Libraries, books and growing up

Growing up in Lahore and books
Lahore, Oct 23: It is true that children today have more options for entertainment as well as information. Internet, television and mobile phone-based applications have become an important source. But where information and entertainment have become more accessible, the same cannot be said about knowledge

The 1970s and 80s were an eventful period to grow up in Lahore. But then, for Pakistan, all periods in our short history have been eventful. We saw the rise and fall of Bhutto, and then the very long rule of Ziaul Haq. These were the years of my schooling and early college. And these years, especially the Zia years, have deeply shaped not only our institutions but the thinking and outlook of our entire generation: something that Zia will have to answer for one day I hope.

But growing up in Lahore over the 70s had some wonderful aspects as well. We had such amazing access to books at that time that I sometimes feel that the real deprivation of children growing up now has to do with this aspect alone. Or more specifically, this aspect alone makes for much poorer growing up experience for most children even in urban areas, and even in middle and/or upper classes.

We were not rich. My father, a government employee working in the telephone and telegraph department, just had a government salary and a government accommodation to do with. We were, I guess, in the middle class of that time. My father would take us around the city on his motorbike, or we would use public transport in the form of government-run buses and/or rickshaws. Occasionally we would do car-pooling with relatives who had a car. We did not get a car till the middle of the 1970s. And even then the use of the car remained moderate for a long time: it was mostly used for going to and from school, and/or visiting relatives. We did the rest of the stuff mostly on our own and mostly using public transport.

But still, we were able to have tremendous access to books. The Punjab Public Library, located next to Tollinton Market, was a very rich source of Urdu books and older books in English. Their acquisitions of new English books had started to taper off by then, but they had a lovely collection of older books in English; a wonderful collection of British philosophy even! Then there was the British Council library. They had a good collection of latest books coming from the UK. We got all kinds of trash too, as the selection criteria were weak, but the collection was large enough to allow for judicious picking. And the Council screened many good movies as well. Nearby we also had the American Centre. They also offered the same sort of options, though of American literature. I never went to the Goethe Institute or the Alliance Française during the period and do not know if they were around at the time, but in later years I sometimes benefited from activities at these places too. GCU library was also good, and I benefited from it in the days I was a student there, and I even got a chance to borrow books from the Punjab University Library, though I was never a student there, but had friends who could borrow books and lend them to me.

And then there was the private sector. Urdu Bazaar was a very rich source of Urdu as well as locally published English books. Feroze Sons was (still is) a major source. And books were not too expensive then. But even more importantly, there were plenty of smaller private libraries as well as secondhand bookshops where you could 'rent' books from; just like people rent movies now or did till DVDs became a cheap source of movies. Renting books was extremely cheap and convenient and though most of these collections were of fiction, there was good fiction in it. While some of the better secondhand bookshops got good non-fiction also, and at reasonable rates. I still have almost all of the books I bought over that period.

But I guess the urban growth and prosperity of the 1980s and the concurrent increasing hedonism and materialism of the 1980s and shifting priorities of the population took care of many of these outlets. British and American Centres reduced access and activities due to terror threats and so on. We allowed the Punjab Public Library to go into decline, while the Quaid-e-Azam library came up only as a non-lending library. University/college libraries have also been neglected. And the shifting priorities of the public have taken care of the smaller corner libraries and many bookshops even. A friend, who owns a bookshop in a very up-scale part of town tells me that he makes more money out of greeting cards, stationary and CD/DVD sales than from books. "Books have much lower turnover and they take more shelf space as well!" The logic of the market is winning and the sovereign consumer, with his/her tastes shifting away from reading, is taking care of bookshops, but with a negative externality for those who still want to read, and very negative consequences for those who are growing up now.

It is true that children today have more options for entertainment as well as information. Internet, television and mobile phone-based applications have become an important source. But where information and entertainment have become more accessible, the same cannot be said about knowledge or cannot be said about knowledge with at least as much confidence. But this is a longer discussion which we will have another day. The fact remains that children today have less access to books and do not have an environment that gives better access to books. We have not taken care to preserve what we had and we have not worked on creating a new environment that is as interesting and/or educational or even better, given that we have the technology to do things 'better' now. I might be an old fogey, and a conservative, but I do think the environment of children growing up today, from an educational perspective, is that much poorer today due to the poorer access to books, poorer environment for books and libraries, and less respect for books and learning. These are not the only reasons for a poorer environment, but it is a big part of it, and we are seeing some of the consequences of the poorer environment already.

Looking to the past is a popular past-time for older people. But not every look to the past and not every thing related to the past is necessarily outdated. Change is necessary and the essence of existence, but a conscious approach to change that makes the future better rather than just different is the objective of 'progress'. Written in this spirit I hope we will be able to start a discussion on the need for books and libraries.

Dr Faisal Bari - The writer is an Associate Professor of Economics at LUMS (currently on leave) and a Senior Advisor at Open Society Foundation (OSF). He can be reached at Daily times

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Call to appoint serving PhD professor as VC
Peshawar: The Engineering University Teachers Association (EUTA) on Friday demanded of the government that a serving PhD professor should be appointed as the vice-chancellor of the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) with immediate effect.

According to a statement issued here, the demand was made through a unanimously adopted resolution during the general body meeting of the EUTA, held on Thursday night with its president Professor Sadeeq Akbar in the chair. A large number of teachers and office bearers of EUTA attended the meeting.

Through another resolution, it also opposed the reappointment of retired employees and said that the workers attaining the age of 60 years should be sent home.

The meeting said that the word 'university' should only be used in the statements issued by the UET administration if it was reflection of the majority of the university officers i.e. the chairmen and the dean.

The case of five faculty members awaiting their appointment as professor should be immediately decided, as all the requirements suggested by the syndicate in its earlier decision had been met, the statement said.

Scholarships of the scholars studying abroad should not be cut as it would create hardships for the students and they would not be able to keep their focus on education and research, it demanded.

The house was unanimous in its condemnation of the two items placed on the agenda of the forthcoming meeting of the syndicate and was of the opinion that these were offshoots of a dictatorial mind and remnants of martial law regime.

The first item opposed by the body was about the implementation of directives of the chancellor by the syndicate regarding curtailed funding and financial constraints being faced by the public sector universities.

It also opposed the second item placed on the agenda for the coming syndicate meeting that was regarding early retirement of employees at will, using the precedence of draconian laws like RSO 2000 that stands annulled by the president of Pakistan. This is to be done without following proper inquiry procedures and compromising the principle of natural justice and the laws in vogue. Dawn

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Only 2 teachers for 350 girls in Miramshah College
Miramshah: The future of students at the Government Degree College for Girls Miramshah is at stake as there are only two teachers for 350 students.

Official sources said that 18 posts of lecturer of various subjects had been lying vacant for the past several months.

The girls braving unfavourable circumstances have been continuing their studies but their precious time is being wasted due to negligence of officials at the Fata Secretariat.

Most of the classes at the college go unattended due to lack of teachers. Parents of the students approached local journalists and took them to the college where the girls lodged protest against the Education Department. They said that number of the students at the college was earlier very high but it had been reduced to 350 due to lack of teachers.

The parents who were resourceful had shifted their daughters to Bannu, Kohat and Peshawar and admitted them in colleges there.

Teachers at the college praised the students for their talent and interest in education. However, they said the students were suffering due to lack of teaching staff for a number of subjects at North Waziristan's lone girls' college.

Official sources said the Education Department at the Governor's Fata Secretariat had recruited female lecturers for the college on ad hoc basis and their contract expired in June last. Also, they said majority of the teachers quit jobs after the Fata Education Department reportedly failed to pay them their six-month salaries.

Tribal elders and parents of the students complained that the government, particularly the Fata Secretariat, had been receiving huge funds from all over the world for promotion of education in the underdeveloped tribal areas but no real steps were being taken for this purpose.

North Waziristan is perhaps the only one out of the seven tribal agencies where all educational institutions including the lone girls' college are still functioning as tribal militants never created any hindrance in the promotion of education in the area.

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Concern voiced over closure of Razmak college
Peshawar: The Razmians Welfare Society has expressed concern over closure of the Cadet College Razmak and asked the authorities to ensure its early re-opening.

The concern was voiced at a meeting of the body presided over by former principal Brigadier (R) Bashir Hussain.

A number of ex-students of the college attended the meeting. Most of them are serving on key positions in the police, army and bureaucracy.

All the participants and speakers were concerned at the precarious law and order situation.

They said Pakistan People's Party government had neglected the institution that was gifted to the tribal people by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and was the only reputed academic institution in Fata.

Vice-Principal Javed Alam explained the problem and the dislocation of the students due to the military operation in Waziristan.

He said the college had been serving the nation since 1978 as around 450 doctors and as many army officers and a large number of engineers, civil services officers and politicians had studied at the Cadet College Razmak.

The participants said the administration had rented some buildings in Peshawar where classrooms were also being used as bedrooms.

Sohail Habib Tajik, a senior member of Razmian Welfare Society, said that Cadet College Razmak was the only success story of Fata.

He said instead of increasing the number of cadet colleges in Fata the one in Razmak had been closed down.

Brig (R) Bashir Hussain said the college had been serving Fata for the last three decades. He said army had been accommodated in the college building and it was time the troops were given an alternate place.

MNA from North Waziristan Kamran Khan said the people wanted re-opening of the college and basic facilities to the students.

Dr Meraj Wazir, Lieutenant Nizam, Kashif Bangash, Jabir Hussain, Saqib, Rohail, Samiullah Jan and Minhaj Ali Turi attended the meeting.

MNA Kamran Khan and Brig (R) Bashir Hussain promised to take up the matter with the army and government officials. The news

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Bombs damage Bara college
Landi Kotal: Unidentified militants blew up a government degree college in Bara late on Friday evening, sources said.

They said a group of militants riding in several vehicles came to Kohi college in Malikdin Khel area and planted explosive devices in different parts of the college building after overpowering its watchmen.

Area residents said that they heard a huge explosion soon after night prayers. Security forces immediately cordoned off the area and started indiscriminate firing in all directions. The damage to the college building could not be immediately known as security forces were not allowing anybody to go near the building.

Sources said that security forces also pounded suspect militant positions in Malikdin Khel area with heavy artillery shelling.

Militants had earlier destroyed twenty six educational institutions in Bara during the last four months. Ironically nobody has so far taken responsibility of any of these incidents. Dawn

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