Colombo’s Public Library is pretty old and has a huge collection of books, in all three languages too. It’s not one of the most inviting places in Colombo to read at, but it opens out to Viharamahadevi park where you can maybe take your library book and set up camp.
The Public Library is right next to Viharamahadevi Park and since the whole space has been re-done, there’s a continuity between the library, the world war memorial and the park, which makes the outside area a beautiful space to chill at.
Thankfully there’s a helpful map of the place just outside the entrance. To sum up the important bits – when you walk inside, you go to your right for the library, and to your left to the newspaper room. If you step outside and walk around the main building – to the east end, you’ll find the study hall, and on the west end (passing the memorial, park and parking space), you’ll find the auditorium and the canteen. Next to the auditorium is an awesome little sale inside a lobby (more on that later).
The library is pretty big, with a whole bunch of genres. The entrance space is loaded with English books but there are also Tamil and Sinhala sections. You’ve got everything from Oscar Wilde to Vampire Diaries, some interesting coffee table books, and even a random collection of comics at the bottom of a shelf titled ‘Arts & Recreation’. The library is all dark furniture, dark floors and black leather binding, with rows of little Phillips bulbs hanging from the ceiling, so except for the ends of the room by the windows, it’s actually a dreary walk between bookshelves.
We appreciate their noble attempt to somehow organize the books in an order using labels, but the categorization is a bit disorienting. A big blue notice told us that the books were labelled with the first three letters of the author’s name, so a Nicolas Sparks book would be labelled SPA. These capital letter labels against the black leather Public Library binding make your trip around the library a slightly confusing one – you can’t easily find the books you want, although at least the bookshelves have labels of the main genres like ‘fiction’, ‘non-fiction’, ‘sciences’ and so on.
There’s a reading space at the very end of the library, with a few wooden tables and plastic chairs and windows that open out to the park. The internet section is in the lower right corner of the library.
The Newspaper Room
The library’s comprehensive newspaper room is loads more inviting on a sunny day than the library, with nice furniture and windows on all sides.
The Study Hall
The study hall is better than the library building by a mile – you’ll find it on the east end of the premises, around the right side of the main building. The reading tables are more reader-friendly, the browns and whites more soothing, and it’s very well lit up.
The glass on the exterior of the study hall is pretty cool because it’s weirdly tilted towards the ground to show you a reflection of the pavement and grass.
The outside of the library is a very green space, with trees and a little pond on the library grounds itself, clean brick pavements, and also the war memorial space and green park next to the parking area.
There’s a little lobby that few people know about, on the west corner of the premises, around the left side of the library building. There’s always a sale here of second hand books, which although are of a limited range are given away at ridiculous 20-50% discounts. But even cooler than that is that you get a rare collection of high quality vintage movie CDs here, a lot of English ones, but also Hindi ones, some with Sinhala subtitles – movies that aren’t in stores anymore and are difficult to come by even online in good quality.
They are sold at just Rs. 100 and there’s a DVD player to check if they work before you make your purchase. We were told most of the stuff here are from the personal collections of the people who run the sale itself. The sale is open every day from 9AM to 4.30PM.
We love the public library because it’s so old – the books are aged and yellow and they smell amazing, and any proper bookworm will understand the charm of being in a room full of hundreds of stories, and wondering how many people must have leafed through the same books before you since decades ago. There’s a big selection inside, though the interior is rather drab and finding something you have in mind might be a feat. We suggest you borrow your books and you head out to the study hall or the park for a better reading space.