By Zubeida Mustafa
AFTER what one hears of the poor reading habits of Pakistanis and their lack of interest in books, one would expect a library to be a deserted place. But a casual visit to the Liaquat Memorial Library on Stadium Road should be enough to convince anyone that there are quite a few people in the city who do like to read. It can, however, be presumed that people read only if they can get books, newspapers and magazines conveniently and free of cost.
That is precisely what the Liaquat Memorial Library offers them. Membership is free. The long library hours from nine o’clock in the morning till nine in the night, six days a week, enable readers to drop in at their convenience. “If the Sind Government would provide us with more funds for increasing our staff, we could open the library on Fridays too.” says the Deputy Director and Principal Librarian.
Of course, a library open on Fridays would attract many more readers. Even now, about 400 people visit the Liaquat Library every day and its membership is said to be nearly 6,000. All the seats in the main reading hall were occupied when I visited the place. The newspaper section was crowded. The periodical room had a good sprinkling of readers.
However, those conspicuous by their absence were women and children. There were only five girls in the main hall. The children’s library also wore a deserted look, as five youngsters browsed through some magazines.
Apart from the timings and convenient location, there is more to attract readers. According to the Deputy Director, the Library seeks to provide the three “S,” that is, stock, staff and service. The first two are no doubt in abundance.
With over 100.000 books — 75,438 in the main Library 5,520 in the Children’s Library and 21,373 in the Delivery of Books and Newspapers Branch fDBNB) — and 22 daily newspapers (two foreign) and 50 periodical titles, the Liaquat Library manages to cater for all tastes. Students, professionals, scholars, members of the trade circle and the casual readers find their way there.
The 56-member staff of whom 15 are professionals, many of them with a Master’s Degree in Library Science, complain that they are kept on their toes most of the time, given the size of the stock and the number of readers. The task of accessioning, cataloguing and classifying books, newspapers and periodicals can be quite time consuming in itself.
Not to speak of the work involved in issuing books, especially, if the procedure is cumbersome. The Liaquat Library is a non-lending library and it has not opted for the open shelf system to avoid pilferage. Books are indexed and the reader has to fill in a requisition slip to procure the material he wants which cannot be taken out of the Library. Yet books, mainly reference volumes, have been stolen. How many are lost in this way, the staff could not say. Stock-taking was held last year after 12 years.
The DBNB with Mr Hidayat Ali in charge is the most important section from the bibliographer’s point of view. In 1968 Liaquat Library was designated one of the depositories under the copyright law. In other words, the Library is entitled to receive a copy of every book and magazine published in Pakistan. All of these are supposed to be preserved for posterity.
But from what I could make out, this has proved to be an onerous task. As the depository, the Liaquat Library receives only about 1,200 books — and that too, after Mr Hidayat Ali writes to publishers, reminding them of their obligation. Yet many publishers default. Lack of resources has made it impossible to take measures to store newspapers and magazines scientifically. Only seven major newspapers are bound. The others are simply tied up together.
Microfilming the material is too expensive a proposition to be considered right now. Not surprisingly, there are many gaps which cannot be accounted for.
Resource constraint has shown up in other ways too. For instance, the Library has no computer. There is no audiovisual section. There is no arrangement to preserve the old books. It is painful to turn over the moth-eaten pages of the 1829 Volume of the Journal of the Royal Asian Society or the 1851 Edition of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. If nothing is done, this ancient treasure will soon be irreversibly damaged.
All the same, the Liaquat Library has managed to weather many changes in its fortunes. Founded in 1950 as the National Library, it was amalgamated with the Liaquat Memorial Library in 1954 and was renamed Liaquat National Library.
When the capital was shifted to Islamabad, the Federal Government decided to establish the National Library there — it is still in the process of being established. The Karachi Library reverted to the old nomenclature — Liaquat Memorial Library. But it continued to be under the Federal Government’s control.
In March, 1986, the Library was transferred to the Sind Government. This brought advantages, as well as, drawbacks. The Federal Ministry of Education relinquished its management of the Library, but continued to occupy the 15,000 sq. ft. basement, which is nearly a quarter of the built-up area. Its premises will expand further when the construction in progress in the backyard of the Library is completed. Liaquat Library was also deprived possession of 144 original manuscripts and 754 volumes of the Library of Congress catalogues.
These were taken away by the Federal Government. The Library of Congress catalogues cost Rs 35,000 every year. The Federal Government also decided to acquire the Library’s bindery and the fumigation chamber. The Librarv is purchasing new ones now.
But in other respects, the Library has stood to gain from the transfer. Its budget which was measly before has been given a tremendous boost. In 1985, the Library spent Rs 300,000 on the purchase of books (and Rs 100,000 in the previous years). In the current financial year its allocation is Rs 1500,000. In the last one year 2,157 books have been bought, when previously, barely 800 books were purchased in one year.
If wisely spent, this sum could be used for enhancing the stock and making it even more worthwhile than before.
But other programmes need more than funds. The Governor of Sind had suggested last year that Liaquat Memorial Library be developed into a Master Library for Sind. That would of course be an ambitious undertaking in view of the fact that most libraries in the province do not have an up-to-date record of their holdings.
Other difficulties can be expected. Efforts to prepare a Union List of Periodical Literature of only the libraries in Karachi have so far been frustrated by the lack of cooperation from other institutions. They have responded with indifferent silence to requests for information on their holdings.
How the Liaquat Library develops under the Sind Government’s stewardship will, to a large extent, depend on the resources made available to it, how they are used and the effectiveness with which plans are implemented. At present, it has made an impressive beginning in expanding its stocks. The manpower available is experienced and qualified. The Principal Librarian who is now in charge has acquired his training abroad. The building is spacious, though part of it has been taken away by the Federal Government.
The auditorium with a capacity of 300 seats is an asset, which the Library shares free of cost with other organisations, wishing to hold academic meetings there. But the books must be fumigated and preserved. The services expanded. The newspapers and journals in the depository microfilmed. If this work is neglected, the librarv will lose its attraction, at least, for scholars and researchers.
Source: Dawn, 10 April 1987