Sardar Kirpal Singh Rai Bahadar and Sardar Sujan Singh Rai Bhadar founded a trust known as “Lansdowne Trust” in Rawalpindi Cantonment in 1891 with an aim to create entertainment and instruction for the general public.
Lansdowne comprised a cinema building, known as Odeon Cinema, with ancillary apartments and a public library.
The management of the library at the time included the general officer commanding of the district, commissioner Rawalpindi division, deputy commissioner Rawalpindi district and the cantonment magistrate.
Later, the management committee transferred the trust to the then cantonment committee in the 1897 and since then, the trust is being managed by the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB).
After partition, the present building continued to be occupied by the British Council Library for some years, which has since been shifted to the capital. The shifting of the library from Rawalpindi to Islamabad caused a great setback to the public of cantonment area in general and students in particular. RCB had a miniature library on the upper floor of cantonment market, which was then moved into the present building.
The librarian, Amjad Mehboob, told The Express Tribune that in July 1980, then president General Muhammad Ziaul Haq visited the library and directed the building’s renovation and stocking with adequate publications. The new set up of the library was inaugurated by him on March 24, 1986.
Mehboob said at present, there were 715 general members of the library, 133 from the Asia Foundation, 52 from colleges and universities, 61 students up to matriculation level and 378 women. Mehboob said there were 23,929 books in English, 16,344 in Urdu and 5,733 magazines. He said the total number of books, including magazines, was 46,006.
One section each has been specified for weekly Urdu and English magazines, Mehboob said, adding that there was also one section for daily English and Urdu newspapers.
He said the library charge Rs800 as security fees and Rs400 as annual fee from the members. “Two books are issued at a time,” Mehboob informed.
It’s not how it used to be
Mehboob lamented that very few people visit the library nowadays. He said people had lost interest in reading books. “Books are a man’s best friend,” he said, adding that a robust reading habit was a must among people of any nation if they wanted to progress.
The use of mobile phones and internet had increased in the country, and led people to stop consulting books, he opined.
He said only some medical students visited the library and brought their medical books with them. The librarian said they did not have enough funds to buy new books and very few institutions made donations to the library.
He said only the Asian Foundation and Punjab Library Foundation donate books to them but even those foundations had stopped doing so for sometime.
Mehboob said readers often complained that recently-published books on various subjects were not available in the library.
He said they were right as mostly old books were available and people wanted to consult new books on various subjects.
He said the library had been a victim of apathy, however, the Cantonment Executive Officer Faheem Zafar was now taking interest in the affairs of the library and had promised to address all their problems. He informed that a generator has recently been provided to the library to address the problem of electricity outages.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2014.
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