ‘Mitra Mandal’ (friendly groups in the libraries) in the town and village libraries and organized regular library conferences. Mobile library service was organized to cater to the book need at remote villages. The Maharaja also established an Oriental Institute and Library with 6,846 printed books and 1,420 manuscripts in Sanskrit, Gujarati and other languages. He was the first to initiate the publication of Gaekwad’s Oriental Series in 1915. This was the first public library system in the country. The successors of Gaekwad III had no interest in the public libraries programmes. Due to lack of royal patronage, the great public library system of Baroda gradually wore off. It again picked up only after the implementation of the Gujarat Public Libraries Act in 2001.
INDIAN STATES AND U.Ts. In India, there are 54,856 public libraries (Survey Report ORG-MARG) starting from English Colony Library at Chennai in 1661. There is no authentic survey over their growth and decay. Most of these public libraries were managed by voluntary organizations, and did not continue long due to lack of adequate financial support from the public. Presumably, almost 50% of such public libraries started by voluntary organization would close down after a period. Only those public libraries which are supported by public library legislation or State Government, through continuous grant-in-aid, are functioning. Before 1950, there were about 6000 public libraries in Andhra Pradesh State organization by NGOs. Now this figure has reduced to 3000 or less. The scenario may be identical in other states also.