Rawalpindi making do with just two old libraries
By Tahir Rashid
RAWALPINDI: It is a cause of concern that for a population of over 14 million, Rawalpindi has only two public libraries, which were established before Partition. Although these two libraries have proper funding, they went into decline due to lack of interest by the authorities concerned.
On the other hand, reading habits of the people have changed to a great extent with the passage of time and introduction of latest technologies. Now everyone is so much busy that he has no time to visit public libraries for reading books, except some students and researchers. However, some retired persons and senior citizens also go there just to read newspapers daily.
Municipal Library is the oldest public library of the city, which was established in 1868. It is situated in the heart of the city at Liaqaut Bagh where access is very easy for the general public. It has a collection of some 48,000 books including 2500 reference books, out of which approximately 20,000 books are in Urdu language. The library has some 7600 members, paying Rs 250 nominal fee per annum.
The library is functioning under Education Department of the City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) and has budgetary allocations of Rs 8.15 million including pay and allowances of nine staff members. The amount assigned for purchase of new books, newspapers and magazines is just Rs 0.5 million.
It is a very interesting fact that since 1992, Municipal Library has been running without a professional librarian. However, as makeshift arrangements, the in-charge of the library from any other field has been deputed. Chaudhary Shabaz, who is headmaster at Govt MC School, Millat Colony, is currently performing additional duties as in charge librarian. But as a mater of fact, he has not enough time for library affairs.
The library was established in 1868. After Partition, it was shifted close to the press club. Assistant Librarian Rashid told Daily Times that almost 50 percent of the precious collection of books was destroyed during 2001 flood when water inundated the library.
“Although the loss was irrecoverable, some compensation was made due to donations of books form Asia Foundation. Now Punjab Library Foundation is also providing a lot of publications to the library. With the assistance of these donor agencies, 2000 to 3000 books are being added to shelves,” he said.
He said in addition to books, about 17 national dailies in English as well Urdu along with 21 magazines of international repute are available in the library.
The second library is Cantonment Library, which has splendid old style double-storey classic building covering almost 5 Kannals of land.
Two philanthropist brothers Sardar Sujhan Singh and Sardar Kirpal Singh established the library in 1891. They set up a trust with the name of Landsdown Trust to look after the library affairs. It was named after British Viceroy Sir Landsdown. They devoted the property of 45 Kannals to run the library matters smoothly that included Cantonment Board Rawalpindi, Chaklala Cantonment Board, Odeon Cinema and Sher Shah Park. In 1879, the Trust was transferred to Cantonment Board.
After the birth of Pakistan, the building of Landsdown Public Library was handed over to British Council, which set up their own library there. It remained there till 1979 when some people assaulted Khana Kabba in Saudi Arabia, and in reaction an angry mob set blaze British Council Library.
After the incident, the British Council shifted its library to Islamabad and Cantonment Library, which was situated at upper floor of Kamran Market, Saddar, was shifted into the gutted building after renovation. In 1983, President Gen Ziaul Haq gave a grant of Rs 2.5 million to the library.
Cantonment Public Library has almost 50,000 books, half of them in English language. The library has some 1550 members and each member pays Rs 250 per year.
Director General of Cantonment Library Inam Abbas Kazmi said there is not any funding from the government or Cantonment and the library has to manage all its expenditures on its own. However, both Chaklala and Rawalpindi Cantonments and a bank are tenants of Landsdown Trust so are bound to pay 50,000 each as rent to the trust. But except the bank, both public service organizations are not paying rent regularly. The Cinema, which is also a property of the trust, has been shut down for many years.