"Reading maketh a full man," said the 16th century British philosopher Francis Bacon. His quote still rings true as it for any state to progress it is imperative that its youth is well-read.
Keeping this idea in HT ventured into the state's public libraries to see how the storehouses of knowledge were faring in the technology driven modern era.
In the holy city, there are two libraries that stand as evidence for the fact that if proper facilities are provided libraries can click and the lack of them can shove libraries into oblivion.
At the bottom of pyramid is the government-run district library, which has just 1,562 members and pathetic infrastructure to show.
Librarian Dr. Prabhjot Kaur Sandhu is the lone staffer at the district library here and people complain that if she is not present the library is closed.
As the GNDU library has much to offer in the name of facilities; the district library is in a mess.
Apart from staff shortage, the library is in dire need of a facelift and repairs. During rains, the entire area is waterlogged and nobody can enter.
Just one computer, old racks, no air conditioning, inadequate lights, worn out furniture and absence of facilities in the children section leave this library with nothing much to boast about.
The condition of the district library is said best in numbers. There are only 1,562 members at the library including 157 women, 1,066 men and 339 children.
There is no assistant librarian and even the posts of sweeper and watchman are lying vacant since years.
Shockingly, the district administration has remained apathetic while the library has gone from bad to worse.
"The district library stocks around 50,000 books on various subjects so how can I leave this treasure open? I am the only one here. The recruitment was done 15 years ago and I have been serving here for 10 years, so I am left with no choice, if I have to go on long leave, I lock the library and go," said Sandhu.
Suggesting strategies to cultivate reading habit among children Prabhjot said, "A public library act should be enacted at the Centre and it should be made mandatory for the states to follow it. The enactment of the act will ensure availability of funds, staff and infrastructure. Then libraries should be like community centers where reading sessions, interactive seminars by writers, summer reading clubs are regularly organised."
Shabad Parkash Punjab Public Library and Information Services Bill should be passed by the Vidhan Sabha which would definitely bring a change in the miserable conditions of district libraries which are supposed to be funded by the state government.
Plush GNDU library remains a crowd puller
The better of two, Bhai Gurdas Library at the Guru Nanak Dev University has 11,000 members and facilities which are poles apart from the district library.
To start with, the GNDU library caters to the students of the university but is also open for the general public use. Interestingly more than 60% of the users in the library are women.
Apart from adequate staff to assist the students, the library also has good seating capacity, is air conditioned and most importantly is constructed in a disabled friendly manner.
The library has collection of more than 484,000 documents. The pride of the library is the collection of 14,999 rare books and 2,572 manuscripts including the bibliography of Shaheed Udham Singh and Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The library clearly indicates
that better facilities have helped increase reader flow.
The membership at the library this year was 11,354, up by almost a thousand readers from 2014.
Culture of rading picking up
Talking about the trend of book-reading culture going up at the university library, assistant librarian SS Ghuman who has been associated with this library for the past 15 years said, "The reading culture is inculcated from the school-level but unfortunately this is lacking in majority of the institutions especially in rural Punjab. Thus when a student from a rural background comes to the university it is we the librarians who can actually encourage them to inculcate a love for books and make them comfortable in libraries."
"The reading hasn't declined rather I feel it has increased as earlier there were only books in the library now electronic sources have also increased which are attracting the youth towards literature," Ghuman said adding however that irrespective of how much digitization takes place the relationship between a physical book and a student can not fade away.