KARACHI: Bibliophiles in Karachi can rejoice as the British Council will reopen its library, containing over 10,000 books, sometime next month. Be it fiction or non-fiction, horror, romance, sci-fi, young adult literature or children's books, the library, located at the British Council on Sharae Iran in Clifton, has it all.
"We are opening the library doors after a gap of 15 years here in Karachi as well as in Lahore," explained Rabeea Arif, manager of libraries and outreach services at the British Council, while taking The Express Tribune on a library tour.
First British Council digital library launched in Lahore
"Back in the day, the building was designed by architect Habib Fida Ali as a visa facility but as of today we have given it a modern touch and hired the services of Icon Architects to re-purpose it to a modern level," she said.
The combination of state-of-the-art facilities and a conventional Pakistani library has resulted in a modern, classic building that creates a fresh appeal for readers in the city. However, the library will not function like its conventional counterparts.
"We are not a conventional library, it will be a safe place where you will have your space to have a dialogue," explained Arif. "It's a place you can grab a cup a coffee from Neco's Café situated within the premises and flip through the pages of your favourite book."
The library houses the Ismat Chugtai Auditorium, which has the capacity of seating 100 people. The floor of the library has a capacity for 150 people, with collapsible walls and a collapsible stage that give way to create even more space. The courtyard outside the library can hold 80 people at a time and will be a promotional space for musical events, book reading sessions and poetry renditions.
British Council library in Peshawar
The technologically advanced library will be entirely self-service; readers order their books and return them themselves via the digi-counters. However, there will be librarians on hand to guide people through the process. Members can check-out five books at a time for a maximum of three weeks.
The library also houses four meeting rooms, where 20 people can gather for group-based discussions. The rooms are named after famous personalities such as poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, artist Sadequain and writers Roald Dahl and the Brontë sisters.
A separate section has been created for young reading enthusiasts. "Children's events will be held regularly, from drawing sessions to reading sessions," said Arif.
Keeping in mind the digital age, a digital table has been placed inside the library to offer a glimpse into the world of e-books and offer access to thousands of e-journals on a wide range of topics.
There are three kinds of packages for people hoping to become members of the library; Rs500 per month for an individual, Rs3,500 for a digital membership and Rs15,000 for a family of six, which comprises two adults and four children.
The library will remain closed on Mondays but will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 10am till 8pm.
"The need for the British Council's first library was felt in the early 1930s when fascism was spearheading its routes in Europe. Hence the first library was opened in Europe," explained Aziz Sohail, manager of libraries and outreach services at the British Council, Karachi.
In the Pakistani context, the first library in Karachi was opened up in the Sarnagati building on Pakistan Chowk, which was later moved to Bleak House in Saddar. This was the former location of the British Council. The British Council Library closed its operations at Bleak House after the 9/11 attacks, with a promise to re-open its gates now after a gap of almost 15 years.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2016.
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