To promote reading culture, the PML-N had promised in its 2013 manifesto to develop libraries at national, provincial and district level, equipped with modern reference tools.
The trend of having public library has diminished in Pakistan because of lack of interest of people in reading and the declining rate of literacy in the country. Public libraries provide an opportunity to readers to acquire knowledge without any barriers of class, religion or qualifications. “In a society which is becoming increasingly fragmented on the basis of ethnicity and religion, public libraries are one of the few remaining places where one can engage with differing beliefs,” a senior librarian from Karachi told Truth Tracker.
There is a general belief that libraries have been abandoned by our governments.
Muhammad Naveed, the senior librarian at Forman Christian College Resource Centre, said “Libraries act as the memory bank for our culture and history. These valuable ideas need to be honoured and preserved as they are part of our identity as a civilisation.”
There are only 478,613 books and 117,448 members in six public libraries of the provincial capital city with a meagre attendance of readers – 2500 to 3000 daily. This data was revealed by The Educationist investigative report two years back. The six public libraries are Quaid-e-Azam Public Library, Government Model Town Public Library, Dayal Singh Trust Library, Punjab Public Library, Defence Public Library Complex and Chugatai Public Library. Only 40 professionals are working in these libraries many posts are lying vacant.
Experts on Library Sciences are of the opinion that there exists ambiguity about the regulations of libraries in the country. Unfortunately, there is no law in Pakistan for libraries, while on the other hand; India made a law in 1948.
There were a total 1233 libraries in Punjab including 172 public libraries, 685 colleges, 26 Public sector universities and 350 school libraries across the province. According to media reports, several times demands were made to the government to appoint librarians on a large number of vacant positions, but to no avail. Dr Soroya, the Former Secretary of Pakistan Library Association, told Truth Tracker that at one point Education Minister Rana Mashood issued a directive in a meeting with regards to the condition of libraries in the province.
Other PLA sources told Truth Tracker that the state of public libraries in Punjab was in bad condition and there was no interest in any quarter to take notice of the deteriorated condition of book banks. Another source revealed that 300 college and 250 school libraries were running without librarians.
However, Punjab Libraries DG Dr Zaheer Baber said out of total 1033 number of libraries in the province, 550 were in colleges, 155 in universities, 171 local government and 160 municipality libraries. Baber was not satisfied with the budgetary allocations for the libraries.
Personal development comes with exposure and book reading plays an integral role in grooming one’s outlook on life. Original knowledge comes from book reading. Even for the understanding of a fundamental religious rite, one has to make an effort to read and comprehend. The infrastructure of libraries had been neglected, and no new addition had been done worth the name. Normally, the procedure is to build libraries according to the need of people. This need is assessed through an increase in population and the reading trends prevalent in society. What we see is neglect of both these areas. A country with a literacy rate low to the point of concern, reading culture is difficult to thrive.
Many librarians told Truth Tracker that buildings of most of the public libraries demand repair and renovation. Moreover, it is required to hire a professional staff if we want to revive book reading habits among masses, as an increase in the number of libraries. New books, accommodation staff and campaigns are mandatory to promote quality education within the country.
In countries with high literacy rate has book reading as its essential national character. Public libraries are also waiting for the “National Action Plan” on education.
Musaddaq Malik, spokesperson PML-N said that the government has been doing its best to invest as much as it could in lifting the literacy rate in Pakistan. He also expressed his desire that the culture of reading should be improved and more libraries should be built. However, a general negligence was observed regarding government commitment to fulfil its promise of building new libraries.
Fawad Chaudhry, leader Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, who is a lawyer, said that he had not heard that the government has taken any extraordinary step in enhancing the education level of Pakistan. A significant portion of the funds reserved for education had been invested in other developmental activities such as the Orange Train.
Syed Jalaluddin Haider, Ex-Chairman of the Department of Library and Information Science at the University of Karachi, said:
“There is no organized public library system. The existing public libraries, mostly subscription libraries, are under the charge of municipal and local bodies. The majority of these libraries occupy temporary buildings, and their holdings are mainly fiction and out-of-date books on history and Islam. Few libraries are properly staffed and are often without a qualified librarian. The services of these libraries are limited, and their main sources of funds are regular grants from municipal body’s annual budget and subscriptions charged to the public. This grim picture of public libraries is also attributed to the absence of any legislation for libraries.”
The government had been unable to fulfil its promise of increasing number of libraries across the country and thus promoting a reading culture among people.