Obscurity of Libraries in Pakistan: the fault of the people or the system?

85 % of Pakistanis have never been to library in their entire lives. That was the heading of a post somebody shared on my Facebook page a few days ago. Because this subject is related to my field of study, I decided to do more in-depth research; I discovered some interesting facts. According to the latest Pakistan Gallup survey, citizens are not very eager to go to a library. I became curious and began to think about whether there are more countries than just Pakistan that have this problem.

I was born and raised in Pakistan, and I spent 20 years of my life there. I never went to any libraries during that period of time even though I love reading so much. I read many books during that time, but almost all of them were borrowed from someone or bought by my parents. This was also the case for my family, friends, and classmates. Books were expensive, so only the privileged few were able to afford them. I believe that one of the main reasons that people don’t frequent the library is because there isn’t a proper establishment to be found in small cities and towns. If there was a library, it would usually only be for a select number of people. When I was a kid, I remember it was my wish to go to the Quaid-e-Azam library in Lahore, however only adults were permitted to enter.

Pakistan has a large publishing industry, and huge book stores that are three to four stories tall. Almost every city has an outside secondhand market (like the Urdu Bazaar) where you can find books and magazines in many languages and from different cultures, but why isn’t there an abundance of libraries?

The answer, in my opinion, is that it’s the system that prevents the creation of more libraries. If your government believes that spending money on literacy programs is useless and only allocates a small amount of money into the budget for education, it is expected that they wouldn’t exactly value the promotion of library culture. People adapt to whatever you give them. If a book is published for profit instead of education, then why would people go to the library? If you are struggling with poverty and unemployment, you don’t have time to go to the library. Most of the people who are interested in acquiring books do so only because the books are valuable and make for a nice display to show off to guests. However, that is the limit. Nobody wants to share them because they are too expensive. There are many developing and third world countries that are struggling with same situation: people want libraries, it is not being provided to them. Now it’s up to the reader to decide whether it is the fault of people or the system.

However, the trend is changing. The new generation know their rights and freedoms and are inspired to instigate change. Literacy rates have increased, and through the usage of media and the internet, the new generation have the privilege to access whatever information they require. Now my niece, nephew, and other children have access to the library where they can read and borrow books. Many academic libraries cater exclusively to students. In the future, I hope that the library becomes a more familiar place for not only the people of Pakistan, but for anyone who thirsts for knowledge.

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