By Zubeida Mustafa
TOMORROW is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Library and Information Science Department of the University of Karachi. It was on August 10, 1956, that the department launched its post-graduate diploma programme – the first degree level course for librarians in Pakistan.
A programme in librarianship had been started in Lahore by Asa Don Dickenson, a student of the famous Melvil Dewey in 1915, but it was a certificate course. In 1957, the diploma programme was converted into a degree and a Master’s course. Nearly 3,143 students have graduated from the department in the last 50 years. Its faculty has grown from seven members – many of them part time – under the founding chairman Abdul Moid to nine full time staff members today.
Being the first in the field, the Karachi University’s library science department naturally has enjoyed a preeminence in the country. Now other universities also teach this subject, so aptly termed as the “final science” by John Barth. But strangely enough, the others were late in following suit. The Sindh University was the next one to launch a Master’s programme in library science in 1976 followed by Punjab University in 1979, Peshawar and Balochistan universities in 1983, and the Islamia University in Bahawalpur in 1985.
The most important contribution of the department in Karachi university is that it has raised the status of librarianship in the country. With legendary figures such as Dr Anis Khurshid associated with it, the department rose to great heights. Dr Khurshid was a devoted teacher, a committed researcher and a prolific writer. He conducted a number of surveys of libraries in the country and was instrumental in drafting a library law which, unfortunately, has not been adopted by any government so far. Even in his retirement he is a source of inspiration to other librarians in the country.
Thanks to his efforts, the librarian’s profession achieved a dignity and status which was until then non-existent in a country that sadly lacks a book culture. Although the reading habit has not quite caught on, there are pockets of avid readers all over the country. They might be students borrowing books from the school/college/university library, office workers visiting one of the few public libraries we have or housewives shopping for low cost publications in bookstores and supermarkets. They constitute a small but vocal band of readership that ardently supports the institution of libraries and librarianship.
These readers are like islands of scholarship in an ocean of ignorance and apathy towards learning. But good and committed librarians are not unheard of. The few that are there serve as catalysts in promoting the reading habit. Gone are the days when a librarian was just a keeper of books who organised them on the shelves after indexing and cataloguing them. Today, the librarian is basically an information scientist who, in the words of Moinuddin Khan, another ardent champion of the library movement in the country, regards his/her primary duty to help people gain access to information. The librarian’s expertise lies in his knowledge about precisely where a particular piece of information is available and how it can be reached. While performing this function she/he becomes a specialist on diverse sources of information, and in the process, becomes very knowledgeable her/himself.
Small wonder so many librarians have gone on to acquire a higher degree in a field of their interest. Of course, they do not relinquish the basic expertise they have gained in handling books and information. But they also learn about the subject on which they are digging up information. They are the true transmitters of knowledge and have come to be respected in their role. According to Moinuddin Khan, a library can become instrumental in spreading literacy and education. Today, a librarian in a government organisation can go up to NBPS-20 which is equivalent to the deputy secretary’s post. The director general of the national library is a grade 21 officer.
This recognition, though not adequate enough, has come to a great extent because the Library and Information Science Department at the Karachi University has, unlike many other departments at the same institution, kept pace with the growing and diverse need for information and the increasingly multiple sources of knowledge. It has played a pioneering role in introducing the latest technologies and methodologies in the field in Pakistan. Thus in 1983 the library science department became the Library and Information Science department and information science courses were added. Then came the computer age and courses on information storage and retrieval, data processing in libraries and information networks data bank were made compulsory. A computer laboratory was established in 1985.
It is a pity that with this wealth of training and know-how available here Pakistan still lacks a library movement. It has rightly been said that “we cannot have good libraries until we first have good librarians — properly educated, professionally recognised, and fairly rewarded”. Now good librarians are not so hard to find. But good libraries are. Malahat Kalim Sherwani, the head of the library and information science department at the Karachi University, feels that without a network of public libraries and a library in every school it is difficult to make this institution popular at every level. At the university, she and her colleagues have tried to inculcate this awareness in their students. But without the government’s cooperation and support it is not possible to create this chain of libraries. “We will never be able to fight illiteracy and ignorance if this apathy towards the library continues,” Malahat Sherwani says.
Given this official indifference, it is essential that librarians should become social activists for their cause in order to initiate a library movement in the country. The focus has so far been on conferences and workshops to create awareness about the importance of libraries as institutions of learning. Librarians have struggled hard to gain recognition of the importance of libraries as purveyors of information but something more than that is needed. The library and information science department should add a compulsory course on librarians as motivators.
Some of the best librarians I have known have succeeded in creating a desire in people for books. They know how to attract people to books and make readers out of them. A course on this would combine elements of psychology, sociology, inter-personal communication and the art of counselling to teach the librarian-to-be skills that a good teacher, psychologist and counsellor employs.
Although many librarians have this skill, not all of them have mastered it. Thus they do not always succeed in creating enthusiasm for reading a book. Who will they motivate? Of course, the students, children and readers who come there way. But most importantly, they need to motivate parents because the love for books becomes a lifelong thing when inculcated from the cradle.