KV Krishnaswami Aiyar
KV Krishnaswami Aiyar

The Hindu’s Lit for Life 2017 ends today. This may be a good time to reflect on a man who was largely responsible for ensuring that books became available for the public to read, not just across the city but the whole of what was then Madras Presidency. I refer to KV Krishnaswami Aiyar (1885-1965) or KVK as he was known to his wide social circle.

KVK is perhaps better remembered today as the second and longest-serving President of the Music Academy. A top-ranking lawyer, he was a member of the University Syndicate and in that capacity headed the Lexicon Committee. Under his guidance on administrative matters, a host of scholars such as S Vaiyapuri Pillai, Narayana Iyer and M Raghava Iyengar worked to produce the Tamil lexicon, which was released in six volumes, the last being in 1936.

Though debilitated by the early onset of Parkinson’s disease, KVK involved himself in the formation of the Madras Library Association (MLA), which emerged, like the Music Academy, from the All India Congress Session of 1927 held in Madras. Inaugurated on January 31, 1928, the MLA had KVK as its first President and others such as writer Pe Na Appuswamy and (later Justice) Basheer Ahmed Sayeed on board. The committee spearheaded the expansion of libraries into rural areas. The first mobile library, run on a bullock cart, was launched in Mannargudi in 1929.

KVK identified the genius of SR Ranganathan who is now recognised as the father of library science, the world over. The latter was then working as the Librarian of the University of Madras and was asked by KVK to deliver a series of lectures on libraries at the Teachers’ College, Saidapet. Impressed with the response, the University began a course on library science in 1931 and this today is a full-fledged degree course. It was also KVK who first saw merit in SR Ranganathan’s colon classification system for libraries. The MLA published Ranganathan’s Colon Classification: Classified Catalogue Code and Library Administration and this book was soon in demand everywhere, with libraries moving over to this system internationally. It was a wonder that KVK and Ranganathan, both short-tempered in the extreme, worked together but they were men of wisdom, willing to bury personal differences in the interests of a larger good.

KVK along with Ranganathan and the MLA, lobbied for the passing of a Libraries Act. Enacted in 1948, it made Madras the first province in India to make it mandatory for every area with a certain population density to have a local library. The Local Library Authority was to be headed by the Minister for Education, funded by a cess levied on taxes and have the Connemara Library at its apex. The LLA in its heyday contributed in a big way to improving literacy in the State.

KVK’s residence, Swaminatha Vilas on North Mada Street Mylapore has made way for commercial development but he is remembered in portrait and bust in the Music Academy.

This article appeared in The Hindu dated Jan 14, 2017

You can read about KVK’s life and contributions here: