Roja Muthiah Research Library: A repository for Tamil Studies
Roja Muthiah, a signboard artist from Kottaiyur, a small town in southern Tamilnadu, began collecting books in the early 1950s as an inspiration for his signboard business known as Roja Arts. Soon he fell in love with the books and became a bibliophile himself...When the Library was moved to Chennai in 1994, it comprised about 100,000 items, which have grown to 350,000 in the past two decades.
The Newsletter, No 76, Spring 2017
The origin of Roja Muthiah Research Library dates back to the 1950s. Roja Muthiah, a signboard artist from Kottaiyur, a small town in southern Tamilnadu, began collecting books in the early 1950s as an inspiration for his signboard business known as Roja Arts. Soon he fell in love with the books and became a bibliophile himself. Over the years, Roja Muthiah scoured bookstalls all over Tamil Nadu for treasures until his library outgrew the space in his house. Until his premature death in 1992, Roja Muthiah could be found reading, compiling, and writing amidst heaps of books, clippings, journals, and artworks in his house. With the ‘Library for Sale’ news coming in from Dr C.S. Lakskmi, a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago then, Mr. James Nye, Prof. A. K. Ramanujan, Prof. Norman Cutler, Prof. Arjun Appadurai, and Prof. Ralph Nicholas from the University of Chicago (UoC) came together and decided to buy the collection. In 1994 the collection was purchased and setup in Chennai in the name of Roja Muthiah Research Library (http://www.rmrl.in). In 2004, a public trust named the Roja Muthiah Research Library Trust (RMRLT) was formed to manage and take responsibility for the library. Up until early 2016, a Memorandum of Understanding between the two entities governed the collection. Now responsibility lies entirely with the RMRL Trust.
When the Library was moved to Chennai in 1994, it comprised about 100,000 items, which have grown to 350,000 in the past two decades. The collection spans over 200 years, the earliest item being a Tamil book titled Gnanappattukalin Postakam, published in 1797. The Library collection covers a wide spectrum of subjects such as classical and modern literature, literary criticism, indigenous medicine, religion and philosophy, folklore, material by and about women, metaphysics, Gandhian studies and numerous publications of historical value. RMRL has a rich collection of research material in popular culture such as cinema, theatre and the related culture of printed works. RMRL has around 2500 cinema song books and 2000 cinema posters. In addition to books and periodicals, the library collection also includes printed ephemera such as invitations of various kinds, cinema posters, clippings. Palm leaf manuscripts and gramophone records also form a part of the collection. Over the years, personal collections of A. K. Ramanujan, Lloyd and Susan Rudolphs, Milton Singer, Robert Hardgrave, Gift Siromoney, Mu. Arunachalam, Iravatham Mahadevan, T. P. Meenakshi Sundaram, Champakalakshmi have been added to the collection.
As a core activity, RMRL systematically started by preserving the collection through archival microfilming and digitization. So far the Library has preserved more than 1,500,000 pages of rare archival material, including both in digital format and in microfilm. RMRL has acquired the necessary equipment and preservation facilities. International best standards are being followed with regard to cataloguing and preservation.