Raring to read: a case for Karachi libraries

Karachi, July 12: AN extensive three-storey building on University Road in Gulshan-i-Iqbal's Block 10 makes a mockery of those who ought to help promote education in the city. Originally built as a library for women, its status has changed with the change in city administration.

On June 10, 2006, the current city council, in a session presided over by Naib Nazim Nasreen Jalil, passed a resolution to roll back the library project, which was approved by the earlier city council headed by the then naib nazim Tariq Hassan. Since the library was meant exclusively for women, the incumbent council may have thought it an obscurantist notion; or the building's status may have been changed to deprive the earlier city government of credit it deserved. Whatever the case, the new council announced that the library would be replaced by a hospital, which, they argued, was more urgently needed. However, those who opposed the change in the project's status pointed out that the locality has many other locations where hospitals can be built, and alleged that the decision was prompted by malice against the earlier city government, not a commitment to health care needs. Regardless of these arguments, the unique project of a women's library has now been abandoned.

The land on which the building stands was allotted for a library years ago by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's Dr Farooq Sattar, when he was the mayor of Karachi. It remained undeveloped for the next few years, until women councillors volunteered to establish a library and agreed to contribute funds from their own budgetary allocations. The city government headed by Niamatullah Khan allocated Rs40 million in its 2005-06 budget for development before the construction of the library building.

However, the Haq Parast members of the current city council chose to ignore the benefits of the library project.

Indeed, the city desperately needs hospitals. However, future generations would-be doctors, engineers and other professionals need libraries and reading rooms as well. These should not only be equipped with the latest reading material, but should also have all the latest facilities which will lure young people in and keep them interested. Increasingly, digital libraries are conquering the territories held by traditional libraries.

Public libraries usually do not generate funds and are supported by the government or private institutions. By contrast, hospitals and educational institutions have unfortunately become the most lucrative businesses in the private sector.

The younger generation now has a lot of distractions, including incessant television viewing, cell phones and the Internet which keep the youth away from books. It is time that young people were weaned off such time-killing hobbies, which is a challenge that libraries must meet. They will have to work hard to stay in the business and be equipped with the most modern of facilities.

On paper, there are quite a number of libraries in Karachi: 62 libraries in the city's 18 towns. There are 18 libraries in Lyari alone, the highest number in any one town, while Landhi comes second with 12 libraries. Gulshan-i-Iqbal shares the honour of having one library with Baldia and Shah Faisal towns. However, Site, Keamari, Gadap and Bin Qasim towns have no libraries at all.

Meanwhile, other notable libraries dotted across the city include the historic Ghulam Hussain Khaliq Dinna Hall Library on M.A. Jinnah Road, Frere Hall Library on Abdullah Haroon Road, Ghalib Library in Nazimabad, Liaquat National Memorial Library on Stadium Road, the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs' Library, Dr Mahmood Hussain Library in Karachi University, the National Bank of Pakistan's head-office library and the National Museum Library.

But how many of these are in use? How many no longer receive funding, or lack reading material? Perhaps quite a few of these libraries have little to attract a reasonable number of visitors.

The city's libraries need to be promoted, and even a women's library should have been encouraged in the interests of education. As a young woman who graduated from Karachi University pointed out, "Pakistan is not a Western country; if girls would read at such a place, they should not be deprived of that facility." Another young woman commented that "regardless of enlightened moderation, the majority of women would like to visit a library where women are the administrators."

The fact is that libraries are needed in Karachi, and if the current government objects to a women's library, what is to stop it from setting up a grand library that is not gender segregated? After all, it has billions of rupees at its disposal, of which a large chunk lapses every year without being utilised at all. Just last year, Rs12 billion of the government of Sindh lapsed, while in the year before that, Rs51 billion were lost for the same reason.

So where lies the hitch in setting up modern, digital libraries?. Dawn

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