Top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit

Here is a list of Top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit. These are the best libraries in Chennai that work on a large scale. They provide multilingual books for lending and reference. The list classifies the best libraries based on the language of the books and their country of Origin.

There are times when we feel like getting into a silent mode and wish to get ourselves lost. We dream of going away from all the hustles and bustles of our surroundings and settle down to relax. Do we need an exotic vacation to a spot with fewer people? Or should we take the path of Christopher McCandless and get ourselves a place in the woods? 

The answer is no. Sometimes all we need is a book in one hand, a snack in the other, and a calm place to sit down and read. And a library humbly serves that purpose. The only effort we have to make is to get ourselves a small tour and end up in any one of the libraries near us.

‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.’

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Let us look at the list of top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit

Best libraries in Chennai – Overall

In this list of top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit, the first category considers the best libraries for general purpose. They are best in the sense that most of the books are available with them. They have important books from all over the world in many languages.

Anna Centenary Library

Anna Centenary Library is the largest library in India and second largest of libraries in Asia, second only to the National Library of China in Asia. Opened to the public in the year 2010, this library stands as a towering tribute to the books of wisdom. This is one of the rare libraries in Chennai that has an ultra-modern touch to its design. 

The architecture uses strongly tinted glasses throughout the surface of walls that act as natural light spreaders in the daytime. Besides, those glass walls also serve as great tunnels for the readers to get their thoughts kicking when they pause in between their reads. 

Built on 8 acres of land, the 9-floor library houses a total area of 333,140 sq. ft and has a capacity to accommodate 1.2 million books [Source – Wikipedia].

The building, touted to be one of the greenest in the city, clearly wins in terms of aiding the repletion of nature. As a proud honor, IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) has awarded the LEED Gold rating to the library [source – UrbanTree]. 

Anna Centenary Library

Currently, the library has over 1,00,000 Tamil and other regional language books and 4,50,000 English books on various subjects ranging from Arts to Computer Science to Travel.

There is a separate wing on the 4th floor for English Literature. 

The library has one floor dedicated section to the Own books reading. Here readers can bring their books and settle on a chair or the ground and indulge in their world of own. 

However, despite all the above perks, the library is rotting gradually. Due to a rift between the ruling and opposition parties of Tamil Nadu, the functional inauguration of the library has been on hold for over a decade now.

It is yet to begin lending services to the public and is acting just as a reference library

All one can do is visit the library and read one of its books and return home. The lending service is not open yet. The maintenance and periodic updating of the books have been missing ever since the inauguration.

From September 2020, Anna Centenary Library offers a new Membership program. However, the perks of membership will be limited to accessing the WiFi, Open books section, and the vast collection of e-books and e-magazines. There is no update on the book lending service yet. Anna Centenary library is one of the best libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit at least once.

Anna Centenary library
Largest library in India
9 floors of books across all subjects
Annual Membership fees – 100 rupees
Over 1 lakh Tamil books and 4.5 lakh English books
Separate wing for Own books reading

Connemara Public Library

One of the oldest libraries in the country, The Connemara public library stands tall amidst the fairly old Egmore museum. It is home to more than 9 lakh books, newspapers, magazines, and periodicals

The Connemara Public Library, named after the then Governor of Madras, Lord Connemara, is the largest public library in South India in terms of the number of books and is one of the four depository libraries in India. It receives a copy of all the books, newspapers, and periodicals from all over the country.

Designed and constructed by H. Irvin, then consulting architect of Government of Madras, the old block of Connemara Library is aesthetically pleasing.

Connemara Public Library

The Anglo Indian styled semi-circular building has elaborate carvings of animals on walls and roofs, teakwood shelves, and stained glass colorful windows. They stand to represent the trademark architectural building style of the British. 

The library has two buildings – the new one and the old one. The new library is a pretty new addition and resembles any modern office building constructed in the early 2000s.

While the old library remains under renovation for many years now, the new one is open to the public and is gratefully indulgent in feeding the needs of many students and researchers. The old library’s architectural marvel is a gem to preserve. Let’s hope it gets back into service soon. 

Connemara Public Library
One of the oldest library in India
One of the 4 Deposit libraries of India
Annual Membership fees – 50 rupees
Home to around 9 lakh books
Receives a copy of all the books, newspapers, and periodicals from the country

Best libraries in Chennai for Ancient books

The next category considers the best libraries for ancient and rare book collections. They are famous for the collections dating back to centuries.

Madras Literary Society

Madras Literary Society is one of the oldest libraries in Chennai. This library had close associations with the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland

The Madras Literary Society is a treasure hoard of ancient books and antique first editions dating from the 16th century. This library is yet another wealth left by the Britishers, who ruled India till 1947, to Chennai.

This library conserves letters from freedom fighters like Subhash Chandra Bose when he was in Austria and Annie Besant and various other historical value collectibles. 

Top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit - Madras Literary Society

Constructed near the banks of the Cooum in the middle of the city, the library is often invisible to passersby due to the DPI office buildings surrounding it. The library is yet another decaying institution in the city. 

The library, once a bustling point for book lovers, lost its charm when most of its collection was moved to The Connemara Library. The library began to rot in the early 21st century. Most of its books were in a sad state then and awaiting a second life. And, that lease of life came a few years back when a private group went forward to volunteer in its restoration. 

Lately, many volunteers and book lovers have joined hands to restore the glory of the library and its collection. The group even encourages bibliophiles to adopt books and aid in its preservation. Currently, the library has more than 65,000 books.

Madras Literary Society
One of the oldest library in India
Collection of rare and old books
Annual Membership fees – 1000 rupees
Home to around 65,000 books

The Adyar Library and Research Centre (ALRC)

Who doesn’t wish to get out of the congested ever-busy city life and get into the woods? And while walking through the woods, what if you get to see a library surrounded by the trees? Can there be a book lover who would hate such a sight? The Adyar Library and Research Centre exactly fits into the equation. 

The library sits in the middle of the 260-acre garden inside the Adyar Theosophical Society, which sits within the densely populated Adyar.

The Society is home to various Fauna and Flora, including the famous 450-year old Banyan tree known as ‘Adyar aalamaram.’ Barely a step off from the library’s entrance leads us to the woods and drives our minds into deep thoughts.

The Adyar library and Research Centre

Founded in 1886 by Colonel Olcott, the Adyar Library and Research Centre contains over 250,000 printed volumes and around 20,000 palm-leaf manuscripts from India, Sri Lanka, China, and other places. Some of those manuscripts are open to visitors.

The printed books include rare Indological publications in several languages and a fine collection of works on different religions, philosophies, and cultures. 

The library houses books on Spirituality, Philosophy, religion, and wildlife. Various magazines and journals related to these topics are also present in the wooden racks of the library. The library is among the most important orientalist libraries in the world. 

The Adyar Library and Research Centre (ALRC)
One of the orientalist libraries in India
Sits inside a 260 acre forest
Annual Membership fees – 100 rupees
Home to around 2,50,000 books

Best libraries in Chennai for Tamil books

These are the best libraries in Chennai for books in Tamil language. The library/libraries contain ancient manuscripts, books and other resources in Tamil language.

Roja Muthiah Research Library

Touted to be one of the finest individual book collections in the world, the Roja Muthaiah Research library is home to many historic south Indian books. The library, opened to researchers in 1996, was founded in 1994.

It contains over 4,00,000 items in its archive.

The vast collection in RMRL is a direct reflection of Tamil print heritage and culture, spanning a period of over 200 years, the earliest title being a book, ‘Kantarantati’ published in 1804.

The spectrum of subjects covers language and literature, indigenous medicine, religion, folklore, popular culture, metaphysics, Gandhian studies, women’s studies, and modern history. It also holds material such as oleographs, theater handbills, wedding invitations, and private letters. It is this unique and eclectic range that sets RMRL apart from other libraries and archives. [source – Wikipedia]

Roja Muthiah Research Library

The library came into existence thanks to the pioneering efforts of Roja Muthiah Chettiyar from Kottaiyur. His interest in Tamil literature drove him to collect classical Tamil literature novels. Soon his collection grew so large that it had grown over 1,00,000 at the time of his death.

The University of Chicago bought the entire collection and opened the library to researchers. In recent years, the library has added many books to its ever-growing collection. 

Roja Muthaiah Research library is a must-visit for Tamil book lovers. There is no other place that holds such an intriguing collection on the language.

Roja Muthiah Research Library
One of the largest private libraries in India
Largest collection of Tamil literature
Annual Membership fees – free for reference
Home to around 4,00,000 items comprising of books, journals and newspapers

Best libraries in Chennai for European books

These are the best libraries in Chennai for European books. The libraries contain exclusive collections of books from Germany, England, Great Britain, Russia and France. They include books in their native language and also in English language.

Russian Cultural Center

Is there a book reader who doesn’t wish to read a Russian work of literature? I most certainly don’t think so. Russian writing has a special place in the heart of World literature. They carry a unique enigma around the characters that helps people relate to the characters with ease and affection.

With that said, the best place to know about the beloved Russian literature is the Russian Cultural Centre. It is one of the significant places in Chennai when it comes to Literature and Cinema. The center acts as a prominent hub for Cinema, book, and food lovers alike. It has a mini theatre cum auditorium, a library, and a dedicated Russian restaurant. 

The mini theatre is a prime spot for several international film screenings. Numerous Russian films are also screened regularly in this auditorium.

Russian cultural center

Winter Palace, the only authentic Russian restaurant in Chennai, is also located inside the Russian Cultural Center. If you are a person who loves to try European/Russian food while reading War and Peace, this place is for you. 

The library at the Russian Cultural center sits next to the small exhibition, which shows the photos and works of Leo Tolstoy and the likes. The library has most of the famous works of Russian authors in both English and Russian languages. Apart from the usual Russian language learning aids, the library boasts a rare collection of early Russian literature. 

Any bibliophile interested in Russian literature must head over to this place. The place, apart from displaying the works of the greatest authors, has a quiet atmosphere that establishes the mood in. The library conducts regular events to help the Indian readers know more about Russia’s culture and their books.

The irresistible combination of a book with delicious Russian food alone is a substantial motivation to visit the Russian Cultural Center. 

Russian Cultural Center
The best place for Russian literature
Has a provision for bringing and reading own books
Annual Membership fees – 1000 rupees
India’s only authentic Russian restaurant ‘Winter Palace’ is a few steps away.

Goethe Institut

Goethe Institut, the cultural center of Germany, is situated in Nungambakkam. If you are one of the persons living in the vicinity of Nungambakkam, consider yourself blessed. The place acts as the epicenter of all arts and cultural activities in Chennai. Incidentally, 7 of 10 libraries listed here are in and around Nungambakkam. 

If you are even remotely interested in books from Germany and the German language, Goethe Institut is your ultimate destination. The library at Goethe Institut holds books in both English and German languages.

Apart from the usual language learning aid books, the library has a rich collection of fiction and non-fiction books that help us understand the culture and art of Germany. There are many famous German authors’ works translated into English.

Goethe Institut

Apart from the books, the library receives daily newspapers of Germany and regular periodicals. The library also contains dozens of German movies, literary audiobooks, and music cassettes.

The great thing about the library is every book and movie is open for lending. In addition to feeding our brains through their decent collection of books, the library regularly conducts book readings to encourage the reading habit. 

Goethe Institut also has this unique program of ‘Nimm eins, gib eins’ (Take one, Give one), wherein one can give a finished book and take another book to read.

The library catalogs over 4500 volumes of print and audiovisual media.

Goethe Institut
The best place for German literature
Has a provision for bringing and reading own books
Annual Membership fees – 1000 rupees (600 rupees for 6 months)
Home to over 4,500 books, movies and other media

Alliance Française

Similar to what the Russian Cultural Center and Goethe Institut are to Russia and Germany, Alliance Française is to France. It is the cultural center of France in Chennai. Started in 1953, Alliance Française has performed an essential part in bringing the French literature and French Cinema to Chennai.

Surrounded by tall trees, the entrance of Alliance Française is a beauty to enter. Situated in the heart of Nungambakkam (yes, yet another one), Alliance Française also acts as a famous hub for cultural activities. It also hosts many international film screenings and literary events. 

The library at Alliance Française houses a collection of over 6,200 books, ranging on various subjects like Philosophy, Psychology, Music, Art, Cinema, Literature, and Children’s Literature.

Though a big chunk of their collection is in French, there are many editions of books translated to English.

Alliance Francaise

Apart from the above collection, there is a separate section called ‘Language section’ where the books on learning the French language are stacked. There is also an Audio and Visual room with more than 1200 collections of audiobooks, movies, documentaries, and contemporary music.

There is the ‘Inde’ section, which contains many notable modern and ancient Indian writings in French. There is also a section for magazines and periodicals [source – AF Madras].

If you are interested in French literature, do visit the Alliance Française library. You won’t be disappointed. Still unconvinced? Need another reason? Well, there is also a cafe inside Alliance Française, which provides few varieties of French snacks to eat. Book in one hand, food in other hand – A bliss !!!

Alliance Française
The best place for French literature
Has a provision for bringing and reading own books
Annual Membership fees – 1000 rupees for books and 2000 rupees for books and media
Home to over 6,200 books, movies and other media

Best libraries in Chennai for English books

These are the top libraries in Chennai for books in English Language. This includes both American and British English books.

British Council

The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities. Similar to the other cultural centers, the British Council offers various perks for British Literature and arts.

Situated in the heart of the city near Nungambakkam (again!), the British Council is secluded from the bustling sounds of the city, owing to its lush green surrounding and abundant open space. 

The library at the British Council is well equipped and one of the largest compared to the other centers when it comes to the number of books it has.

British Council

The library possesses a vast collection of books on various subjects ranging from Academics to Zoology. The library has the best of the original British literature and also has numerous English translations of European literature. 

The library at British Council contains over 20,000 physical books, 1,20,000 e-books, and audiobooks, over 15,000 journals, and 7000+ movies.

With a vast collection to boast of, the British Council has initiated the online version of its library. The digital library has access to all the above e-books, audiobooks, documentaries, shorts, and movies. 

This library has an elegant architecture filled with artistic renditions splattered throughout the reading area. The whole complex has an aesthetics that multiplies the reading experience at the British Council. The lush green lawns and ambiance help the readers to get lost in thoughts while reading.

A cafeteria with a beautiful courtyard, open 24 hours, allows the readers to get lost in the world of books while relaxing and sipping a coffee. After all, books and coffee blend along perfectly together.

British Council
One of the best places for English literature
A 24-hour cafe to feed the readers.
Annual Membership fees – 2200 rupees for physical library and 1800 for Digital library
Home to over 20,000 books, movies and other media

American Consulate

The last one on this list is the American Consulate of Chennai. Situated in Anna Salai, near Nungambakkam (People living near Nungambakkam are fortunate, ain’t they?), this building is a part of the American Embassy. 

The American Center strips off all the electronic gadgets from the visitors before entering its premises. The strict rules mostly annoy visitors. The Consulate firmly stands by these rules since they have an Embassy attached to their building.

With that said, the center is a beauty to cherish. The campus is surrounded by lush green gardens that take us away from the hustles of the city. The Consulate’s act of stripping the gadgets from the visitors adds to ensure that visitors and readers get wholistic peace of mind.

American center

The American Center includes more than 16,000 books, magazines, movies, video kiosks, and computer terminals, and 36 journals.

It boasts one of the largest collections of American study materials and literature in South Asia.

Apart from books and journals, it also includes American Government Publications and special compilations on American Studies, Business Management, Computers, and English as a Second Language [source – US Embassy].

Their collection also consists of a curated compilation of 1000s of movies in their library.

They have televisions within where visitors can watch their favorite movies. Their collection of American literature is a must-see for all book lovers.

American Consulate
One of the best places for English literature
Silent atmosphere to give the perfect ambience to read
Annual Membership fees – 400 rupees (700 rupees for 2 years)
Home to over 16,000 books, movies and other media

Conclusion

I hope that the above list of the top 10 libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit is useful for the readers. The list is not definitive by any means. I have listed the libraries which are easy to access and has a good collection of books. 

Of course, there are many more libraries present in and around Chennai that serve the purpose of knowledge sharing. After all, any place that gives the readers books and peace of mind while reading is a library.

The only thing that you absolutely need to know is the location of the library.

Albert Einstein

And those libraries are must-visit libraries too. But those are the libraries that cater to the needs of the immediate neighborhood. They generally don’t work on a larger scale. 

These are the best libraries in Chennai every book lover must visit in my opinion.

However, please do help the readers by mentioning your favorite libraries in the comments below. We might find some hidden gems lying around.

Check out The Art Muser’s essays on books and movies.

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