Where are the readers?

By Zubeida Mustafa

I met Moinuddin Khan, the author of In Search of Readers, in 1962 when I joined the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), Moin Sahib, as we have always called him, was the librarian at PIIA. He is mainly responsible for kindling in me an interest in libraries. Books have been my passion all my life but previously I did not see the library as anything more than a room to stock the books in. The librarian was the person who manned this room, rubberstamped dates on the inside of the back cover, and arranged the books in their places on the shelves when readers scattered them thoughtlessly on the table. He also supposedly kept an eye on visitors to ensure they didn’t pinch any volume!

Working with Moin Sahib I realised that a good librarian was much more than that. He was a man with information and knew all about books under his charge and also those elsewhere if he was a true professional. When I began work on my first research paper I alerted Moin Sahib that I would be prowling around the library looking for material on the European Community as that was the topic of my research. He came to my room to discuss the subject I would be writing on. Soon thereafter a library assistant walked in loaded with a huge pile of books duly flagged. He told me that Moin Sahib had sent those books and journals and more were to follow. That is how I realized that a librarian is also an information scientist.

Now more than half a century later Moin Sahib has collected his writings within the folds of this fascinating book. He is a true friend of books whose company he kept so faithfully that he absorbed the knowledge bound between their covers. Small wonder he could go on to obtain a Master’s degree in International Relations. But librarianship remained his first love.

This book leads the reader through the history of libraries and librarianship in Pakistan. The book contains 65 articles/papers/letters neatly arranged into 12 sections starting with “Libraries in Pakistan” and ending with “Book Reviews”. In between there are sections on “Library and Society”, “Karachi City Central Library”, “New Librarian”, “Information Technology and Libraries” and others.

Moin Sahib always wanted to pen his thoughts on paper. That added a new dimension to his crusading mission that sought “to raise the status of a librarian and underline his/her position as a teacher beside a custodian of books in an educational setting,” as he observes in the Preface. His dream has been to see in every librarian the librarian-reader-and-teacher which he himself has been.

I share Moin Sahib’s concern at the dwindling number of readers of books in Pakistan and the downgrading of the institution of the library. He holds the librarians responsible for this as they “continues to flounder in a grey area” and have allowed themselves to be “relegated to the camp-follower’s position”. He exhorts the library professional to regard the communication of ideas and information as his primary concern.

I admire the author’s persistence in championing the cause of a library movement in the country and his long-standing demand for a library law. For him Karachi is his first focus. His strong plea for a City Central Library for Karachi kept the issue alive for some time before the project was abandoned much to the author’s great disappointment. He sees the megacity through the prism of books. Here are some gems:

  • The Encyclopaedia Brittanica  records that the game of badminton was introduced to India through Karachi. “The hall where the game was played was not much wider than the court and access to it was gained from doors at the centre which opened inwards”.
  • The Encyclopaedia also tells us that the JPMC which is still working was a Royal  Air Force hospital during World War 2 while today there is no trace of the R-101 hangar, more popularly called the Kala Chappra, which was built in 1937 for the Zepplin’s ill-fated inaugural flight and dismantled in 1956 to make room for PIA”s expanding services.
  • The oldest known book on Karachi is Kurrachee: Past, Present and Future by A.F. Baillie that was published in 1890.

Thank you Moin Sahib for putting this book together. Hopefully it will create some public awareness on the subject in Pakistan.

In Search of Readers

By Moinuddin Khan

Karachi: Library Promotion Bureau, 2014. 236pp, Rs 250.

ISBN 978-969-459-057-8.

11 May 2015