History & Background


The United Services Library is one of the oldest institutions of its type in Poona. It came into existence in 1818, and in Hamilton’s East India Gazetteer we read; “There is in Poona a spacious and convenient Church and a good Library in the Cantonment.”

Many of the rare books in Library, date from those early days. In the Introduction to the Book of Rules of the United Services Library 1911 we read:

“The present Library has developed out of two previous institutions 1) The Poona Station Library and 2) The United Services of Western India. The former was amalgamated with the letter in 1860 and handed over its building and 2000 volumes. The object of the new Institution was...the formation of a Library containing historical, scientific and professional works, maps, charts and plans, the delivery of lectures, the collection, and if possible, the publication of a journal, the collection of native arms; and a museum to serve as a central depository for objects of professional and general information and for trophies and relics connected with Indian History.”

The Institution, as might have been expected, failed to attain its object: and in 1867 it became a library and reading room; changing its name to USL the one it bears at present.

When Poona Assembly Rooms ( now known as the Poona Club Ltd ) were built in the year 1886, the Committee of the U.S.L. agreed to vacate the building then in use ( now the St. Mary’s Infant School to the North of St. Mary’s Church ) and transfer their books to the two large upper rooms which overlook the central ballroom, on payment of a sum Rs.7000.00 and on condition that if Gymkhana should at any time desire to resume entire possession of the rooms, they should pay over to the U.S.L. the sum Rs.7000.00.

Since the amalgamation described above, all members of Poona Gymkhana (now the Poona Club Ltd) have been ‘ipso facto’ members of the U.S.L.

The US Library, though housed in the Club compound, is an independent institution, and non-members of the Poona Club are welcomed as subscriber members, on payment of annual membership subscription and book borrowing fees as applicable to each category of member.

Until April 1945 the Library was housed in the upper two large rooms of the Poona Club Ltd. But unfortunately on 29 April 1945 at midnight the whole of the Poona Club Building with all the 24000 books and property with the records of the Library was destroyed by fire; about 2000 books that were in circulation were saved.

Appeals were made for Books in Times of India and London Times. A large number of Books were presented by members and non-members from all over India.

The appeal through the Landon Times fetched about 200 books of which 24 were graciously donated by Her Majesty Queen Mary.

The arrangements with the Poona Club Ltd. and the United Services Library are printed as an appendix in this Books of Rules. This is subject to review and renewal between the two managements, a required, for smooth operations and utilization of common facilities including regular maintenance of the building and infrastructure.

The donations received in cash were as follows:

Sir. C. Wadia Rs. 11,500/-
Miss M .Moore Rs. 100/-
Mr. M.H.D. Fazalbhoy Rs. 100/-

The description of the Books in the old Library before the fire in 1945, as given in the only copy available of the old Book of Rules printed in 1941 was as follows;

The reference Library (closed on Sunday) is in the East Wing at the top of the stairs. It contains a wide range of books including the Encyclopedia Britannica, Dictionary of National Biography, Maps of England, and India etc. Grove’s Dictionary of music, Biographies, Histories, Travels Poetry, Technical Work, Cookery, Gardening Drawing Needlework, etc. Books on International Relations Scientific subject and Religions, Standard Works and a Museum cupboard. Books are arranged in 10 Classes according to the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Class I Philosophy, Class II Religion, Class III Social Science, Class IV Philology, Class V Pure Science, Class VI Useful Arts, Class VII Fine Art, Class VIII Literature, Class IX History, Class O General Works.

The Standard Works are kept under glass for better preservation. The will be found in both sides of the large cupboard across the middle of the room, and include “sets” of a wide range of great writers, novelists, essayists and poets e.g.

Shakespeare, Pepys, Sterne, Dickens, Conrad, Austen, Shaw, Kipling, Balzac and Anatole France in English; the Arabian Nights and many others. Old books (which are probably out of print and irreplaceable) are kept in the Museum Cupboard. Among these are many of interest to students, especially Pinkerton’s Voyages, Scott’s Deccan, and the Annual Register.