Preserving early print literature on the history of Tamilnadu (EAP183)

Aims and objectives

Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) is a resource and research hub for south Indian studies covering diverse fields from humanities, social sciences to popular culture. Through this project, RMRL proposes to preserve early print literature on the history of Tamilnadu by microfilming the publications and later by digitizing the microfilm reels.

A wealth of 19th & 20th century material lies scattered in different libraries and private collections in Tamilnadu. These libraries are under-funded and struggle to preserve their collections. RMRL has as its highest priority the preservation of important Tamil publications before they deteriorate beyond the point of use. Some of the items that have been located are related to Dravidian movement, political movements, history of Vaishnavism, Saivism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. These histories if preserved through microfilming can be accessed more easily by current and future researchers.

Approximately 500 book titles and 10 to 15 periodical titles will be preserved with the selection of items for preservation undertaken by senior scholars and the exact numbers to be decided at the start of the project. A committee will be formed of established research scholars working in different disciplines related to the history and culture of Tamilnadu and they will prioritise the titles that need attention.

In most cases the paper has turned brown in colour and some of the paper is brittle. The newsprint items are made of cheap paper with high acid content thereby making their life shorter. So it becomes imperative to preserve them on a priority basis. The collections are scattered in different locations in Tamilnadu both in urban and rural areas. Most of the materials are fortunately in a manageable condition at present. In a few years they will become unmanageable as they will turn completely brittle. Microfilming is the best option for copying them without damaging them further.

The original material will be microfilmed for high quality images through archival microfilming procedures and appropriate bibliographic control will be provided in the microfilms through technical targets. From the master negatives two service negative copies will be produced. One copy of the service negative will be scanned and saved as digital Tiff images.


The aim of the project was to preserve and provide access to scholars a very important segment of cultural material that would reflect the history of Tamilnadu. The plan was to preserve nearly 150,000 images on microfilm reels for preservation and digitise them at high quality for better access. The materials were to be identified through library surveys and eventually borrowed and shipped to the Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) to microfilm and digitise. The subject material that was planned to be preserved was important for scholars to reconstruct the history of Tamilnadu, covering areas such as the self respect movement, Dravidian movement, bhakti movement and other social and cultural histories of the 19th and early 20th century Tamilnadu. Approximately 180-200 reels of preservation microfilm were planned to be produced to international standards under this project. Approximately 500 book titles and 10 to 15 periodical titles were also planned to be included for microfilming. A set of the microfilm and digital copies were to be deposited to the British Library keeping one set intact in India. Digital copies were also to be shared with the collections that would loan the material to RMRL.

The project not only achieved what was proposed in the proposal but exceeded the target by preserving more images. Many collection managers were kind enough to accept the digital copies and did not take money - it was possible to copy more images only because of this.

No collection had a complete run of the periodical titles. During this project they were traced in small numbers in different locations and were microfilmed together, making almost complete sets. Some of the materials were found discarded in warehouses and their conditions were quite bad and endangered. These imprints were retrieved and preserved.

The ‘collection’ is now under more than one roof. Awareness of preservation and maintenance of library material was created among private collectors. A broader network of private collectors has been established. An association of private libraries is being planned to act in a collective manner.

The endangered material taken from different collections have been returned to the owners. They have been advised to take steps to store them under better conditions. Digital copies have been shared with them in return for their favour. Scholars have started using the material for their research work for publications.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: