Preventing library demolitions

In Rawalpindi and Parachinar, libraries have destroyed 

Libraries are true guarantors of a people’s heritage, and they preserve people’s knowledge for the forthcoming generations. They are places where reading materials (books/non-books) are acquired, preserved, organized and disseminated for education, research and reference services. Libraries culture is rising in the rest of the world; however, in Pakistan, it is in dwindling stages; libraries in Pakistan face tremendous challenges: budget issues, lack of professional staff, support from the authority, and scarcity of readership, among others.

The country’s growth is measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, and other such measures. Though the birth rate, life expectancy, controlling corruption, and so on., also lead the nations to a prosperous future, above all, good governance, checks and balances, and a knowledge economy makes a country more progressive and rise as compared to the rest of the world. If the Government spends a handsome amount on education as a total percentage of GDP, such nations get high preeminence in the world.

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For a knowledge-based economy, innovative quality research and libraries have a strong correlation and are regarded as the need of the day. Poor information and libraries can never move a nation in the right direction. It is said that developed countries hold developed libraries, such as The British Library in the United Kingdom, the Library of Congress in the USA, the Shanghai Library in China, the Russian State Library in Russia and the Royal Danish Library in Denmark. These libraries hold huge collections for quality and innovative research. Regardless of Pakistan’s role in library culture, it is in a mourning state and is lagging even among developing countries.

Though the government of Pakistan is trying to build this country into a more prosperous, wealthier and knowledge-based economy, several educational classes are trying to make it more prominent and make it brighter; however, fewer elements are blocking them.

It is the responsibility of government authority, stakeholders, library associations, the national library, the culture and heritage ministry, the education ministry, and others to make legislation and enforce policies to promote a library culture and avoid library destruction. They should also take necessary actions against those elements which convert library buildings into offices and computer halls. Vandalism of the library buildings should also be discouraged. It is argued that when people demolish libraries it is similar to burning the books.  Heinrich Heine a German poet, writer and literary critic has rightly said that “Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people”.

Over the last few days, two different episodes have come to light, with reports appearing in the press, of a library demolition culture in Pakistan. The two public libraries concerned are the Rawalpindi Cantonment Library and the Parachinar public library. A historian Lucien Polastron in a book named Books On Fire wrote that “the loss of a library bears historical and social ramifications of a scale that cries for thoughtful and heartfelt objectivity.” Similarly, in that book, it has been explained that the destruction of the world’s largest libraries, such as the burning of the great library of Alexandria, Libraries of Chines Qing Dynasty, in Nazi-Occupied Europe and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, are the worst catastrophes in the library history.

Libraries are always destroyed by natural calamity, earthquakes, floods and fires, but burning a library through terrorist acts is equal to burning those authors whose books existed in those libraries.

The Rawalpindi Cantonment Library, a 124-year-old library has been converted into a computer section without trust’s approval. It was one of the finest libraries for local inhabitants. The Library was renovated by General Ziaul Haq who provided funds amounting to Rs 1.8 million and formed a management committee to run the library’s affairs. Later on, the then president of Pakistan, Farooq Leghari, took the responsibility by approving a handsome grant for the renovation of this library in 1998. What a shameless action is converting a library into a computer section without the approval of the trust.  Libraries are public spheres. They ought to be established for the masses living in the vicinity.

Another story is the demolishing of the public library in Parachinar, a tribal zone of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the sole public library for the area’s inhabitants. It was shocking news to know that the library has been converted into the office and residence of administrative officer. The library in question was established by the then former governor of KP, the late Lt Gen Fazal-e-Haq, in 1982. Instead of launching new libraries in the region, the demolition of present buildings is taking place. That should be strictly prohibited by the government of Pakistan generally and particularly the provincial governments of Punjab and KPK.

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It is the responsibility of government authority, stakeholders, library associations, the national library, the culture and heritage ministry, the education ministry, and others to make legislation and enforce policies to promote a library culture and avoid library destruction. They should also take necessary actions against those elements which convert library buildings into offices and computer halls. Vandalism of the library buildings should also be discouraged. It is argued that when people demolish libraries it is similar to burning the books.  Heinrich Heine a German poet, writer and literary critic has rightly said that “Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people”.

Abid Hussain
The writer is a library officer at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]

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