The Boys’ Own Library & Young Men’s Institute emerged at the dawn of the 20th century, when educational and cultural enlightenment swept over Bengal despite political convulsions and economic retrogressions marked by the colonial rule. The foundation of the Boys’ Own Library in 1909 was a epoch-making in the library movement in Bengal, which developed the urge of acquiring knowledge among the new middle class of the urban Bengal societies.
Three school-going teenagers, Krishna Prasanna Ghosh, Jiban Krishna De and Prodyut Kumar Rudra founded the Boys’ Own Library on 1st May 1909, with a handful of only 20 books and a wobbly almirah. Dr. Girish Chandra Dutta, an eminent physician generously accommodated the library at free of rent in his residential house at 12, Ram Narayan Bhattacharya Lane, Kolkata: 700 006. Some thought that the library as one of those mushroom institutions, which grew in the moon-lit night to perish at the dawn. But that was not to be!
Initially, the total number of members was eight, and the monthly subscription was two annas. There was no admission fee of deposit money, neither the library had any written constitution. By 1911, as the number of members increased, it became necessary to formally frame and write down the Library Rules.
In 1912, ‘BALYA PRATIBHA’, a manuscript Bengali magazine was started by the Library with the aim of giving the members an opportunity of improving their writing skill.
A ‘Book Committee’ was formed in 1911-12 and the library activities were extended, with the formation of a Debating Section. Following the student’s taboo of reading Bengali fictions and dramas in those days, the eminent dramatist D. L. Roy presented a copy of “Mewar Patan” with an endorsement on the cover, in the author’s own handwriting. This complimentary copy of “Mewar Patan” was however kept in the Library shelf after a marathon discussion in the Executive Committee.
From 1915 onwards, the Library underwent several shifts. In 1915 it was shifted to 7/3 Beadon Street, Kolkata: 700 006. In 1917, it again removed to a rented room at 71, Masjid Bari Street Kolkata: 700 006. In 1918, the Memorandum and the Articles of Association was registered. Being satisfied with the activities of the Library, the Calcutta Corporation sanctioned an annual grant of Rs. 75/- in 1919.
In 1920, the Library was again shifted to 12, Ram Narayan Bhattacharya Lane, Kolkata; 700 006. The Institution celebrated its SILVER JUBILEE in May 1934. By that time, it possessed 2123 volumes of English books, 2776 Bengali Books, 73 volumes of English and 394 volumes of Bengali Magazines. In 1936, the Library moved to 76/2 Bidhan Sarani, Kolkata: 700 006. Even today, the morning section of the reading room and the Text Book section operate from this building.
The Children Section of the Library was started in 1939-40. In 1949, a new department called the “Vishesh Bangla Sahitya Bibhag” was commenced as an aid to the research scholars and serious readers in Bengali language and literature.
Meanwhile the library was in search of a land, for erecting its own building. The search ended with the acquisition of 4 kattahas 9 chhataks and 22 sq. ft. of land at C. I. T. Road 1 (presently Known as the Boys’ Own Library Row, Kolkata: 700 006), on 5th October 1961. This event is regarded as a landmark in the history of the Library. The then National Professor Dr. Satyendra Nath Bose laid the foundation stone of the library building on 6th May 1962. Officially the building was inaugurated on 22nd December 1968 by then Central Education Minister Dr. Triguna Sen. The occasion was graced by the presence of the immortal Bengali novelist, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay in the chair.
In 1959-60, the institution observed its GOLDEN JUBILEE on a grand scale of four days. The DIAMOND JUBILEE celebration took place in 1969, with great pomp and splendor. By this time, the Library in its building started operating its own auditorium viz. “Boys’ Own Hall” (1971). This was followed by PLATINUM CELEBRATION in 1983-84. At this time, the total book count was 34,957 and the total members were 1139. In May 1981, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation appreciated the activities of the Library, by naming its front street as “Boys’ Own Library Row”. This is perhaps the greatest honour that this age-old institution received ever since its inception. KMC also exempted the library building from payment of municipal tax up to 1978-79.
The history of the Boys’ Own Library since its Platinum Jubilee is the history of modernization, culminating into fresh outlook and its completely new orientation in the activation of different departments. The institution started equipping itself with the latest traits of library science. Preparation of the library catalogue was one such traits, which commenced in 1985. Later digitization of old books and magazines took place in 2007, in collaboration with the State Central Library, Govt. of West Bengal. The digital preservation of the heritage books and magazines certainly added a new feather in the history of the Library. Other library services which are in the stage of being chalked out, include computerized database, multimedia reprographic services detailed information on holdings and inter-library book loan.
Time passed out and the Boys’ Own Library marched ahead of time. In course of its glorious and eventful 100 YEARS, the library has become the embodiment of education, culture and thereby has been strengthening the wings of the library movement in the State. Arduous effort, ceaseless devotion and the sincerity are the magic words that led the organization towards fulfillment of its defined objectives.