Library at G.D. Ambekar Institute

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In Parel, at the foothills of 59 floors of prime real estate, and some 20 floors of SRA housing, sits the headquarters of the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS)- a registered trade union for textile mill workers founded by G.D. Ambekar, the Ambekar Institute for Labour Studies (AILS) [1], and behind it, the G D. Ambekar Pratishthan College of Hotel Management [2].

The common library for these establishments is located inside the management college- a three floor rectangular space with a central stairwell through which one can look up at the floors above. Inside is a diverse English and Marathi collection- from periodicals, magazines, trade union newsletters to popular paperback thrillers of Jeffrey Archer and Dean Koontz, as well as rare publications on mill workers’ movements, their lives and issues. An index of some of the publications is available on their website (research reports [3], workshop reports [4] and training manuals [5]).

The lowest floor with a funding of ~3 lac p.a from the state government is well maintained with bright lights, shiny white tiles and laminated shelves. The collection is well organised by serial number, older books and magazines are labelled and bound neatly in standard brown paper. From here one can climb up to the mid floor where at the landing we see a few old bookcases with older books somewhat organised. Here we find publications from the 1950s-80s on lives of mill workers, their wages, movements, as well as illustrated books of Namdeo Dhasal poems, a first edition Golpitha [6], and more from G.D. Ambekar’s private collection. Moving further into the space, the shelves are dustier, and less organised. It is here we find stacked atop bookcases, some 60-70 thick bound folders of correspondence letters and meeting minutes between mill owners and state departments dating as far back as 1939. From here, when we try to access the uppermost floor of the library, we are confused- though the stairwell continues up to the third floor, the stairs don’t. The staff shows us the access- we exit the library and re-enter through a separate entrance on the third floor. There is only a visual connect and no physical access between this third floor and the rest of the library. With a meagre funding of Rs.15,000 p.a, this seems to be an antique part of the library- dusty, and dimly lit, many bookcases beginning to rust. This uppermost floor feels as if it exists in a thought bubble- visible but unreachable from the lower floors of the library, receiving very few staff members or visitors. The staff agrees that the dust may begin to irritate some noses after spending time here. The books are not organised and the librarian is at this point unsure of what the collection in this floor contains. A cursory look revealed some trade union newsletters, mill workers reports, statistical surveys, labour gazette publications, and ILO reports. She is attempting to organise them- currently manually carrying batches of books to the swankier RMMS building next door to enter their metadata into a computer there, and bringing them back.