EducationNationalVolume 13 Issue # 23

Refurbishing the oldest library of Pakistan

There’s no concept of a good library without a digital section and an eBrary, an online digital library of full texts of scholarly e-books, in the modern era. But it is unfortunate that until a few days back, Government Punjab Public Library, Lahore, was without a state-of-the-art digital section. However, the visitors to the oldest and biggest library of Pakistan received good news on July 5, 2018, when a modern digital section was inaugurated at the library.


“From day one, when I took charge as director general, Public Libraries, Punjab, it was on top of my priority list to equip all government libraries with modern digital sections,” says Dr. Zaheer Ahmad Babar, who was assigned the task in 2014. Punjab Public Library, being the most prestigious and oldest library of Pakistan, was specially focus of my attention, he tells Cutting Edge in a special sitting in his office at the library.


While showing the fully air-conditioned section, equipped with 25 latest-technology computers, to the reporter, the DG Libraries revealed that work on E-Library was being completed at a fast pace currently. It will also be opened for the users in the next few days, he adds. The DG recounts his efforts for getting approved Rs. 3.3 million for reformation and renovation of the old library building for setting up the digital section and e-library. “It took me al least six months and exchange of dozens of letters and emails with the departments concerned to get sanctioned the required funds,” he shares with Cutting Edge.


The digital section is, in fact, an advanced form of the computer section of the library, which was established in 1993, and became functional in 1996. A catalogue of the books in the library has been computerised and readers have been provided browsing facility on computers. The CD writing and printing is also available in the section.


The Audio-Visual Aids or AVA Section contains microfilm readers, microfilm reader/printers, TV and VCR equipment with more than 600 video films available. An LCD TV has been provided in the section by courtesy of the Punjab Library Foundation.


Dr. Zaheer Ahmad says it is surprising that no authentic information about the oldest and fully functional library of Pakistan is available on the Internet, which shows our over-all attitude towards libraries. Briefly relating the history, Dr. Zaheer says the library was established in 1884 by the governor of British Punjab, Sir Charles Umpherston Aitcheson (1832-1896) in historical building Baradari Wazir Khan. The building was built by Nawab Wazir Ali Khan, the governor of Lahore during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan.


Some other blocks were built in 1924, 1939 and 1992. An additional block housing the Auditorium and Bait-ul-Quran Section was constructed in 1968, and inaugurated by General Mohammad Musa, then governor of West Pakistan.


Government Punjab Public Library, Lahore, lies in the heart of the city of Lahore at Library Road near the Lahore Museum, off Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam. It is surrounded by educational institutions and the Punjab University (Old Campus). The commercial centre of Anarkali, the main offices of the Metropolitan Corporation Lahore (Town Hall) and the provincial government offices, i.e., the Civil Secretariat, are a short distance from the library building.


The DG Libraries, also secretary, Board of Governors, of the library, reveals that the facility has an approximate collection of 370,000 books, bound volumes of magazines, newspapers, reports, old gazettes of the Punjab, Pakistan and undivided India, and more than 1,500 manuscripts. The paramount feature of the library is a long-established and rare collection. The library holds rare collection of books in all fields of knowledge in English, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Punjabi, Hindi, Gurmukhi, Sunskrit and in some other local languages. The library receives 170 magazines, 24 journals by subscription and the rest as free copies. Sixteen dailies are received in the library also.


Main sections of the library include Acquisition section, Circulation section, Reference section, Bait-ul-Quran, Children’s section, Oriental section, and some other sections which are not directly related to the general public and library users.


The Acquisition section acquires books for the library from booksellers. The selection of books is made by a book purchase committee, which also includes subject specialists. Readers’ suggestions are given consideration while purchasing new books for the library.


On the first floor of the English section, there is an English counter at which books for home reading are issued and received back. Oriental language books are issued at the counter in the Oriental section. Approximately 250 books are issued or received back at these counters daily.


One of the most visited sections is the Reference section, frequented by students, research scholars and the public throughout the library working hours. The section contains reference works such as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, yearbooks, directories, almanacs, atlases, gazetteers, etc., along with reference works in other fields.


The official gazettes of Punjab and Pakistan kept in this section are important sources of information for many people of the city and rural areas of various districts of Punjab. Bound files of newspapers are also available. The section serves its readers by providing census reports, patents and designs, and back numbers of English magazines. This section is useful for students preparing for such competitive examinations as CSS and PCS.

The Bait-ul-Quran section of the library was established in 1968 by Mukhtar Masood, then commissioner of Lahore Division. It contains manuscripts of the Quran, some dating back to 500 years. The section houses copies of handwritten and printed Qurans, collected from all over Pakistan, e.g., the photocopies of the Quran remained under recitation of Hazrat Usman Ghani, Imam Jaffer Sadiq, Maulana Rom, Tipu Sultan and a hand written Quran by Aurangzeb Alamgir, Emperor of India. Translations and commentaries of the Quran in different languages and other Quranic literature are all placed in this section for the use of research scholars. A mural painting by an artist of Pakistan, Shakir Ali, depicts Quranic Ayats in fine calligraphy and decorates the section.


A separate children’s section was established in March 1982. Material comprises illustrated books, children encyclopaedias and dictionaries, science and adventure books, illustrated fiction, biographies, historical and Islamic books, books on Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Muhammad Iqbal, as well as on Pakistan, both in English and Urdu languages. The section contains about 6,000 volumes.


Dr. Zaheer Ahmad Babar claims he has turned the library into a hub of cultural activities also. A series of lectures has been started on educational, literary, Islamic and library topics for readers, students and scholars. Scholars and persons of repute are invited to deliver the lectures almost every month, adds the DG libraries and BoG secretary, Punjab Public Library. He says all important days including Pakistan Independence Day, Defence Day of Pakistan, Labour Day and Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH) are observed at the library and special seminars and events are arranged on these days.


When the attention of the DG Libraries was drawn towards various complaints, lodged by some student visitors that it was really hard to locate books in different sections, Dr. Zaheer admitted problems in this regard. He said that a large number of books are almost 80 to 90 years old. Currently, they are in somewhat poor condition, and could not be located easily.


During the past decades, all worn-out books have not been disposed of on time due to non-availability of their replacements, said the DG. However, he assured that complete revival of all sections was underway, and the process would be completed in the coming years.