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Status of Public Libraries in Pakistan

by Abid Hussain

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a public library is “a nonprofit library maintained for public
use and usually supported in whole or in part by local taxation.'' In other words, public libraries are
government institutions and the civic system of the specific state, country or city etc provide funds for
them to run. Public libraries are serving in their respective communities irrespective of the caste, creed
and religion etc, public libraries are different in response to services, resources, location, size and
community they serve. Through independent decision-making and cultural development of individuals
and social groups, the public library provides a prerequisite for lifelong learning which is considered a
prime local gateway to knowledge. Public libraries help a lot in the promotion of an educational society
while providing information to all ages residing in the contemporary society. In education , the public
library supports both types of education whether formal or non-formal, and that too at all levels. In
information, the public library is playing a pivotal role by providing them with the latest and updated
information , making these resources readily available to the users of all ages. In personal development,
public libraries provide opportunities for personal creative development. For children and the youth in
general, the role of public libraries can never be denied. It promotes reading habits in children and
youth from an early age. Hence, given that this is freedom of information age , the services in public
libraries should not be subject to ideological, political or religious censorship nor commercial
pressures.

Service provision in Public Libraries

Both within the library and in the community, the public library provides a range of services in order to
satisfy the needs of users. The prime aim of the public library is to support the general users by
inculcating a reading culture. In this regard, it is important that the library should facilitate access to its
services for all who have difficulty in reading. The library will also provide books and other media for
reading in the library. Similarly, information available in printed and electronic format may also be
provided to the general readers. Users education such as literacy programme, lifelong learning, leisure
time interests, community activities, cultural activities, recreation readings etc are the basic services of
public libraries. Access to information at all levels, in cooperation with other organization by collecting
material on the local community and making them readily accessible is also the duty of public libraries.
Training of people of all ages in the use of information and associated technology. Providing services to
the disabled community, children and women of all ages are also included in public library services.
The public library is a gate to the information world by making it accessible to all. In short, we may say
that a public library is helping to bridge the gap between‘ the information rich’ and ‘the information
poor’.
Status of Public Libraries in Pakistan

The British colonial ruler established few public libraries in their realm but access was limited to the
literary class and educated elite. The deprivation of the general masses from the public libraries in
those times had a cascading effect in that, it created a huge gap between the poorer and richer classes
in Pakistan. After the independence of Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan inherited only two libraries in its part
names, Punjab University Library and the Punjab Public Library. Both libraries are situated in Lahore
presently. According to a web report currently, there are 77 Public Libraries in different cities of
Pakistan. But, the drastic situation and lack of poor attention from the government means that the
condition of present public libraries in Pakistan is mournful. Although some initiatives have already
been taken, still the situation is worsening and needs proper attention from government to uplift the
library culture for the general masses of the community.

Problems being faced by the Public Libraries in Pakistan


Availability of funds, poor building, lack of furniture, shelves, no professional staff, lack of IT
Technology, Legislation of the library, outdated material, non-availability of electricity and much more.

What the government should do

 The civil authority does not give much importance to the public libraries, the government
should take a serious notice against the corrupt mafia who use library finance illegally.
 Professional staff inside the library plays an important role without such staff, to run a public
library is not an easy feat. The government should hire professional librarians for this job.
 The current non-professional staff don’t know how to run the library affairs, to handle such
situation qualified librarians may be hired to use them in the right direction.
 The 21st-century libraries are based on proper ICT. Without proper IT tools and internet
facilities how we can run big libraries. The government should provide ICT facilities in public
libraries to update the general public.
 Sufficient funds may be provided for the procurement of fresh books and other relevant
material.
 Lack of Infrastructure such as shelves, reading tables, chairs, IT equipment may kindly be
replaced with a new one.
 The old building may be renovated and proper maintenance may kindly be refurbished.
 The congenial atmosphere may be provided in summer and winter seasons.
 Old and outdated material may be removed and converted to the modern syllabus.
 Marketing plan such as the location of library buildings, resources and services may be
announced properly on websites of public libraries.
 Legislation for staff, funds and services may be made necessary
 The website for all public libraries may be launched in order to update the general public that
what the specific library has on the different subject.
 In a society like Pakistan, a separate corner for female visitors may also be created and updated
accordingly.
 Children section should be established in large libraries and new collections may be added
according to their syllabus.
 The Organizational structure of the public libraries may be made clear and independent.

Public libraries are important for those who are interested in reading but cannot afford to buy expensive
books. The public library is the library where the readers explores the realm of wisdom.
The writer is working as Library officer at Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, A think thank based
on Islamabad. He can be reached at abidhussain@issi.org.pk