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Karachi's public libraries

Karachi, July : "WHY is there not a Majesty's library in every county town? There is a Majesty's jail and gallows in every one," wrote Thomas Carlyle. My question is: why is there not a public library in every union council? There is a garbage dump in every one. The local government has installed huge garbage dumps at a large number of places across the city. One such dump can be seen from miles and can be smelled as well right in front of the Urdu Dictionary Board's office, courtesy the nazim of Gulshan-i-Iqbal Town.

Somehow I feel that the more libraries you have, the fewer jails and gallows you will need. It's an oft-repeated lament that a megacity like Karachi does not have enough libraries and, with skyrocketing prices of books, the public simply doesn't know where to go to find a book on a subject that interests them. Baffled especially are those who don't have an access to the internet or need some information that is not available online.

Yet there are others (like this writer) who are simply technology-shy. For them, the good old way of reading a book - a process that involves holding a book in your hands rather than staring at a computer screen -- is so easy that they are pathologically averse to becoming acquainted with modern technology. Some modern Rip Van Winkles seek refuge from overbearing wives in the broadsheets of a newspaper and that too in the peaceful atmosphere of a public library. But where are the libraries?

Though not on a scale one would have desired, Karachi does have a good number of libraries. Many Karachiites simply don't know where the libraries are. When Mohammad Yousuf Naeem, a young researcher and author, set out to do some spadework for his book he was planning to write, he was at his wits' end as to where to turn to for books because he knew nothing about Karachi's public libraries.

Finally, he did find a library and many other good ones but the hardship he faced in locating them made him think about other booklovers. "Why not write a book that would guide the booklovers to Karachi's public libraries?" he wondered and started collecting data for the book `Karachi Ke Awami Kutub Khane: Aik Taaruf'.

The book is an introduction to the public libraries of the concrete jungle otherwise known as Karachi. The slim volume gives brief but very useful information, stating the location of the libraries, their phone numbers, number of books and even the route numbers of buses and mini-buses that take you there.

The book catalogues some 60 libraries. The number is obviously smaller than expected and many libraries have not been mentioned. The author admits that there are many more and told me, a couple of months back, that he was working on the second, updated and revised edition as the first edition, published only in January 2007, was running low on stocks.

The otherwise good book contains some minor calligraphic errors and at times the language is coarse. Since the book is published by the author, he can always insert a thing or two. Some of the entries need more elaboration.

Some information that seems too good to be true needs double-check: the number of books, for instance, at Karachi University's Dr Mahmood Husain library has been put at 600,000. That makes it Pakistan's largest library, which it is not.And it would be nice to put in the book that there is a library at Karachi's central prison. The poor fellow Carlyle would be pleased to know that gallows and books go together now.

By Dr Rauf Parekh

Your Comments

"I agree. Everywhere in the WEST you go, library is a major part of the city. Not only does it keeps kids off the streets, it provides a good place for them to study queitly for exams especially in a country like Pakistan where most people live in joined families and have no quiet place at home."
Name: Student
City, Country: Karachi, Pakistan
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