Rescuing text: retrieval and documentation of printed books and periodicals from public institutions in eastern India published prior to 1950 - major project (EAP341)

Aims and objectives

The previous pilot project EAP188 created a database of 26,579 books in minor archives and libraries located in districts without any infrastructure. From this database 5,000 unique and endangered books will be selected for digitisation for this project.

A combination of the lack of availability in safe archives, either within India or internationally, and poor storage conditions make the fragile printed books endangered. The priority is also further based on more vulnerable libraries and for digitising non-fiction documents first. The books will be digitised from eight public libraries in the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South, all located in semi-urban and rural areas within the proximity of Calcutta.

The history of printing in Eastern India dates back to 1778 when the pioneering effort of Charles Wilkins with the assistance of Panchanan and Manohar Karmakar led to the first metal typecasts in Bengali. This ushered in the era of Bengali printing. Public libraries were established in Calcutta and in the neighbouring districts from the 1850s. For example, with the patronage of Jayakrishna Mukherjee, the zamindar of Uttarpara, a library for the public was established in 1854 with an initial holding of 3,000 books. Other public libraries were set up in Konnagar and Bali in the same year. Mohiary Public Library in Howrah district was established in 1886 with the initial patronage of local elites and then by common people - the library is now a depository of hundreds of unique titles of books and monographs on caste, religion and social practices in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal. These public institutions played a crucial role in the formation of civil society under colonial surveillance. They were not only hubs of intellectual exercise but also created a depository of all sort of documents that emerged within and outside the modern European disciplinary approach addressed for the public sphere.

Most of the public libraries are now suffering from a severe financial and management crisis that make most of the documents completely unsuitable for consultation and the remainder are disappearing fast. This project will provide visibility of those documents to the historians of present and future.

The project team will capture images of books following the EAP guidelines for digitisation. On completion of the project the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta (CSSSC) will provide access both from its reading room and online through CSSSC – University of Heidelberg cooperation. Copies will be given to the British Library.


The project copied 3,116 books from five libraries, consisting of 732,889 images and about 14 terabytes of data. The preservation copies of the materials are now housed at the archives of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta and a copy has been deposited with the British Library.

Access copies have been distributed to the source collections, and all the five libraries are now well equipped with a computer and discs of the copied literature. At least three libraries, Chandannagar Pustakagar, Bankim Bhavan Gabesana Kendra, and Bali Sadharan Granthalaya, have started providing access to digital copies only.

Access copies will also be migrated to the online unrestricted open access portal Savifa at the South Asia Institute of University of Heidelberg.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: