Madras Literary Society: India’s Oldest Subscription Library
The Madras Literary Society (MLS) was founded in the year 1818. It was closely associated with the College of Fort St. George. MLS was modelled on the lines of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784) and Bombay Literary Society (1804). Its objectives were the same as that of its sister Societies, and to borrow from Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, “The bounds of its investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia, and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by MAN or produced by NATURE.”
The Society was a clearing-house and repository for the literary, exploratory, and scientific discoveries and experiences of the Civil, Military and Judicial officers of the Madras Presidency. Their observations were later recorded in the Society’s journal, ‘The Madras Journal of Literature and Science’, which prospered in the 19th century as the proceedings of a learned Society. (The journal is no longer published.)
In line with its objective of making its resources freely available to the larger world of scholars and the general public, the Society periodically made over its archaeological, geological, manuscript and other collections to Universities and specialist organisations like the Government Museum when these were founded. The MLS is probably the oldest surviving library in India today, in its core function as a lending library.
Located in the heart of Chennai, beside the Cooum river, the MLS library building is a stately Indo-Saracenic structure, custom designed for its use. Schedule a visit to MLS on your next trip to Chennai.
Location: Nungambakkam (nearest tourist landmark Co-optex Handloom Store and Government Museum, Egmore)