Karachi's libraries: a squandered inheritance

Karachi, June(Daily Times): Without reading books, the new generation is treading an impoverished and unenlightened path. The need to read has almost entirely disappeared with the electronic media and Internet being widely used. There are several large and richly stocked libraries in the city, but hardly any who know of them or are willing to visit.

Among the city's largest libraries are the Karachi Theosophical Library, Liaquat Memorial Library, Khaliq Dinnah Hall, Ghalib Library and Tehmuriah Library. All of them hold a large, international collection of books.

The Theosophical library is one of the oldest librairies in Karachi and dates back to before partition. It holds 14,000 books, most of which are from abroad. It has 1000 members, of which 250 are regular visitors. The library was built in 1815, and most books are from abroad. The American Consulate gifted an additional 300 books to the library.

"The rare collection of books found in this library cannot be found in any other," said Assitant Librarian Syed Musarrat Ali. She also said that the number of visitors have decreased by 60 percent. After computers became common, most library environments have suffered. "The knowledge one gets by using the Internet cannot compare with what a library environment has to offer. The computer only gives the page one searches for, and the knowledge one gets is limited," she said. "With the advent of private TV channels and cyber cafés, the number of people who came to the library to read newspapers to read newspapers has dropped by 82-85 percent," she said.

Liaquat Memorial library is a large library that holds about 40,000 books. Here too, the atmosphere is deserted and books collect dust on the shelves.

In Khaliq-Dinnah Hall library there are over 30,000 books. Attendance statistics for the library are not available, but the amount on dust on the books is telling. As hardly anyone visits, the staff go home before their shift finishes and no one is present to wind-up tables scattered with newspapers at the end of the day.

Ghalib library in Nazimabad has over 37,000 books. The librarian Najia said that she has worked there for three years. When she took her job, there was a substantial number of visitors. However, the number has diminished to ten percent of what it was three years ago.

There is a rich collection of literature books, including several reference books used by M.A students. Naseem Ahmed has been working at Ghalib Library since 1973. "The founders of the library are Mirza Zafarul Hasan and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It was Mirza Zafarul Hasan's dying wish that I never leave the library," she said. "Pakistan's renowned writers always visit this library. When I joined in 1973 the library seemed to be short of space. But now, hardly 4 or 5 people come to all day," she said.

Tehmuriah Library in Nazimabad is popular with college students who come to study and use reference books. There is also a medical research centre upstairs. There are over 20,000 books in the library including poetry, literature and text books.

Frequent library visitors include Babul Lal, an avid reader who is a cook at a local hotel. He says that going to read at the library daily has been part of his routine for the last 15 years. "Reading books increases one's general knowledge. Although information can be found on a computer, not everyone knows how to use one," he pointed out. "Computers do not create an environment for discussion. In the library environment one can engage with other readers. Here, one gets lost in words," he said

Anjum, from Buffer Zone, has been visiting Ghalib Library to study for the last 10 years. "I don't have a computer. And anyway, one needs electricity to use a computer. Books can be a person's best friends," she said.

Nauzat, a BCom final student said that she just became a member of a library. "Before, I used to use the Internet. But I really enjoy the library environment. It truly is a place where one can learn," she said.

"Computers and TV channels encourage students to waste their time watching movies, chatting, and surfing the web. People should begin to look to libraries as places where they can spend their free time. However, the role of electronic media in libraries cannot be ignored," said the library management staff said Sunday.



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