Librarians as teachers

By Zubeida Mustafa

AT the Children’s Literature Festival in Quetta last month, the provincial education secretary had promised to make provisions for a library in every government school in Balochistan.

If this actually materialises, the province will certainly have something to boast about. A school without a library is like a body without a soul. Can you expect students to love reading if they are not immersed in a world of books that a library creates?

Every country needs a sound library network as the backbone of its publishing industry. The state of health of these two institutions determines the mental and intellectual level of a nation. Libraries promote the reading culture in a society and the relationship between the readers and the book industry is symbiotic.

The larger the number of readers, the easier it is for the publisher to keep prices of books low. The lower the prices the bigger is the readership. In this process, libraries occupy a central position because they are — or should be — the biggest buyers of books. The publishing sector depends on them.

I write this because Pakistan is notorious for its neglect of this valuable institution. For years devoted advocates of library science — Karachi University’s Dr Anis Khurshid comes to mind at once — struggled to have a library law enacted but failed. The last attempt I heard of was an initiative by some members of the Library Association in Islamabad who got Senator S.M. Zafar to draft a library law with the idea of introducing it in the Senate in 2010. Nothing came out of it.

Seen against this backdrop, my visit to the Library and Information Science Department of the Karachi University was a pleasant exercise. It was chairperson Malahat Kaleem’s brainwave to expose her students to people to enable them to share their experiences with books.

Three guests were interviewed in a lively session. With such enriching activities to stimulate their thoughts, one hopes that these librarians-to-be would be different from many of their predecessors who lacked the motivation to get their clients interested in books.

Librarians are certainly moving ahead, but the environment in which libraries flourish is not. The book culture has stagnated and there are estimated to be only 1,150 public libraries in this country of 180 million. One may well ask of what good will libraries be if they have no readers. Librarians will be a frustrated lot.

This is the question I posed to Moinuddin Khan, the former librarian of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, where I first met him in the 1960s. He later became the librarian of the Sindh University, the Aga Khan University and ended his career with a stint at the Karachi Grammar School.

“True, it is the duty of parents to develop the reading habit in children early in life. But when they fail, the librarian must step in,” Moinuddin Khan tells me. The school is the first milestone in a child’s life after his home. It should assume responsibilities that have been neglected by parents.

In this context, the ‘teacher-librarian’, as Moinuddin Khan terms him/her, can play a key role. But to play that role the librarian must be a reader him/herself. And this is what Malahat exhorted her students to be. Gone are the days when a librarian’s sole duty was to rubber-stamp dates and classification numbers on books and arrange them on the shelves.

Even when the librarian’s role expanded to the field of information science and his/her elevated status was recognised, the ultimate had not been achieved. There were committed librarians like Moinuddin Khan who felt it was their job to get the child interested in books and reading.

Malahat Kaleem has the same dream and has tried to translate this dream into reality by introducing courses on the school library, children’s library and book reading in her department. For that a librarian must have substantial knowledge of books and should have the teaching instinct. Moin Sahib suggests that the librarian should be trained to be a salesman to give him the skills for selling the idea of reading books.

I wonder if the book can compete with the television and computer for a child’s attention. Many feel that the reading habit has suffered because of the new inventions that are more attractive for children.

Moinuddin Khan doesn’t agree. Children who become addicted to books early in life continue to read, the television notwithstanding. Pakistan has never had a reading culture to write home about. Moinuddin Khan feels an interest in books can still be created in children by a librarian who has the knack for drawing a child out by talking to her about her areas of interest and guiding her subtly towards books on those subjects. She is bound to show some interest in the printed word on a subject close to her heart.

Reading is an interactive activity and cannot be done in isolation. Readers love to discuss with others the books they read. That is why booksellers and librarians who read and are knowledgeable about their wares are popular with book lovers.

Karachi’s bibliophiles still fondly remember Sohrab Rustomji of Midtown Bookshop and Shams Quraeshi of Mackwin who made reading a pleasurable exercise. Their knowledge of diverse subjects was tremendous and they did their best to entice readers to the bestsellers of the day.

Source: Dawn

9 thoughts on “Librarians as teachers

  1. Setting up building for libraries or allocating funds for buying books are rather easy and attention-grabbing activities, which invariably end up in wasting funds. Graduates coming out of our library schools are generally not interested in reading themselves! (I interview many librarians in my job and find that most of them do not go beyond reading the Daily Jang). Sadly their interest and ability in reading English texts is also almost non-existent.

    Further, libraries are now resources centers with Internet facilities. Educators in schools and institutes of higher learning need to design and implement courses that make students go beyond their copied lecture notes to seek knowledge in libraries and the Net.

    Reforming libraries and librarians must be part of an overall reform of education in Pakistan.

  2. This is really an exciting piece of news and Ms. Zubaida Mustafa (the advocate of libraries and librarian) well described the role of a librarian for the promotion of reading. it also sounds good to know that Balochistan Government is realizing the importance of school libraries, I pray and hope that the concern people may succeed to materialize this realization. I also want to bring another area (Gilgit Balitistan) into respected Zubaida Mustafa's mind which is very much neglected by the government of Pakistan and most of people even don't have seen a library. the youth has jumped to web directly without experiencing a physical library. I would expect to see another article on this as well.
    best regards

  3. On utility of Books one writer (cannot remember his correct name) has described as "My never failing friends (books) are they with whom I converse day by day".

    No doubt school going children get benefit of books shelved in libraries but equally others also get education. Books, likewise human friend, never tell a lie nor change their statements. Books never deceive us and are always at our disposal – because a human being can deceive you and may or may not be available as per your comforts.

    It has been wisely said give priority to books as compared to human beings when to select a friend. So everyone should decide to keep some books at home for life time usage.

    Respected Zubeida Ji! Likewise earlier this time also I wish that Pak Govt and Citizen (particularly school going children) will accept your views and guidance contained in this post.

  4. Superb article, I think parents may make such a atmosphere wherein children get involve. in

    reading .

  5. very valuable suggestions made by Zubeida Mustafa….it would be like a 'dream-come true' to see 'functioning' libraries in 'functioning' government schools all over Pakistan….

  6. Since the closure of British Council and American Centre in Karachi I haven't seen the staff of any Pakistanin library as cooperative. The reading habits will be flourish only when we have libraries as well as cooperative staff at libraries. Many college and school libraries are found lock and the books are rusting inside. Many libraries have books which are useless and have no readership. Good books are very rarely found. However we should hope for better in future.

    1. I agree. Accessible library networks boost readership. Since there is no such thing in Pakistan, readership has declined. Not everyone can afford to buy expensive books at fancy malls.–Zoya Saeedy

  7. Its interesting & zubiada Gee U r right. But with out state's back up & support, in our cumbersome situation,its really a challange. I know the people who came forward & tried their best but how long they can pull along.Moulding minds is a hurculeian job.Projects based forums and volunteering resources could be a one option to work on.
    There is a lot more to share but…… so what if its goes waste

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