THE JAFFNA PUBLIC LIBRARY Part 4
Posted on September 22nd, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Jaffna public library was rebuilt twice. The library was fully renovated in 1984, with donations from well-wishers around the world.  But the LTTE took up residence inside it and it was bombed. At the start of the project, the Municipal Council of Jaffna decided not to repair the burnt building, but to let it remain as a memorial.

The second reconstruction began in 1998 and the library opened in 2004.  I went to see it and found the design ridiculous. Among other things, it has two identical entrances, back and front, with portico, and open verandah, with open access to stairs in the front entrance. Such entrances are more suitable for palatial houses than a library.  But such houses would not have had two entrances back and front either.

The new library got much support. National Library Board of Singapore helped with funds and also books. Library of Congress and Library Association, London, also helped this otherwise obscure library. The National Library of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Library Association also helped. National Development Bank, Sri Lanka donated a large number of books as an attempt to ‘revive this great landmark of Jaffna.’

 In 2009 there was a fresh call for donations. The Jaffna public library was one of the outstanding libraries of Asia, and in order to develop it public are invited to donate books and send them to Gangarama, Kocchikade church, Kadiresan kovil, and Devata gaha palliya in Colombo, said the announcement.

Two private collections were donated, the Pieter Keuneman collection and the library of R.L.   Spittel and his daughter, Christine.  Christine Wilson donated her library to the Jaffna Public Library at the suggestion of Goolbhai Gunasekera.

Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the USA to the United Nations, visited the library, in 2015 and   said the United States will fund ‘the restoration of ancient Tamil manuscripts in Jaffna’.’ After a welcome from a traditional Tamil Inniyam band, the ambassador met with staff members, signed the library guestbook and viewed some of the  1000-year old palmyrah manuscripts that have survived to this day.”

The Swarna Purawara National Awards given by the Local government and Provincial councils Ministry awarded the Best Local Government libraries award in 2014 to the Jaffna Public library.  

This essay concludes with comments in Trip Advisor by foreign tourists who visited the library.

  •  Frankly it wouldn’t be a tourist attraction in many other cities but Jaffna doesn’t have many [tourist attractions].
  • Couldn’t get very excited about this place. It is rather dull.”
  • There’s nothing unduly special about it, but it has great atmosphere and tradition.”
  • The building is quite impressive. You can feel the enormous wealth of knowledge and history this place would have stored.”  ( concluded)

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