Ishvari Corea : Librarian par excellence | Sunday Observer

Ishvari Corea : Librarian par excellence

Passing away of Ishvari Corea, widely respected and iconic former Chief Librarian of Colombo Public Library and a distinguished professional librarian of Sri Lanka is a very sad event not only for her family and relatives, but also for friends, admirers and specially for librarians in the country.

In addition to being the Chief Librarian of Colombo Public Library from 1961 to 1988, she also functioned as the Chairperson of the National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB) from 1989 to 1994 and as the President of the Sri Lanka Library Association from 1967 to 1968. She also served as a visiting lecturer of the Department of Library and Information Studies, Kelaniya University.

She was born on June 4, 1925 as the fourth child of a family of five children of Don Bernard Wijesinghe Kannanagara and Beatrice Wijewardana Jayasekara, an eminent family in Bandaragama. On completion of her early education at the primary school of Bandaragama, she joined Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo. After an eventful school career where she had to spend many years in Bandarawela during the second world war, she passed the university entrance examination in 1945 and entered the University of Ceylon and graduated in 1949 with a special degree in Sinhala.

After a short stint of teaching at Visakha Vidyalaya, she joined Colombo Public Library as the Deputy Librarian in 1950 and commenced her long and distinguished career in librarianship under late S. C. Blok, another giant of the Sri Lankan library field. In 1959, Mrs Corea entered the University of London for her postgraduate studies in librarianship and completed it in 1960. She was appointed Chief Librarian of Colombo Public Library in 1961, where she served for 27 years. Under her stewardship, Colombo Public Library expanded and modernised its services as a true metropolitan library. Setting up a network of branch libraries scattered throughout the city, vibrant mobile library service, book box services for underprivileged areas, increasing membership of the library, the construction of a new, modern library building in the heart of Colombo, adjoining the Vihara Maha Devi Park are some of her achievements.

Mrs Corea closely associated with the Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA), the professional forum of Sri Lankan librarians from its inception in 1960. She, in the company of other veteran librarians of the era, such as S. C. Blok, T. G. Piyadasa, Manel Silva, K. D. Somadasa, Margaret Goonaratne, W. B. Dorakumbura, Clodagh Nehsinghe, S. Rubasingham and S. M. Kamaldeen helped establish the new association on a firm foundation in its first decade. She held many positions in the SLLA, including that of the President.

She was married to late Dr C. V. S. Corea, ‘the father of Homeopathy in Sri Lanka’. Her beautiful residence at Gregory’s Road with a sprawling garden was the centre for many happy gatherings for her relatives and friends.

After her retirement from Colombo Public Library, she was appointed Chairperson of NLDSB in 1989. By that time, the building of the new National Library at Independence Avenue was completed, and as the first task, she inaugurated the National Library of Sri Lanka in 1990. Organising the new National Library was a huge challenge at the time as books and other library resources, library furniture and equipment had to be procured and organised within a short time. A new cadre of staff and the necessary funds had to be obtained from the Treasury.

We spent many hours explaining the role of the National Library to the higher officials and her charm and reputation won many hard battles for the national library. She was the only professional librarian who headed the NLDSB during its almost 50 year existence and the results were remarkable.

Establishing different services of the new National Library, recruiting and training the new cadre for the library, opening the new institution to the public, formulation of the present NLDSB Act, commencing library automation, improving the National Bibliography and Bibliographic Services, initiating the Retrospective National Bibliography (1737-1962), collecting rare books, launching documentation services, formulating Library Standards for the public, school and other library services, expanding library education and training services, compilation of Authority Files of Sri Lankan authors, establishing a close rapport with the country’s research and academic community, publication programs and maintaining close ties with UNESCO, IFLA and other international and regional forums are some of the landmark achievements during this period.

Due to her long association with the Colombo Municipal Council, she had a close affinity with many leading politicians of all parties at the time which helped the NLDSB and the library and information field in many ways.

Mrs Corea has a number of publications to her credit, including A Manual for Public Libraries in Sri Lanka, Libraries and People and Glimpses of Colombo along with a range of professional articles.

As a devout Buddhist, she engaged in many religious activities and had links with leading temples in the country. During the past six years, she lived with her nephew Indrajith Wickramasinghe and his wife Swinitha who cared for her lovingly making her final years comfortable and pleasant.

May she attain Nibbana!

Upali Amarasiri

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