Friday, 5 March 2010

Where are the Libraries?

At a couple of recent conferences in the US, I raised the issue of the government’s lack of sensitivity to developing community goods.

My example was the lack of public libraries in Pakistan. I said that there are no public libraries in our cities. In fact provocatively, I often say that “Lahore has 5 polo fields (each 10 acres in size) and 3 Golf courses (an average size of a golf course is about 200 acres), yet there are only 2 public libraries one left by the colonial masters and one in Bagh-I-jinnah resident in a converted colonial building!” With population growing more than tenfold, no libraries or community spaces have been created.

I might also add that the government did provide city center land and a subsidy to develop golf and polo--2 games exceedingly important for community and societal development. More on that some other time!

When I pointed to the lack of public libraries in Pakistan, said this some very well-known Pakistani intellectuals started saying “not true! Not true!” Some even contended there are many libraries. The American audience was perplexed and rightly so.

Well let me give these people a list of libraries in the country of a 180+ million people.

My first source: The National Book Foundation this is what we get.

Libraries

      • National Library of Pakistan
      • Liaquat National Memorial Library
      • Khaliq Deena Hall
      • Iqbal Cyber Library
      • Punjab Public Library Lahore

University Libraries

Similar information can be found on

http://lists.webjunction.org/libweb/Asia_Pakistan.html

http://www.planwel.edu/pln.htm

Some notes on these lists:

1. Most of these are university or official libraries. They are private only available to members, students of officials. They are certainly not "walk-in" public libraries.

2. Public libraries are significantly not available (except for Punjab Public Library and the national library)

3. Most of the public grew up using the British Council and American Libraries.

4. Now that aid bureaucracies have grown to shun such long term and low-margin community commitments in favor of more lucrative long term consulting contracts, these libraries have contracted.

5. We have said nothing about the quality of the libraries on these lists.

Where does a poor kid read? Books are unaffordable. Maybe Madrassahs!

I wonder whether my well-known Pakistani intellectual friends who yelled “not true! not true!” will now learn about Pakistan.

Before they point to the tiny libraries of DHA and Model Town or Sindh Club and Punjab Club, let me remind them that they are libraries meant for the elite associated with these organizations. Moreover book collections and spaces allocated to housing them are more often than not less than adequate!

What is needed are public libraries to introduce youth to global knowledge.