SRINAGAR: Nouman Nabi, a 19-year-old student from Soura Srinagar has been paying frequent visits to a public library in his locality hoping to borrow a few books. But the books he has been looking for, Nabi says, are not available at the library and whatever is available, is either “too old or of little relevance” in today’s tech-driven world.
“The type of books and other resources this library has seem a generation old. It holds little relevance to the our generation. Thousands of books come in the market every year and they hardly make to the shelves of our library,” said Nabi.
Staff at the library acknowledged that the “few visitors” they get, rarely find the books they are looking for.
Library records show that the library sees less than three visitors a day, and on many occasions only the two staff members enter the library.
“We don’t know why students aren’t turning up and benefiting from facilities here. I see students in the vicinity going to schools but they never come here,” one of the staffers said.
A teacher living in the vicinity attributed the lack of visitors at the library to “non-seriousness” of the department.
“Had they been serious, they would have come and made an assessment of current needs. They should have sought feedback from the students, youth and other people on what content should be supplied so that it benefits larger section of the society. My two children are studying in middle and high schools. I want them to visit this library for references or any other library related work but given the useless material available there, it would a complete wastage of time,” the teacher said.
The Block Library Soura is not the only library struggling to engage readers but most of the libraries this correspondent visited in Srinagar have a similar story to tell. Dearth of visitors and official apathy were evident at most of them. At many places people living in a neighbourhood were not even aware of the location of the library in their vicinity.
Khalid Bashir, a literature student from Khanyar, said that his nearest library, Gousia Library, has been locked since the floods struck valley in September 2014.
Similarly, the Ganj Baksh Library in Nowhatta, according to local residents, opened its gates only “occasionally”.
Apart from lacking the latest books and resources, most of the libraries, run by the Department of Libraries & Research are housed in inadequate rented rooms, or dilapidated structures. Shezan Javeed, an avid vivid book lover from Nowhatta, says the ambience at most of the government libraries was “boring”.
The seriousness of the department can be gauged by the pace of construction of its central library building, the SPS Library. Thirteen years into the project, the Library block is nowhere close to completion, while the project cost has doubled from estimated 17 Crore in 2004 to around 34 crore in 2017.
“It is expected to be completed in July 2017,” a official looking after the construction of the library said. Another prominent unit, the City Centre Library in Karan Nagar is operating from the building of the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).
An official of Libraries department, on the condition of anonymity, said that more than 70 per cent of government libraries in Jammu and Kashmir were operating in rented accommodations, as “little is being done by the department to build the infrastructure”.
According to official data more than a hundred of 136 libraries existing in various districts of the state are housed in rented buildings. “Around 68 out of 79 libraries in Kashmir Valley are functioning from rented buildings,” said the official.
He added that earlier department used to organize book exhibitions where different publishers would come with books from varied sections. “The aim of these exhibitions was to select news books that department could acquire and supply to every library. But, unfortunately, because of laziness of department officials that activity exists no more,” he said.
Director, Department of Libraries and Research, Mukhtar-ul-Aziz, told Kashmir Reader that the department was taking new initiatives to rejuvenate the public libraries.
Aziz said that the department was also pushing for “serious efforts in building its own infrastructure in phased manner”.
“From the last few years, we have undertaken several projects where rented libraries are being shifted to our own newly constructed buildings. The only reason our libraries are operating from renting buildings are non-availability of land,” he said.
To attract more and more visitors, Aziz said the department was supplying a new comprehensive study material for competitive exams, compiled by IIT toppers.
“From the feedback we are receiving from the people, especially youth, we are supplying the new study material as per their needs and demands. We have prepared special notes related to completive exams like KAS, IAS and other exams so that these libraries become a valuable asset for the society,” he said. “We are also considering to provide internet facilities at all the libraries in near future.”