KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Wednesday inaugurated the country’s first street library in a bid to foster love of reading and project a soft image of the city.
The seaside metropolis was home to worst violence until recently.
“This street library will promote the culture of reading,” Sindh Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali said during inauguration ceremony on the occasion of 144th birth anniversary of the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Similar libraries will be established in other major cities of the province as well, he added.
Last week, the Karachi Commissioner’s Office decorated the wall surrounding the Metropole building with portraits of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, his sister Fatima Jinnah, celebrated poet Allama Iqbal, and the first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and named it as commissioner corner. Between the portraits, wooden bookshelves were installed for establishing the first street library.
“The idea behind this first street library of Pakistan is to promote the habit of book reading, which is very essential for any society,” Commissioner Iftikhar Shalwani told Arab News.
“We are also working on upgrading public libraries in different districts of the city. One of those will be named as the city’s central library,” Shalwani said, explaining that the bookshelves have yet to be filled and that the symbolic library will operate on the “take a book and leave a book” basis.
Writers and bibliophiles have welcomed the initiative.
“Any efforts for reviving the culture of book reading should be appreciated,” said Sahar Ansari, a renowned poet and member of the commissioner’s library committee.
“Although promoting book reading in this era of the Internet is a difficult task, sincere and well thought efforts never fail,” he said.
He recalled the city’s rich culture of book reading and “aik ana” (one penny) libraries in the past, which worked on the principle of affordable reading whereby a book could be borrowed for a penny.
“The city had many public and private libraries where thousands would throng to read books on history, literature, science and other subjects of their interest,” Ansari said, adding that personal libraries used to be considered “a status symbol.”
Nowadays, however, although the website of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation lists 41 libraries in the city, only a few remain fully functional. “The libraries of different (foreign) consulates in Karachi would attract a good number of readers,” Ansari said, but security measures often discourage readers from visiting.
Among those who keep the culture of letters alive, he said, are sellers at Regal Chowk, Frere Hall, and next to Baitul Mukarram Mosque, who every Sunday offer old books.
Journalist and writer Ghazi Salahuddin, who used to host a book show on a Pakistani news channel, also appreciated the street library initiative, but offered a caveat.
“Quality and newer titles should be added to the library to make it more attractive to the readers,” he said.