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Libraries in a mess

Libraries in a mess

Private libraries like Kitaab Ghar can be a true game changer

Lahore, the​cultural capital of Pakistan and famous for its modern infrastructure, has only five public libraries for a population of 10 million people . These public libraries are barely funded by the government and there is no maintaintenance of their record. All these libraries were built before the partition of the Indian subcontinent.

Out of all these famous libraries, the most widely known of all, Quaid-e-Azam Library is located in Lawrence Garden which is also known as “Bagh-e-Jinnah ”. It is quite a difficult task to visit this place. Students are usually asked for their graduate degree at the entrance and those who fail to show the proof are stopped from entering. This library is usually occupied by the aspirants of Central Superior Service (CSS) exams who come here to study in peace. As such the books available in the library are not used because the students come here with their own material.

Though there is nothing wrong with a library being used by CSS aspirants as their study space a public place run by the money of the taxpayer must be open for every segment of the society. Everyone should be able to access the internet, books and other facility without any hindrance.

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The Punjab Public Library which is located on Mall Road is the second most famous library of the city. The major part of its building is based on a historical castle-like structure that was constructed in the reign of Shah Jahan, dating back to the Mughal Rule. Every nook and corner of the building presents the art of the Mughal era but lacks government interest in terms of maintaining this historic edifice. This place also has the potential of becoming a tourist destination, if looked after properly. The exquisite collection of exceptional books written by the authors of the Indian sub-continent and the Europe add richness and attracts people, who are addicted to reading books.

“This Library was established in 1884, and its founder was Sir Lord Aitchison, who had donated books from his personal collection,” informed the librarian Asif Waheed. Though the library contains a historic collection of archive newspapers, magazines and books, meager resources and low maintenance of the library, the environment remains non-conducive to study. There is a need of digitising the valuable treasury of historic archives which could be lost in case of any outburst of a natural calamity or fire. The public is not allowed to visit the hall where books are placed because of the historical importance of the books and the fear of being stolen. This library is also used by the aspirants of CSS examinations and young people who sit in the evening for group study.

Dyal Singh Trust Library which is located in proximity to Punjab Library was also in no different situation. It is located in the old city where there is no system of cleaning the garbage of the locality.

The public library in Defence has a beautiful building. Though according to Google any citizen of the country could access this library, only the residents of the Defence area with proper registration cards are allowed to enter its premises. There is also a gender segregation as men and women cannot sit together in the library. Moreover, no discussion is allowed on religion or politics, likely so to keep the environment peaceful.

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When the facilities provided by the government and its associated institutions fail to cater to the needs of the public, then the private institutes stand up to fill the gap. A young graduate from Yale University, acknowledging the idea, established a library and community service in the locality of Ichara, called Kitaab Ghar. This place seems to fulfil the gap by providing a community with a space where different public welfare programs including those of music, and art exhibitions could be organised.

“When I came back from the US after completion of my graduation, I used to miss a good study place here in Lahore. So I started creating awareness and raising funds for the establishment of a library that meets the standards of global education, modern arts and community spaces. We had imagined building a place where people from different social and economic backgrounds could get together to discuss various topics and spend productive time learning different aspects altogether,” said the Pakistani graduate student of Yale University.

Putting it in a nutshell, in a city where the government has set an exemplary trend of introducing technological advancement, the modernisation of libraries is at stake. There is an urgent need to improve the standards of government libraries in Lahore.

photos: Mohsin Raza/Bol News

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