Pakistan & The role of Libraries in Education

“My Alma Mater was books, a good LIBRARY…” These are the words of Malcolm X but I somehow feel the same about libraries because library is a rich source of knowledge and information. And I think there is no 2nd opinion about it.

The other day I happened to visit my alma mater after a long time. Quite nostalgic I felt as I got a chance to spend some time in the university’s library. It reminded me of my student-hood when I would just spend all my free time in the library – a place where the world always seemed too quiet. To me, the time spent in library is a time spent in peace; one of the best ways of escapism it is. While other fellow students would enjoy their time in the cafeteria or gardens, just chilling around, I preferred to be surrounded by books with ‘silence please’ tag in place.  So thanks to my alma mater who allowed me to sit in the library for a while although I wasn’t an enrolled student over there anymore.

As Ray Bradbury has very rightly said: “There’s no use going to school unless your final destination is the library”; similarly, I also feel that any kind of study is incomplete without having an access to a library where one can explore and read about relevant material. The reason why I feel the need to highlight the importance of a library is something that I had experienced lately. Just before this visit to my alma mater, I had completed a management course from one of the top-ranked private universities of the country. To my surprise, during the whole duration of the course, none of us (who were studying the course) were allowed to walk into the university’s library. It came to me as a huge disappointment. I really wondered how an educational institute could ever disallow any of its students to use the library – more so when we were provided with the university ID cards as well. But my curiosity was answered by one of the university coordinators; straightaway telling me:

“Only regular students can enter the university library”

By regular students they meant students enrolled in full-fledge degree programs. I was surprised initially but then I could recall how one of my friends was once badly insulted by the same university’s library management because she had made a mistake of entering the library for some research assignment only after getting a verbal permission from an authority over there with no written proof of permission for library access.

Shelby Foote – a historian and writer – says, “A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library”; implying a library to be an essential part of any university. Giving no access to library is like delivering half of the knowledge and education to the students. Such not-so-praiseworthy policies make one bound to think of today’s educational institutes as commercialized entities where education has become more of a business than a social obligation.

Such experiences make us realize the importance of public libraries. But in Pakistan, there seems to be a dearth of quality public libraries. The bigger cities are a bit more blessed than others though. It was in the news lately that British Council will soon be reopening its public library in Lahore which was closed down back in 2002. So thankfully, there are good thing happening around gradually.

Contrary to the scenario at our end, we see that the latest technology advancements have started to change the very concept of a conventional library in the developed countries and thus, debate on the nature of future libraries is now picking up on a global level. A recent article in Forbes magazine claims that the future libraries would be “more like a digital playground than a house of books”. At the same time, in UK there is an aggressive campaign going on against the government’s decision to close down 400 libraries in the next few years. That shows how people still love to enjoy the tranquility that libraries offer along with a warm feeling of being surrounded by stacks of books full of knowledge.

Libraries have always existed as a place where the learners get access to the collection of preserved knowledge for the enrichment and development in the subjects of interest – whether it is a public library or managed by an educational institution for its students. There is a saying that what a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education. Keeping that in view, I feel that in an under-developed country like ours, which is already striving to excel in the field of education, it would be more praise-worthy if all the available sources of information including libraries are made easily available and accessible to the learners and knowledge seekers. Also let’s hope that the library of future even with the digital revolution would continue to provide the best me-time it has always provided to the lovers of libraries with its physical presence in the communities.

PS: This post originally appeared here:


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