On Libraries in India

I frequently say that if I were doing my research in the US and not Calcutta I could have completed my Fulbright in a month. There is much that I leave out of my blog in terms of my work and research. There is much more that simply takes time in Calcutta, from searching through archives, to gaining permissions, and to reading secondary sources for writing a book. It’s this painstaking work that is not the feature of my blog. It’s not as entertaining.

There are two copies of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette that exist in the world. For a while I thought there were actually three, after coming across a single newspaper article in 2006. The article mentioned an archive in Bhopal, India. The article said the Sapre Sangrahalaya Archive had a “treasure trove” of old newspapers and was planning on making an exhibit. After tracking down the archive, whose website was only in Hindi and whose listed phone numbers did not exist, I had my research assistant get in touch. The director did not know what they had at first.

Phone calls from three different Hindi speakers over successive days, one of whom was another American Fulbright researcher. (I shamelessly crosschecked) led me to the conclusion that the archive had only a photocopy of the front page of a March 11, 1780 edition—hardly useful.

When asked who provided that photocopy to them, the director replied, “How should I know? I wasn’t there at the time.” So much for the etymology of sources.

Many researchers have had similar issues. In fact in R. P. Kumar’s excellent article, Origin and Development of Periodicals in English in India before Independence, he noted the very poor helpfulness of libraries in India. “The response was very poor. A few librarians gave only encouragement. One of the leading librarians replied, ‘We are not going to do research for you.’”

‘We are not going to do research for you.’ When all he wanted is for them to provide a catalog. What good is a library if it does not provide a catalog?