Srinagar: Sheikh Tajamul Islam, a private schoolteacher was stunned to see a public library in a dilapidated condition when he visited it for the first time at Pattan town in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
The library accommodated in a private building, is completely out of the order and bereft of any and every standard that refers it to a place for knowledge creation. “My first impression was as if I went inside a stable. The reading room was dark with no electricity. The steel book cabinets were broken and the heaps of dust covered them all over,” Islam said.
Tehsil library Pattan is just an example to gauge the condition of public libraries in Kashmir. The department of libraries and research, therefore, finds it difficult to promote the culture of book reading in the Valley.
Zareef Ahmad Zareef, a noted poet and scholar said that the concept of libraries arrived in Kashmir under the influence of Central Asia region.
Zainul Abidin, the eighth Sultan of Kashmir, according to Zareef, established Daar-ul-Tarjumaa, an informal library. It facilitated people to read translated Sanskrit and Arabic literature in Arabic, Sanskrit and Persian. “This initiative lead in the exchange of views, ideas and religious values among the eople,” Zareef said.
The habit of reading books continued in informal library zestfully under various monarchs until Maharaja Pratap Singh established the first public library named after him at Srinagar in 1898.
Today the department runs a chain of 81 public libraries in various blocks, tehsils and districts of Kashmir division. However people around the vicinity of these libraries say that the concerned department and state government are directly responsible for their present condition.
Mohsin Shafat, a student from Habba Kadal, Srinagar, said that he prefers to buy books online than to borrow them from a public library. He claimed public libraries in Kashmir have nothing to offer except magazines and newspapers. “Why would people turn to such a place where it is going to waste precious time searching for nothing,” he said.
Shafat finds college library thousand times better than the ones run by the department of libraries.
He suggested apart from keeping new material available for the visitors, the department should also focus on its ambiance. “One should find peace in library. The nearest library to my house is bhoot-bangla. One cannot breathe properly inside it and reading a book in such condition is out of question,” he said.
Senior citizens believe prior to the armed resistance people from all walks of life used to visit the libraries to keep themselves updated on events and happenings. “There was passion among us to gaining knowledge but now there is nothing like that. Nowadays youth prefer to read a certain paragraph related to their school or college curriculum through internet,” Abdul Hamid Mir, a 70-year-old book lover from Kanipora area of Budgam district, said.
Ghulam Qadir Wani, a retired principal said, “The fear of being killed or getting disappeared stopped people from visiting libraries. Later on same was followed by younger generations as well.”
A junior librarian who wished anonymity said that the department was not serious about reviving library culture in the region. “Most of the libraries lack basic facilities like electricity and bathrooms. What will we achieve even if we keep latest material available for readers,” she said.
Another librarian who claimed to have worked in several district and tehsils said the problem was largely inherent. “Almost every day we hear about the closure of public libraries. There are 50 employees working on contingent pay on a monthly stipend of Rs 5,000. These employees are abandoning the department because they cannot run their families on this paltry salary,” she said. “If these employees are regularized, half ofg the issues of the department would be resolved,” she said.
Former assistant director libraries Zahid G Mohammad believes the department was on recession for two main reasons. “The department has not been the priority of the government, and most of the libraries are accommodated in dark rooms where hardly people prefer to go.”
Another former employee said, “almost every director and deputy director took initiatives to rejuvenate public libraries and some of them even tied-up with various NGO’s to purchase books for the libraries but there was no or very less finance from the government,” he said.
According to the official data out of 81 libraries 58 of them are housed in private buildings and the department pays around Rs 15 lakh as rent.
Director, department of libraries Mukhtar-ul-Aziz, told Kashmir Reader that the department has taken new initiatives to revive public libraries by constructing own buildings. He said there was no public land available for construction of public libraries.
Aziz said that the department is also pushing for serious efforts to attract more and more visitors by supplying a new study material. “From the feedback we have received from the people, especially youth, we are supplying the new study material as per their needs and demands. “Our aim is to make these libraries some valuable assets for the society,” he said.