KARACHI: According to Liaquat Memorial Library Director Bashir Ahmed Abro, there is no official directorate of public libraries in Pakistan.
Abro has many other things in mind that trouble him. “The world over, libraries fall under the education department or the local governments, but I find that the Sindh culture department is more involved in holding fairs and festivals in the province than looking after the libraries of the city!”
The Liaquat National Library, now known as the Liaquat Memorial Library, was established in 1950 with the intention of having a national library in the then capital city of Karachi in the newly-created Pakistan.
However, later, Karachi lost its status as the capital under President Ayub Khan. The change even took away the ‘national’ from the library’s name and replaced it with ‘memorial’. The country’s national library was established in Islamabad, the new capital of the country, instead.
Liaquat Memorial Library is a public library which has 200,000 books within its fold, covering almost 200 subjects. It employs 77 staff members, who work in two shifts, to manage the library.
“Around 25 libraries in Sindh fall under the jurisdiction of the Sindh culture department, of which three are located in Karachi,” Abro told The Express Tribune.
“Liaquat Memorial Library is one such library that is open to the public free of cost and about 1,500 individuals visit it on a daily basis, including about 1,300 young men, 150 women and 50 children,” Abro said, adding that the three public libraries in Karachi include the Benazir Public Library in Sachal Goth and Jinnah Model Library in New Karachi, apart from Liaquat Memorial Library adjacent to the old Pakistan Television station.
Abro has also been able to bring in a Lincoln Corner, a space that focuses on constructive learning of US education, lifestyle and activities, at the library where American literature is easily accessible.
The corner offers a children’s space, newspaper section, meeting room, computer facilities, online material and a collection of books, magazines and DVDs. Besides this, the section often hosts lecture series on various topics and has regular English language classes.
Abro, a graduate of Karachi University’s 1982 batch, holds a Master’s degree in public library science. He has been associated with this library for the past 10 years. He started off as the deputy director of the library for his initial five years and moved on to the post of director for another five years. His tenure will end in August.
Abro often frequented the library as a student when he wanted to study. However, he lamented that today, 99% of the students who come in do not read the books placed in the library, but rather, feed their brain with information from notes that they bring from home.
“For these students, having an environment conducive to reading is more important than the library itself, which offers them insight that can help them grow intellectually and learn,” Abro said.
“The internet hasn’t reduced a European man’s reading habits. He is reading on the subway, in a café or anywhere else, but here in Pakistan, reading habits have been greatly affected by the practice of rote-learning. No creative thinking can be moulded on that same panel,” he said.
“In August, I will be retiring from this position and fear a bureaucrat will come [on this post] and create havoc. There really is no professional staff capable of taking the lead here,” Abro lamented.
On a more positive note, Abro shared he plans to bring Turkish reading material into the library stock. “I will be giving some space to Turkish books within the library premises. The Turkish library will also add much significance to our library. This will be happening in the near future,” he said.