Glorious History of ISI Library (Landmark developments)

The Library, Documentation and Information Science Division of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) has a rich history in the course of its development and leadership to the profession. Originating in a small room of the Presidency College (Kolkata), the library took almost forty-five years to get well-integrated. The procurement in its collection was first initiated in 1930 when the ‘Statistical Laboratory’ (earlier ISI) owned about rupees 25000 for books and other equipment. Thereafter the Library had grown up simultaneously with the growth of the Institute and almost in a natural way. It has been configured rightly to provide customized tailor-made service bouquet, eventually turned up to match the call of the day.

The library rules were framed and a full-time Librarian (Shri Jibananda Saha) was appointed in 1939 (worked until 1974). It has left behind a history of dislocation, relocation and scattered over multiple sites. The dislocation happened in 1942 as an emergency evacuation measure when the shadow of the World War loomed over the country. By that time, the library had acquired about 11000 valuable resources in different forms. A portion of the library collection was then moved from Presidency College premises to the house of Professor Mahalanobis (named as Amrapali) at Baranagar in the northern suburb of Calcutta. Another portion was moved to Giridih (a small town in Bihar) where he used to visit during vacations. Thus library began to serve from three different locations.


By 1948, the library felt the need for more space and the problem became more acute, as the space enjoyed in the Presidency College had to be vacated since Mahalanobis had to retire from the Professorship. So the Institute purchased a plot of land adjacent to Amrapali, and the construction of a new building began, which was formally opened in 1951. In early 1953, a major portion of the library collection was shifted to this new building, formed the shape of a Central Library. The presidency college unit was then working as a service branch, which later moved to the rented premises of ISI in Albert Hall (beside Coffee House). However, a new service branch was also opened at the City Office of ISI (9B Esplanade Row) in December 1953.

Getting shifted to the new premises and having more space, the library geared up to provide better services with two broad sections. The Central section comprised of all books, data-books, official records, statistics of various countries – housed in the new building; and the Reference section comprised of journals, special materials and reprints – placed at Amrapali (with a reading room). The Library was then growing hurriedly with a great variety of demands from aspiring researchers of the Institute. To facilitate the users, the service period of the reference section was extended up to 7:30 pm on all working days.

Gradually newer units were set up (during the 1950s) for the smooth functioning of the overloaded activities in the library; namely the Documentation Unit, Records Unit, Photography Unit, and Translation Unit. While the Documentation Unit was providing consolidated technical information (weekly digests, bibliographies, documentation, and A&I services); then the function of the Records Unit was to organize large numbers of maps collected in statistical surveys, and the Translation Unit was translating scientific literature from Russian, German, Chinese, etc into English languages. The role of the Photography Unit (along with micro-film and photographic apparatus) on reproducing library materials was trustworthy.