The public reference and research library of Punjabi Sahit Akademi located inside Punjabi Bhawan may be in a shambles, but it is still popular among both the young and the old for one reason – its 86-year-old librarian.
A majority of visitors who come here on a regular basis give credit to Prem Singh Bajaj who has served as the library director for 22 years now. He took up this post after retiring as the principal of Lajpat Rai DAV College in Jagraon.
Ask him what has kept him motivated even now, he says, “My love for books since childhood and passion for work encouraged me to be here. I never wanted to sit idle. So, after retirement, I approached then PSA president SS Johl who was kind enough to take me on board.”
“I may have worked here for over 20 years but not I have never felt bored as I chose a task that I knew will fit me the best after retirement.”
A regular here, Amandeep Singh, says, “He is an inspiration for all of us as his passion for work proves that age is just a number. I have rarely seen him sitting on a chair as he is always busy organising books or repairing old books on his own. Most importantly, he has added to the collection here, increasing the variety of books available for reading.”
When Bajaj joined, there were just 7,000 books. Today, the library holds 59,444 books on different subjects and themes that include not just Punjabi books but also Hindi, Urdu and English.
For literature lovers, there is a separate section for poetry, novels and plays. Interestingly, there are also many handwritten books in the library. These books often attract school groups from time to time as it is rare to come across them today. However, the cynosure of all eyes is the handwritten holy book of Sikhs – Sri Guru Granth Sahib penned in 1796 kept here according to Sikh rituals.
“The handwritten copy of Sri Guru Granth Sahib is among our special collections. It was donated by a local resident three to four years back,” says Bajaj.
Challenges faced by the library
Besides repairs, a paucity of space is the new worry. “As books are donated regularly, we are facing a space crunch. We accept the books as they enrich the variety and quality for our readers but a new wing is being made which will be ready within a year or two,” says Bajaj.
He adds, “Old books are withering away which is also a worry. But again, we have plans to digitalise them.”
The library opened its doors in 1960 and has been free to the public since then. It opens daily from 9am to 5pm except on Sundays.