READERS appear engrossed in their books at a reading hall packed to capacity.—Dawn
READERS appear engrossed in their books at a reading hall packed to capacity.—Dawn

LARKANA: Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto Memorial Library, even with its sprawling three-acre premises, is increasingly proving smaller for the ever growing number of readers who have to compete with each other over limited number of seats, books and periodicals and space in otherwise large reading halls.

“We badly need a larger space in the library with adequate facilities to provide a congenial atmosphere to book lovers and knowledge seekers,” said readers who frequented the library.

Established in 1974, the library has witnessed many ups and some downs but it continues to grow and serve as a source of inspiration for students hailing from different parts of Larkana division. Once army personnel had taken over the building in the wake of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government’s overthrow but Mohammad Hashim Memon, the then deputy commissioner of Larkana, managed to get it vacated on Oct 27, 1984.

Readers have to remain on the lookout for empty seats and as soon as a chair is vacated they rush to occupy it. “I am a lawyer and I visit women’s section of the library after attending high court to further my studies. I need latest reference books, which are few and far between,” said a female advocate.

The library provides cool environs to its readers in a city which experiences high temperature fluctuating between 47 and 49 and sometimes even touching 50 degrees Celsius. Sindh culture department, which runs the library, has lately installed around 80 air conditioners in the building.

“We pay heavy electricity bills to keep the air conditioners running and provide cool and comfortable atmosphere to book lovers,” said Shamsuddin Kalhoro, assistant director of the library.

The library has 13 large study halls, which often prove small for the large number of readers. It is completely catalogued and has Wi-Fi facility and a standby generator.

Two sections of the library have been exclusively allotted to candidates preparing for different competitive examinations and remain packed to capacity most of the time.

A young man from Thull, Jacobabad, who had temporarily shifted to Larkana to prepare for CSS examination, complained about the ever squeezing space in the library. One can witness great rush of students who begin to gather before the library well before its opening time and rush in as soon as the gates are opened to get hold of a seat.

“The proverb ‘late comer must suffer’ is seen in action here and it also speaks volumes for the positive change among students who seek after knowledge to prepare themselves for competitive examinations,” said the assistant director.

The library has separate sections for children, newspaper reading, internet café and women. Those who fail to grab a seat are seen sitting in canteen, which lacks quality arrangements. A canteen with better facilities was under-construction and could very soon start functioning.

Many readers complained that the air conditioners were not enough to keep the premises cool in high temperatures outside. “The over-crowdedness in halls is natural and requires making the halls more spacious or constructing new ones to house growing number of readers,” said the assistant director.

The library, which was taken over by the department of culture on Nov 11, 1987, was expanded in 1993 and a girls section was added to it in 2013. Four additional halls were constructed in 2016 but still the library needs more space for readers and more books especially latest editions, which the candidates competing for CSS, PSC and other federal and provincial competitive examinations demand.

The library faces shortage of staff as presently it has only 20 staffers who find it baffling to look after 2000 to 2500 per day. The old readers said the trend was heartening. With libraries full of readers, young generation would keep away from asocial and anti-social habits and crime and learnt wisdom from books, they said.

Majority of readers interviewed demanded widening the library and upgrading facilities. The attendance swells during entry tests for medical and engineering colleges and universities, according to the assistant director.

The library holds about 101,109 books on a variety of subjects and five reference halls. The Asia Book Foundation used to contribute new books regularly to the library but it had now stopped the practice for unknown reasons, said the librarian.

In answer to readers’ interest, Lincoln Corner was established within the library in 2014, which attracts huge crowds who enjoy watching research documentaries and gaining latest knowledge through international magazines.

To resolve the problem of space, the library managers had proposed utilising the building of Benazir Bhutto Museum built adjacent to the library in 2012 to accommodate bulging number of readers but the proposal has failed to materialise.

Though several ministers and secretaries have asked the assistant director time and again to occupy the building but he did not want to do it without permission in writing, said sources. The museum’s building remains idle since its inauguration in 2012.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019