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Mahmood & Shafique -Part 9

Current Status of Libraries in Pakistan and Future Prospects

Fundamental to the creation of a knowledge-based economy is the ability to access information at a fast pace and at the right time. The broadband can provide such access; however, education, awareness and skills also have a vital role in the knowledge-based economy. Due to the large population and high rate of illiteracy in some areas this task is challenging for Pakistan. In this regard, educational institutes should be the main driving force to spread broadband and ICT technologies. School and public libraries especially should be provided with personal computer labs and broadband services hooked up on the parent organization's Intranet to save costs and control network access.

According to the studies by Haider (2002) and Mahmood (2005a), education in general has always been neglected in Pakistan. The government barely spends $3 per capita on activities important for human care. The institutions providing education are heavily under-financed as compared to institutions in neighboring countries. In universities, an average of three percent to four percent of the budget is allocated to research, libraries and equipment ($40-$50 per student); in fact, the budgetary allocation for libraries is barely enough to buy two new books per student per year. The position of university and special libraries is much better than that of school, public and government libraries. The lack of resources and political will are the main hindrances in the establishment, development and maintenance of public libraries under the clear mandate of law in Pakistan, while the school library development is in its embryonic stage. The concept of library automation and networking is being adopted by academic and special libraries in Pakistan. There is an immediate need to coordinate and consolidate the resources and services of different types of libraries in Pakistan to enhance people’s access to quality information in this region.

An analysis of E-government Strategy and 5-Year Plan and IT Policy and Education in Pakistan: A white paper on education policy (Pakistan. Ministry of Information Technology. Electronic Government Directorate) reveals that libraries are a missing link in government policies and strategies in Pakistan. The only exception is the establishment of the National Digital Library. Some policies and legislative documents provide for the establishment of libraries but no action at all has come of them. For example, the Local Government Ordinance, 2001 provides that "a concerned local government may establish and maintain such libraries, reading rooms and circulation libraries as may be necessary for the use of the public. " National Education Policy (1998-2010) provides for the establishment of "multimedia libraries and information resource centers at grass root levels, i.e. Union Council which will encourage and attract the youths and adults to self-learning and similar constructive activities." The policy also encourages the use of the latest information technology, computers, Internet, databases, etc. in libraries. Education for All058; Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs, adopted by the Pakistan Government, recommends that "In partnerships with school and community workers, libraries need to become a vital link in providing educational resources for all learners - pre-school through adulthood &Mdash; in school and non-school settings. There is therefore a need to recognize libraries as invaluable information resources." Under education sector reforms the Federal Ministry of Education has planned to set up 500 tehsil/district teacher resource centers (TRCs) in all provinces which will include public libraries.

The establishment of Internet labs in some public libraries of large cities gave good results (Mahmood, 2006). This practice can be replicated in small libraries. Public and school libraries can better serve as multipurpose community telecenters (MCTs) for the development of rural and deprived areas (Mahmood, 2005b) but this prospective role of libraries is also ignored by the government of Pakistan. On the other hand, librarians especially in public and school libraries, appear to be lacking in vision and effectiveness. Funding is one of the constraints, but there is also the structure of local government itself and the place of public and school libraries within this. There is a dire need for effective and efficient efforts from both policy makers and librarians to fill this gap for the valuable participation of civil society and better utilization of opportunities prevailing in the information society.