Functional illiterates

Very few people in Kashmir read books and fewer use the public libraries. Faisal Rashid reports.

Reading books is not-so-popular in the valley as very few people visit the various public libraries spread across towns and cities of Kashmir Valley.  The membership of these public libraries is going down as well with Srinagar’s main public library having around 150 registered members.

The visitors register at the City Central Library Karan Nagar, shows that on an average only 10 persons visit the library daily.

However, the staff posted at the library say that the visitors don’t make entry in the visitors book.

“Visitor’s do not bother to register themselves and we cannot force them (to make entry in the register),” Riyaz Ahmed, assistant librarian at the library said.Aijaz Ahmed is a shopkeeper, who reads newspapers everyday but does not have interest in books. “I never had interest in them (books) neither at school nor at home,” he said. “It (reading newspapers) is now a basic need. Unless you are informed, you are worthless.”

Like Aijaz there are many more in who don’t find books interesting. Even most of the university students don’t read books other than their syllabus books.“People read, but only few do leisure reading (read books other than their syllabus books,” says Deputy librarian, Abdul Majid Baba at Allama Iqbal Library Kashmir University confirmed.
Another librarian in the university says that as the Allama Iqbal library is an academic library so most of the people visiting the library come in search of subject related books.

 The decline in the membership and visitors of public libraries, experts say, is a cause of concern. They attribute the trend to conflict in the valley and the expansion of communication technologies such as internet besides the “un-conducive” environment at the public libraries and reading rooms.“How can you expect a garage and a library to coexist? Will this provide a suitable environment for the readers?” Dr Baba said while expressing the concern about the city central library at Karanagar, which is adjacent to the municipal garage where vehicles of the department are repaired.

The library is situated in the heart of Srinagar city is housed in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation building on a busy road. The noise emanating from the heavy traffic plying on the road is a continuous nuisance in the library.
Although the department of libraries had made several requests to the municipal authorities to shift the garage, they have refused as the land belongs to municipality, say library officials. The technology also played its role in the declining trend of leisure reading as the young people are hooked to the net. “The study material is readily available (on internet) and it saves a lot of time besides you can enjoy social networking,” says Maqbool Yousuf, a postgraduate at Kashmir University.

Experts, however, say that the significance of public libraries has not diminished, “Public libraries can play an important role in the spread of education from primary to higher education level, even in the spread of adult education,” says Riyaz Ahmed.

To improve the reading culture in the valley, they say, the government should improve the health of the libraries first and appoint qualified professionals to man these.

“What is the fun of having a library sciences course at the university if you are going to recruit non-professionals in the department,” Baba said. “Non- professionals have been instrumental in the declining health of the libraries department in the state.

He also emphasized the role of a teacher in inculcating reading culture among youth saying that teaching should not be restricted to the confines of a class room. “The teaching process should be library oriented with the active participation in the outside environment as well,” Baba said.

Some people say that children should be encouraged to read at their homes.Sadiq Mohammed, a father of two, says he wants his children to take interest in reading books. “We should encourage reading culture in our homes. This can be done by presenting good books as gifts to children instead wasting money on other things,” he said.
With an increase in literacy rate in Kashmir and lot of youth sitting in various competitive exams besides civil services being held frequently, experts say, may increase book reading culture.

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