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KARACHI: With the physicality of libraries evolving and being redefined, a panel discussion was held at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture on Wednesday to discuss their impact on the behaviour of present-day society.

Prof Malahat Sherwani, director Bait-ul-Hikmah Library, Hamdard University, spoke about how human behaviour has many dimensions and libraries can play a major role in shaping this. “Learning, academic and professional facets of a person’s life are heavily impacted by the presence of libraries.”

She also spoke about bibliotherapy, which is the use of books as therapy in the treatment of mental or psychological disorders. “People under stress have [been] found to improve after having read something. It helps revive and reinvigorate the person. I personally benefit greatly after reading poetry and it helps revive me from depressive thoughts.”

On the impact of libraries on behaviour, she said: “A library can promote your professional skills, bring you out from depression, and give you something to live for and look forward to. But no longer is the concept of a library merely contained within a boundary. The modern format of a library is virtual too, and tends to have the same positive impact on people.”

Professor Emeritus Shehnaz Ismail shared her frequent visits to the library and how they help calm her down. “Once you enter an area such as a library where there is silence, and is present a treasure of the written word and knowledge you are humbled. I feel very humbled when I go to a library. Regardless of how wound up I am, or in the midst of a crisis, the best thing for me to do is go to a library and I will calm down.”

She was of the opinion that the physicality of a conventional library makes it a safe haven. “A library is a safe space. The discipline of entering and functioning within a library is invaluable.”

Mumtaz Memon, former librarian at Mehran University, Jam­shoro, gave a talk on the importance of libraries and reading culture at home. Reading, she said, affects how we design our life and how our perspective changes over time. To be knowledgeable one must read whether it is on an e-reader, or the traditional volume.

Speaking of the art of narrative and storytelling, and the tradition of the human audio book, Ms Memon recalled how her grandmother used to tell her stories in Gujarati which is something she still recalls very clearly. “I still remember my first audio book which I got from my family. It was not a technological innovation but a cultural innovation.”

She stressed on the importance of people-to-people contact through reading and through collective reading; a culture of reading should be encouraged in our lives.

“Magic happens when people read together. In today’s world if you want to destroy a culture there is no need to burn books. Once you can influence the readers to not read, that is when a culture starts to die.”

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018