Libraries (and priorities) ours and theirs
By Muhammad Ilyas Khan
Peshawar, once ‘a city of flowers’ beauty, peace and tolerance has become the centre-stage of bigotry, extremism and violence. For its more than two million people, there is only one public library which is in real poor shape, with almost obsolete facilities and most of the books lying on its worn out shelves are outdated for any practical use. The library is first and foremost used as a reading room by the jobless youth for a look at the job advertisements in the few newspapers lying on a table there. These daily newspapers are probably the only up-to-date reading material available in the lonely public library of this huge city! Now contrast that with this one: Leicester city in England is the city where I am studying for my PhD for the last two years. The total population of the city is just about three hundred thousands i.e. only about one-tenth of the population of Peshawar. This small city has 24 well-equipped, well-resourced and excellently organized public libraries. Besides there are many libraries present in the numerous schools, colleges, universities and other educational centres of the city.
The catalogue of latest and up-to-date books cover almost all aspects of life from education to medicine, politics to economics, philosophy to religion, history to economy, and literature to linguistics; in short on virtually any field of human knowledge. Books, CD’s and DVD’s are available for small children, for juveniles, for the young adults and researchers and for the old scholars; books for serious study and for leisure and entertainment. Promotion of reading is the sacred aim of these libraries and they are doing their job with utmost honesty, dedication and enthusiasm. The extremely friendly and efficient employees would go to any length and breadth to seduce people to read. If you have any mobility or access problem and cannot come to the library you call or email the Home Library Service and they are at your door step to provide you with reading needs.
The libraries extend the facility to every member to borrow up to twelve books at a time for up to three weeks, and this borrowing period can be extended just by one phone call, online or through an email. Keeping in view the multi-cultural and multi-lingual character of the British society and the metropolitan make-up of their socio-economic fabric books are available in these libraries in more than twenty different languages. Books and other reading material can be reserved, or renewed by phone, on- line or in person twenty four hours, seven days a week.
The libraries have sections for children, young people, teenagers and families, where they can share in all kinds of activities such as storytelling, socializing, competitions. There are also books, videos and even ‘talking books’ available for toddlers and babies. For 0-3 year olds there are ‘Free Book Start’ packs! Then there are mobile libraries (library set up in a beautiful colourful van) for young children, which make regular rounds of the various parts of city to provide books and other reading material to young children at their homes.
Every library is equipped with computer and internet facilities which are free to use. “Don’t worry if you’ve never used a computer before, mice don’t bite…neither do librarians! We’re here to help beginners & people of all ages”. All details of library books and other material and resources are available online twenty four hours. The spirit behind this excellent library structure throughout the UK is the importance that people and governments in the developed world give to the intellectual development and promotion of knowledge among its populace. It gives one an idea about their priorities and the direction that they are moving in.
But where are our priorities? A look around the city of Peshawar tells me the direction of our priorities. During the rule of the previous government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa millions of rupees were spent on constructing a magnificent provincial assembly building and on erecting many replicas of missiles in various public spots in Peshawar besides consuming enormous amount of paint on blackening off every female face on billboards and embarking on a jihad against ‘female’ mannequins in bridal dress centres . Would that that money had been spent on establishing a few well-equipped libraries in the city. Ironically that provincial government of the pious ‘won’ the election with ‘book’ as their election symbol.
Now that much water has flown under the bridge since then we have to say ‘no’ to our old guns and bombs with which we are slaughtering only ourselves and say ‘yes’ to books! China, Japan and Germany are excellent examples of the success this course can bring. In the meantime the west and the developed world, if they are really sincere in their slogan of eliminating terror and war, too, have to change their course. Bombs and guns are not going to take them to their goal of a peaceful world (if that is the aim); a helping hand from them in our endeavour to educate our illiterate millions will surely help. A missile costs millions and adds only to ignorance and extremism, working against its very purpose. A library costs much less and like a candle reduces the strength of that darkness!
Imran Khan put in his name, fame and energy to build us the cancer hospital, Ibrarul Haq is doing a great job in the same field. Shahzad Roy and Jawad Ahmad are serving us by establishing and supporting schools and Abdul Sattar Edhi gave us the emergency relief and other humanitarian services. Inzamam-ul-Haq (who a while ago came to the city of Leicester on a Tableeghi mission and I had the good luck of shaking his hand and listening to his sermon in a mosque), Junaid Jamshed and Saeed Anwar are out on their proselytising mission. Wouldn’t it be a great idea for them to turn their attention to the establishment of libraries in this country starving for the light of knowledge, besides calling people towards virtue and against vice in the far off lands? And Jansher Khan,Shahid Afridi, Younas Khan and Rahim Shah and other such men and women of means and fame can do a lot in this regard for Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshehra and Abbotabad and many other cities and towns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is burning with the fire of ignorance and starving for the light of learning.
The writer is a PhD student at the University of Leicester, UK.