Central Library Srinagar: The Knowledge Sanctuary

With the start of human dwellings on earth, the yearning for knowing, and later on learning became an inseparable part of human nature. Hence the need for establishing places of imbibing knowledge. The urge for knowing and later on learning is ordained in human nature. Establishment of libraries in the modern form is traced to  the 17th century to England and later on to United States of America. However, the history of establishment of libraries in the ancient period is traced from Great Civilisation of the times like Indian and Egyptian civilizations. This write up is essentially meant to give a brief account of the establishment of two great libraries of the then Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir.

With the arrival of British East India Company and later on its successor the Crown of England, J&K was also brought under British suzerainty. Though British Empire remained aloof from this state for a short while because of Treaty of Amritsar, the British bureaucrats and policy makers did start to rue their decision of totally bartering out the J&K State to a local solider and efforts were on to rescind the treaty of Amritsar. However, the leakage of this news in India severely dented the moral credibility of British Empire not adhering to Treaties and Agreements and consequently plan was shelved to protect the British credibility. This sensibility of British Rulers is in total contrast to the brazenness of modern States not to honour their commitments given to their ‘Subject Nations’. However, the Empire devised new approach to encourage the Maharajas and Nawabs to treat their subjects with relatively liberal and popular policies in the field of education and social reform. With the spread of Modern Education in British India, British Government started establishing libraries and archives in various parts of British India and encouraged the Indian Rulers to do the same in their respective territories. Delhi, Calcutta, Lahore and other places were the first to have the honour of having established public libraries. It is reported that the British government deputed a few English bureaucrats and experts to encourage Maharaja Ranbir Singh to establish libraries in Jammu and Srinagar. Consequently in 1879 Shri Ranbir Singh Library was built at Jammu with a fine collection of books in English, Urdu, Hindi and Sanskrit. The building housing this treasure at Kachi Chawni has architectural value as well. Priding with a fine collection of books and manuscripts in English, Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Punjabi and Sanskrit, the SPS Library in Srinagar was established during Maharaja Pratab Singhs reign in 1898. The location of this library originally at Lal Mandi was a fine idea because of its serene locale on the other side of Jehlum River and it had in earlier times an advantage of having office of Kashmir University, Amar Singh and SP Colleges. However, with the passage of time the spread of education and increase in number of Research scholars made it incumbent upon the Government to shift the Library  and thus a new library building at M A Road was constructed with a huge investment of Rupees of more than 300 million and with a spacious building comprising 6 floors with facilities of lift, air conditioning system, multiple wash rooms, basement and parking space (though presently the visitors are not allowed to park the cars in the compound). I have visited this library immediately after it was thrown open to the members and research scholars. However, with the onset of Covid 19, the visitors particularly the senior citizens are hesitant to visit the library and spend some quality time there. The initial euphoria having died down, the Govt has apparently ignored the maintenance and up keep of the library. The administration seems not to be sensitive and live to the requirements of the daily functioning of the library.

One of the reasons for ignoring the place of gaining knowledge is non serious approach of administration with regard to the appointment of Director and Senior functionaries. As a library is an abode of learning and adding to ones knowledge, the authorities who are running and heading libraries should always have a deep interest in learning and spreading the knowledge. This being the age of professionalization and specialization, only the persons knowing the subject well should be considered for the job. It is painful to note that administration has not given due thought and consideration to the posting of director of libraries. As per the record available from 2009 till date, more than 13 KAS officers have exchanged the hands for the post of director of libraries. Certain officers held the post for a period of less than 3 months. It seems the day some officer is posted as the Director of Libraries he perceives the same as a punishment. He is not there with his heart and soul. He is seen of and on visiting the secretariat to get a change from “the confines of a jail to greener pastures” and administration is happily inclined to “restore” such officers and house them in ‘greener pastures’. It is further observed that the officers with vigilance and disciplinary proceedings are posted as the Director of libraries. During late 70s till early 90s administration was selecting some renowned academicians for this post. It is high time for the administration to consider reserving the posts of Directors of Libraries, Archives and Museums for academicians like professors of universities and colleges. Similarly, if found suitable, competent, and fulfilling other requirements, the senior officers working in libraries with degrees of library sciences or special skills that are derived generally through librarianship and experience gained over the years, be considered for such posts. If trained personnel is not available or suitable then university professors be selected to head these institutions with incentives like deputation allowance.

The newly constructed library at M. A Road Srinagar has wonderful reading facilities for senior citizen members but a general  tendency  in the student community of nearby colleges has been noticed of usurping such facilities  for exam preparations thus depriving the senior citizen members from taking the advantage of reserved space. It is further noticed with pain and anguishes that such students on being ticked by concerned staff and officers of the library misbehave with the library staff. They are at times approaching young journalists to get the distorted news published in some lesser known local newspapers. There is also a well maintained section for rich manuscripts and rare books. The serious scholars are going to be benefited by this fine collection. There is a need to use modern methods of protecting and preserving these priceless manuscripts and rare books

 Though millions have been spent on the new library, the administration has been absolutely unmindful of sanctioning required and necessary funds for meeting daily expenses. Thousands of rare and costly books aren’t placed in proper racks and shelves for lack of necessary funds.

Most of the libraries outside the state (including Allama Iqbal Library of Kashmir University) has well maintained RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to identify and track records. This is also pending reportedly for lack of funds. The Chief Secretary is requested to give immediate attention to this requirement so that the costly and rare books aren’t stolen from the library.  Digitalization of records is a dire need to facilitate the readers to see the availability of the requisite books.

Some libraries outside J&K have selected well qualified people besides Government authorities as consultative machinery. These committees are consulted when new books and reading material is purchased. It is not certain whether J&K has any such mechanism of  benefiting from the matured advice and suggestions by qualified people. A serious thought has to be given to this suggestion. 

A library has rightly been characterized to be a place where history comes to life. This cannot be realised only with erecting a huge structure of bricks, sand and cement but also adopting a holistic approach.

G R Sufi is former CIC, J&K