553412ac25ae2It is often argued that in this age of technology, reading habits are going through a change and more and more people read either online or prefer e-books. Some believe that e-books will soon make printed books disappear as the sale of printed books is falling in many countries and libraries in the West are now resorting to e-lending.

Well, at least in Pakistan, printed books are not going to be replaced by e-books any time soon. The sale of printed books is on the rise in Pakistan and book fairs organised in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad draw ever-increasing number of book lovers. At the recently organised book fair at Lahore’s Punjab University, it is reported, over 150,000 copies of various ‘printed’ books sold. If average price of a single copy is estimated at Rs200, the amount comes to Rs30 million. Who says books don’t sell in Pakistan?

Dr Inam-ul-Haq Javed, director general, National Book Foundation (NBF), during the inaugural of NBF’s Karachi bookshop last month, informed the audience that during the previous year the NBF had sold books worth Rs270 million — and this amount refers to the discounted prices, otherwise the figure would have almost doubled. Sounds strange, but it is a fact. Add to it the sales figures of some other big publishers from Pakistan and the amount is staggering. Though it also includes textbooks, it shows the reading habits are still alive in Pakistan and people do buy books and read them. The NBF’s Islamabad bookshop alone, an insider confided to this writer, sells books worth a few million every month. The NBF has recently refurbished its bookshops in Karachi and Lahore and they, too, are doing quite well.

The NBF is organising a five-day National Book Day Festival at Pak-China Centre, Islamabad. A huge book fair is planned as part of the festival. This National Book Day Festival in fact coincides with the World Book Day. Unesco, in its general conference organised in Paris in 1995, decided to mark April 23 as symbolic date for literature. It is now celebrated as the World Book Day and Copyright Day. Selecting April 23 was meant to pay tribute to books and authors as it is the date on which some of the great authors of the world, such as Cervantes and Shakespeare, died. One of the purposes of celebrating the World Book Day is to encourage the youngsters to discover the joy of reading and nurture a love for books.

So considering that printed books are still very much the norm and libraries around the world do issue printed books, it would not be out of place to mention some of the great libraries of the world to mark the forthcoming World Book Day. In fact, a recently published book — yes, a printed book — briefly introduces some of the world’s great libraries. Titled Dunya ke azeem kutub khane, the book surveys some 100 great libraries situated in 65 countries around the world. Most of the libraries included in the book have a history behind them. Most of them are over 100 years old and some are centuries old. Each library’s brief introduction and history is given along with a photograph.

Written jointly by Iqrar Hussain Sheikh and Haji Daad, the book is published by The Books, Islamabad. The writers have included three of Pakistan’s libraries in the list of great ones: Punjab Public Library, Lahore; Punjab University Library, Lahore, and National Library of Pakistan, Islamabad. Punjab Public Library, established in 1884, is housed in Baradari Nawab Vazeer Khan, a historical building of the Mughal era. The library has some 300, 000 books and periodicals and over 1,000 rare manuscripts. Aside from Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic, a special section of the library holds books in Hindi, Sanskrit, Gujarati and Punjabi (in Gurumukhi script).

Scholars from India visit the library every year in search of these rare works. But, sorry to say, in recent years, the library has suffered a lot due to neglect and apathy of government officials and one does hope that the the ministry concerned would do something to restore the library’s pride and prestige.

The other library that every Pakistani should be proud of is Punjab University Library (PUL). With over 500, 000 books and periodicals and thousands of manuscripts, it is Pakistan’s richest collection, surpassing Karachi University’s Mahmood Hussain Library by about 100, 000 books. Established in 1870s as University College Library, PUL was shifted to the new premises at the Quaid-e-Azam Campus in 1988. Since this writer has used this library on a few occasions for collecting research material, he can vouch that the facilities and services offered at the library are impeccable. It is not only Pakistan’s largest, but it is Pakistan’s best library as well.

The third Pakistani library that the book includes is National Library of Pakistan, Islamabad. National Library is also entrusted with the national bibliographic responsibilities. The library has about 150, 000 volumes and a large number of manuscripts. It receives over 100 periodicals every month under copyright law. The library also works as a depository for some international organisations. One of its sections works as ISBN agency and is responsible for registering and issuing ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for Pakistan.


Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2015