LAHORE - Athenaeums and libraries are not just places where collections of books are kept but they are a depository of past, storehouse of experience, a recording of facts and a repository of knowledge.

Book is the best companion from cradle to grave, be it a baby’s bedtime story, a toddler’s picture book, a child’s comic book, a teen’s young fiction or academic books.

“The book is a friend for the friendless and the library is a home to the homeless”, says Francis Bacon.

Libraries play vital role in the development as well as decline of nations. Unfortunately, the habit of reading good literature is dwindling in Pakistan. There are a number of reasons behind this phenomenon but the most prominent is lack of libraries.

Commenting on the issue, National Language Authority Chairman and renowned poet Iftikhar Arif says, “Unfortunately, wealth has become the symbol of success in our society while knowledge and intellect have been marginalised. We seek knowledge just to earn a good livelihood.

 “It is lamentable that Pakistanis have lost interest in books. Library culture has vanished. The city like Islamabad has only one major library—National Library—which is situated in an area where a commoner can’t go.”

Government College University Lahore Vice Chancellor Dr Khaleequr Rahman says: “Civilised countries keep their libraries updated and fully facilitate visitors. But unfortunately we cannot develop such culture.”

The VC considers textbooks a major reason for diversion from book reading. “With the provision of text books, students don’t intend to read more books and the tendency of going through books is not taking roots among youth. He suggested abolition of textbooks after intermediate.

On one hand, the government spent billions on provision of free laptops, but on the other hand neither it is paying heed to establish new libraries nor allocating sufficient funds to the existing ones.

According to an official of the Directorate of Public Library who requested anonymity, the directorate runs only five public libraries in the province. He says that the directorate does not have funds and the libraries are not in good condition.

In a metropolitan city like Lahore, there are only three major public libraries; Punjab Public Libraries, Quaid-e-Azam Library and Dyal Singh Library which are insufficient to cater the need of 10 million people. Neither the staff at these libraries is trained to facilitate the visitors nor ambience is comforting.

During a survey, TheNation received various suggestions from citizens to improve the state of libraries.

Hibba Khan, a student and a frequent visitor to the Jinnah Library, says: “The library is superfluous with book but it needs automation system, instead of operating manually.

A visitor at the Punjab Public Library, Saleemullah, is visiting the library for many years but complains that he could not find desired books easily.

He said: “Library does not have proper facilities like potable water, furniture and electricity backup.”

Another visitor, Azam Nadeem, says that the library remains closed on holidays and its timing is also not feasible for an on job person. He suggests that libraries must remain open 24/7 so the people could visit it any time.

Companioning over the scarcity of books, he says that by rules, there is supposed to be 10 copies of every book in the library but most of the books have single copy.