From Gymkhana to Library

June 15, 2014

From Gymkhana to Library

Quaid-e-Azam library, situated in the Jinnah Garden, is considered one of the most prominent research and reference places in Lahore. The best feature of the library includes the high criteria of service, sufficient stock of books and periodicals and a healthy reading environment.

Recently, the library installed an e-section by providing 30 computers and free Wi-Fi facility. The members have access to internet, digital resources and bases at local, national and international levels. The library has been linked to other libraries for better coordination and resource sharing.

The multiple sections of the library include a reference section, an oriental section, a periodical section, a textbook section, a ladies’ section and audio-visual section. The audio-visual section has a large assemblage of creative material which is rarely available.

Now, the stats. The Quaid-e-Azam library has an assortment of 125,000 volumes, both in English and Urdu languages. Nearly two thousand books are added to the library annually. Currently, more than 17,000 people are enrolled as the members of the library.

Tariq Mehmood, a librarian at the library, says that "if someone comes [to the library] continuously for 15 days, he spiritually becomes attached to it and then that person unintentionally starts coming to the place on a daily basis."

The Quaid-e-Azam library is a landmark that majestically stands in the middle of the Mall road. The building itself has a historical background. It has gone through a lot of radical changes.

The building is one of the master pieces of earlier period of British architecture in Lahore. It was constructed in mid-19th century during the British rule. It includes two halls, the Lawrence Hall and the Montgomery Hall, located on the left side of the Mall road entrance to the garden. The former faces the Mall road whereas the latter fronts the Central Avenue of the garden.

The Lawrence hall was constructed in 1863 as a memorial to Sir John Lawrence, first Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. Afterwards, Viceroy and General Governor of India constructed with the subscriptions of British and Indian communities of the Punjab. The Montgomery hall was built in 1866 in honour of Sir Robert Montgomery, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab after Sir John Lawrence. It was majorly funded by the native chiefs of Punjab.

The designers of the Lawrence and Montgomery halls were the chief engineers of Public Works Department namely Mr. G. Stone and Mr. J. Gordon, respectively. The construction of these buildings was accomplished under the direction of Rai Bahaduar Kanhya Lal, who was attending as Executive Engineer in Lahore under Public Works Department (P.W.D) of the Punjab.

Both halls were connected through a covered corridor.

A spacious room was recently constructed leading into the corridor between the two halls. The Lawrence Hall was normally used as an assembly room for public meetings and theatrical and musical amusements. Several parties and get-togethers for the bureaucrats were also held here.

Both the buildings were under the supervision of municipality, which led them in trust of the government.

The original curved roof of the Montgomery Hall was disassembled and substituted in 1875 with a marvelous teak floor for singing and dancing. The roof was coated, stimulated and corrugated with a decorative carved wooden cling stunningly painted in Egyptian and Italian patterns and fitted with glass windows.

On May 1, 1878, the services of the halls, library and the reading room officially got the name of "Lahore and Mian Mir Institute." The amenities, particularly the elitism of the place, turned it into a club where the people started getting registered as members. The name was changed to "Lahore Gymkhana" on January 23, 1906.

In January ‘72, the Lahore Gymkhana Club was shifted to Upper Mall and the building became an academy for administrative training by the government of Pakistan. Later, the academy was shifted to Walton and the building, according to press reports, was allotted to the Punjab Arts Council as a Cultural House. But the decision was changed by the President of Pakistan.

On May 17, 1981, a commission was formed under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary of Punjab to set up a model for the library.

Immediately, the renovation of the building was started. The Governor of Punjab Lt. General Ghulam Jilani Khan administered the project of the establishment of library.

On December 25, 1984, the then President General Mohammad Ziaul Haq officially inaugurated the Quaid-e-Azam Library.

The architecture of the building is remarkable. It has been categorised as one of the most beautiful in the country. A magnificent example of Victorian design which reflects the British architecture and style of the reigning monarchs.

The building was built in symmetrical Victorian design, creating curiosity for the spectators. Though the building was made with the combined determination of European and Indian groups of Punjab, its general report shows that it was projected to reflect the classical architecture which was commonly in practice at that time in Europe.

The foremost architectural features of the building are gigantic walls, round arches, Doric order, lofty columns, pediment, small windows and floral patterns.

Lawrence and Montgomery Halls have been renamed as the Iqbal Hall and Jinnah Hall respectively after the establishment of library.

The building has confronted various renovation projects.

Salma Jabeen, a librarian working since 1972, has witnessed the changes made in the library, says, "Many alterations have been made in different sections of the library. Once we had a room allotted as a daycare centre for children, for the ease of married women."

She adds that "all the modifications made till now are for the benefit of the library as well as the readers.

"Our utmost aim is to provide all facilities and fulfil the requirements of the members."

Since last few years, the library has been facing the shortage of space. In order to cope with the issue, the authority decided to construct two basements on the western and eastern sides of the library. Both basements constructed cover the area of approximately 20,000 sq. meters each. The basements were inaugurated in 2013, though not officially.

The renovation and construction works have been completed under the supervision of the Public Works Department (PWD).

However, the new architecture and renovation work has some flaws. The ventilation system in basement is full of errors. The windows are sealed with glass due to which there is no air circulation. The exhaust system’s capacity is very low which needs to be enhanced.

A book selection committee has been formed to choose the books which have to be added on annual basis to the library collection. The committee consists of bureaucrats who after retirement work voluntarily.

As they are not related to the research and study field, therefore, sometimes the choice for new books is not made wisely. The committee must add some researches, experts and PhD holders for the purpose.

The Library collects annual allowances from the Punjab government. The other sources of finance include membership fees, auction of old newspapers, donations etc.

The Quaid-e-Azam Library is truly a treasure of Pakistan in general and Lahore in particular. But it needs to be accorded a greater attention and consideration.

From Gymkhana to Library