Sunday February 05, 2023

Shortage of public libraries in Saddar and Lyari undermining youth’s yearning for learning

April 05, 2021

Until a few years ago, Karachi’s Lyari Town was known largely for violent gangs openly operating on the roads and in the streets. But now the local and non-local youth are pursuing good education there to transform the town into a hub of knowledge.

Colleges and universities teaching medical, art and science courses have been offering admissions in large-scale educational programmes, motivating the youth to gain knowledge for a bright future. But there’s an acute shortage of public libraries in Lyari, barring the students’ access to expensive courses and textbooks.

“College and university students not only seek access to academic books at public libraries, but they also need shared spaces to read textbooks, study or complete assignments,” said Agha Abdur Rehman, officer-in-charge libraries at the District Municipal Corporation (DMC) South.

“Small houses, the unavailability of free spaces and erratic power supply make libraries all the more important for students in Lyari. Sometimes they get together on lawns having Quetta wala chai [tea] and start discussing the country’s politics.”

Rehman said that while some students may be spending time at libraries to relieve stress, engaging in such activities is far better than wasting oneself in a life of crime. He said that sometimes students complain about the unavailability of facilities. “They request the administrations of libraries to provide computers and Wi-Fi connections. But we don’t have such facilities.”

He pointed out that libraries located in various areas of the Lyari and Saddar towns need maintenance and major upgrades. “For the past many years we’ve been moving applications to the authorities concerned to start repairs, but all our requests have gone unheeded.”

Current situation

According to the DMC South’s website, 17 libraries are functioning in Lyari, while the data on libraries in Saddar is yet to be updated. However, according to a list available with The News, seven libraries are operating in Saddar.

The latest list, which is yet to be uploaded to the website, shows that only nine libraries — five in Lyari Town and four in Saddar Town — are functioning. But each of the libraries is in need of complete maintenance, whitewash and electrical work. They lack furniture, toilets and potable water.

At the Lyari Text Book Public Library, also known as the Mulla Fazil Hall Library, an official notification at the entrance reads: “A complaint has been received on the Pakistan Citizens Portal for making repairs at the Mulla Fazil Hall Library that have been awaited since long towards routine maintenance.”

Pointless surveys

On February 3 a team of the DMC’s engineering department conducted physical surveys of the Text Book Library and other public libraries in Lyari and Saddar to estimate repair work. The team found that four libraries — the Iqbal Shaheed Library, the Hashim Gazdar Library, the S Muhammaduddin Library and the Satellite Library — are in need of extensive maintenance.

The team highlighted the following requirements: replacement of windows, sanitary fixtures, reconstruction of open spaces at main entrances, colouring of entire buildings, water connections and water coolers.

After the surveys, however, no progress has been observed. “I’ve been contacting the relevant department to start renovating the libraries, but it seems no one is taking our requests seriously,” said Rehman.

Vacant libraries

At a time when libraries are much needed in Lyari, the director libraries at the DMC South has sent an official note to the administrator and municipal commissioner for closing the Iqbal Shaheed Library in Bihar Colony’s UC-10.

The library’s building looks shabby, with its roof appearing to be almost ready to crumble, so students and other visitors keep away these days. A few weeks ago, the walls of a room on the premises had suddenly collapsed. No one was hurt, but the debris is still there.

The S Muhammaduddin Library does not look any better: its roof is already crumbling, the colour on its walls faded long ago and its catalogue is not being maintained. Visitors are so few now that the dilapidated building looks as good as deserted.

As for the Hashim Gazdar Library in Ranchore Line (Gazdarabad), it does not even have lights or fans. And the state in which the building is, it poses a risk to the employees and visitors.