The busiest library in Sindh

The busiest library in Sindh
Nesar Khokhar: The hush inside the halls of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto Memorial Library in Larkana is broken only by the near constant scrapping of chairs on the floor.

Recently vacated chairs are grabbed up in a flash. In the canteen just outside the door, more people are waiting for their turn to find a spot to park their books at. They will have to wait a long time though.

Empty seats are near impossible to find.

The library is considered a blessing by those students of Larkana and its surrounding areas who are preparing for examinations. Many CSP officers selected from this area can trace their success back to hours spent inside the library. Its sprawling three acres are increasingly proving to be too small for the ever-growing number of visitors. Though the halls are large, the number of periodicals, journals, books and seats is limited. Readers compete with each other to grab the best. Mornings are especially busy when aspiring students push through throngs of readers to get inside.

Library officials estimate that around 2000 students visit the library every day. The majority of these are young men. Women are few and far in between.

It hasn’t always been like this. The library was established in 1974 by then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It was built in memory of, and named after the Premier’s late father, Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto. In the decades since the Moorish styled building was completed and its doors opened, it has seen many ups and downs. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government was overthrown in a military coup in October 1977, army personnel took over the building and closed its doors to the public. For almost seven years, the library was empty, its books gathering dust while they waited for eager hands to explore the wealth within their pages. Finally, on 27 October, 1984, the Deputy Commissioner of Larkana, Mohammad Hashim Memon, got the building vacated and opened it once more for the public.

Today, those turbulent days are just a bad memory. The 750 chairs inside are competed over, and as soon as one is empty, there is a rush to occupy it. One of the reasons for the library’s popularity is the large number of books inside. Shams Kalhoro, the Assistant Director of the library, says there are over 9,000 books inside. Out of these, 7,500 are in English. Other than Urdu and Sindhi, the library also stocks a decent number of Arabic and Persian texts.

Another reason for the library’s popularity is that it is air-conditioned. Average summer temperatures in Larkana hover in the late 30s, and daily highs fluctuate between 47 and 52 degrees centigrade. Recently, the Sindh Culture Department, which runs the library, has installed 80 air conditioners in the building and its 13 study halls. Kalhoro says the electricity bills are prohibitively high, but that won’t stop them from providing a comfortable environment for the students who are studying there.

There is also free Wi-Fi, a standby generator and one of the most complete catalogues in the region.

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.

The library has separate sections for children, newspaper browsing, an internet café and women’s space. There is also a reference hall, an auditorium, a CSS and PCS section and an entry test section for students who are about to sit for engineering or medical entry tests. Infact, attendance swells even more during these times, according to the assistant director.

Those who fail to grab a seat are often seen sitting in the canteen, which lacks adequate facilities. Readers often complain that the canteen needs an upgrade.

They also want more air conditioners, despite the 80 new ones. High temperatures combined with packed halls mean the air-conditioners can’t always do a good job. “The halls are over-crowded, we need to make the halls more spacious,” the assistant director said, adding that constructing new halls is also an option that is being considered.

Readers also want more staff. Currently there are only 20 employees to cater to the needs of 2000 visitors.

The library, which was taken over by the department of culture on 11 November 1987, was expanded in 1993 and a dedicated section for women was added to it in 2013 in addition to five reference halls. Despite the construction of four new halls in 2016, 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 Asia Book Foundation used to contribute new books regularly, but it has now stopped the practice for unknown reasons,” said the librarian.

In answer to readers’ demand, The Lincoln Corner was established within the library in 2014. It shows research documentaries and houses international magazines, making it one of the busiest spots in the entire premises. 

To resolve the problem of space, library management had proposed utilizing the building of Benazir Bhutto Museum which was built adjacent to the library in 2012.  However, the proposal failed to materialize.

Older readers say the sight of full halls fills them with pleasure. With libraries full of the younger generation, they would keep away from asocial and anti-social habits and crime, while learning wisdom.