A review of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (तीन मूर्ति ), New Delhi, India.
It is hard to find a more pleasant work environment in India than the Nehru Memorial Library [website] at Teen Murti Bhavan (तीन मूर्ति भवन), New Delhi. Housed in an annex attached to the former residence of Jawaharlal Nehru (now the museum) the library is set amidst beautiful gardens flush with peafowl, squirrels, and macaques. When I was there in the spring of 2012, the gardens were full of flowers, and the weather was still cool enough to spend my breaks wandering along paths outside. The library is a major centre of Indian academia and scholarship with seminars and papers presented each week on topics spanning the social sciences and humanities disciplines. Researchers will find a committed and professional staff at Teen Murti. English is widely spoken, and a computerised search catalogue for book collections makes it an easy place to navigate. Comfortable seating and workspaces offer an air-conditioned quiet reprieve to get work done, whether writing or researching.
The Nehru Memorial Library has a wide selection of secondary material on its shelves, but is of far more use to researchers looking for primary material pertaining to modern Indian history. Its archive collection began in 1964 with the acquisition of the Nehru family papers, and since then it has grown to contain one of the largest collections of private and institutional papers of leading Indian nationalists, industrialists, politicians, political parties, and associations in the country. I spent my three months in the library looking through their fairly extensive newspaper collections on microfilm. They hold periodicals and serials in multiple languages from across India, some of which date back to the 1780s. Unfortunately the online catalogue of the library’s collections is currently incomplete, so it is better to go and consult the various handlists personally, some of which are well detailed.
The library’s address is Teen Murti Bhavan, Chanakya Puri, Delhi, 110021 located near the administrative and embassy district of New Delhi. Autorickshaw drivers will know it as ‘Teen Murti’ (meaning ‘Three Statues’) the name of the building and the traffic circle off of which it is accessed. The closest metro stations are Udyog Bhavan (उद्योग भवन) on the Yellow line or Central Secretariat (केन्द्रीय सचिवालय) on the Violet line. From either station you can take busses (nos. 604, 680, 720) to Teen Murti.
Researchers need to leave their bags behind the security desk when they first enter the library annex. Once inside the library proper, you are asked to sign in on the ledger by the door. Registration is simple. Researchers are asked to provide a letter from their institution or university, and show photo identification. A library pass costs 500 rupees for both foreign and Indian nationals and is valid for up to one year. You are given a receipt and temporary pass for use during the week or so that it takes to prepare your official pass, which you must go and collect from the front desk. The ground floor has a comfortable reading section with a good selection of recent academic journals. Study carrels and tables are found behind the stacks.
Upstairs the first floor is divided into two different sections. The library area, accessed via the staircase near the front desk, contains more stacks as well as the newspaper and archival holdings on microfilm. The library has only five (if they’re all functioning) microfilm readers and they are allocated on a reservation system. Sign-up begins on Friday for the week following and is made at the desk next to the microfilm machines. This is the same place where the microfilm handlists are kept and where you make your document requests verbally. Each day in the week is divided into two reading shifts—one in the morning, from 9:30 to 13:00, and one in the afternoon, 14:00 to 18:45 or 14:00 to 17:15 on Saturdays. Make sure to get there early to get the spots you want. On less busy days, when the machines are not in demand, it is possible to carry over into the next time slot. Frustratingly, the library has a policy of switching off all film readers to allow them to ‘rest’ for fifteen minutes every hour beginning at 45 past the hour, no matter when you actually started using your machine. Unfortunately for the researcher, what this means is that for each slot you are allocated, you only get three to four hours of actual work-time on the machines depending on the day. Colleagues who were using both the archives and microfilm material made the most of their time by using archives in the morning and then microfilms in the afternoon, or vice versa.
Non-microfilmed archival material is held in the Manuscript Reading Room. The archive is actually a separate branch of the library with different opening hours and its own access requirements. It is located up the staircase obscured from view behind the stacks at the rear of the ground floor, and is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 17:30. In order to view these select materials, researchers will have to provide their library pass, a letter from their institution of affiliation, copies of their passport and Indian visa page, and a letter of introduction from their embassy or high commission. Upon filling out an application form and supplying the above documents, readers will be permitted access to the archives for the duration of the validity of their readers pass. The collections in this section are catalogued into Institutional, Individual, Miscellaneous, Oral History Transcripts, and Miscellaneous Small Collection subject guides, some of which are also supplemented by more detailed handlists. Document ordering and delivery are simple: multiple items may be ordered on one request slip, and are fetched almost immediately. Retrieval takes place throughout the day with no set times and cupboards are available to store your reserved material.
Copy services are available on site in the reprographic room, hidden in a corner on the ground floor near the staircase to the Manuscript Reading Room. Here you can fill out your copy request forms and mark pages in books to be copied. The staff usually completes jobs within a week. Photocopying of books and approved archival manuscripts is cheap at 1 rupee per A4 page. I was told that it was in theory possible to print from microfilm readers upstairs, but that currently the machine was broken, and it was not fixed by the time I returned to India in September.
Lunch options at the library are very limited. Thankfully there is a cheap and tasty canteen that serves up thalis, channa batura, and other local dishes, as well as sweets, tea, water and soft drinks. Diners may sit in the shaded garden or inside the canteen. There are no other restaurants within walking distance from the library.
Teen Murti provides a space that is steeped in Indian history and an intellectual environment that is unsurpassed by any other large archive in Delhi. Academics and students from across India and the world use the library’s collections frequently and the added benefits of attending lectures and seminars, or simply enjoying the gardens and museum, make it a favourite facility for visiting scholars.
Derek L. Elliott
Faculty of History
University of Cambridge
Image: Photo by Derek Elliott
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