Neglected public libraries worrying sign of society’s ills: speakers

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In a public library you will find Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Akbar Allahbadi, Marx, Manto and Rabindranath Tagore next to one another. All of their wisdom has been preserved and is waiting to be discovered, said Khawaja Mustafa, President of Pakistan Library Association (PLA), Sindh chapter, and Head Librarian, Faculty of Health Sciences Library, Aga Khan University.
Mustafa was addressing a seminar entitled “Public Libraries in Sindh: Importance, Current Status and Challenges” at the Aga Khan University on Saturday which was attended by leading figures from Sindh's public libraries, representatives from NGOs and Sindh government officials. The seminar was jointly organised by the Aga Khan University and the Goethe Institute.
During the seminar, speakers emphasised the important role played by public libraries in providing common man with access to knowledge. They commented that outside of public libraries, there was no space that gave citizens the opportunity to acquire knowledge without any barriers of class, religion or qualifications. “In a society which is becoming increasingly fragmented on the basis of ethnicity and religion, public libraries are one of the few remaining places where one can engage with differing beliefs,” senior librarians stated.
Commenting on the steps needed to improve the state of public libraries, Riaz Ali Khaskheli, Secretary PLA, Sindh chapter, said: “Our public libraries have been abandoned. We need support to develop a healthy reading culture for our children, youth, women, adults and the elderly.”
“Libraries act as the memory bank for our culture and history. These precious ideas need to be honoured and preserved as they are part of our identity as a civilisation. The municipal corporations and provincial government should pay attention to improving these libraries,” he added.
During the event, speakers added that there were over 100 public libraries in Karachi alone but most of them were in a poor state. They also warned that the declining state of public libraries pointed to worrying social trends.
Ayesha Choudhary, Secretary Defence Central Library, said: “Libraries and information centers in Pakistan need to be on the frontline to contribute meaningfully in combating extremism and promoting awareness of the importance of peace. By using libraries as a platform for exploring the causes and effects of extremism, we can bring about positive change in societal thinking and attitudes.”
“Besides academic libraries in educational institutions, community libraries and public libraries are a rare commodity in Sindh. Libraries currently lack the funds to purchase books and are poorly maintained. As a result, people find no attraction in coming to libraries in our province. This is especially true in rural parts of the province.”
At the seminar, AKU's Khawaja Mustafa unveiled the Sindh Public Libraries Association's set of proposals to the government to support the province's public libraries prepared by the PLA Public Libraries Committee which is chaired by Bashir Ahmed Abro, Director of Liaquat Memorial Library.