Barriers for E-libraries in Pakistan


Abid Hussain

THE word e-library is defined by the Collin Dictionary “an electronic or online library where one can have access to books, journals, novels, articles, or any other information over the net”. It is a source of electronic representation on the Web. Since the advent of the Internet, many traditional libraries have shifted their services to e-library and access has been granted to their users. The electronic library acquires, processes, stores, evaluates and disseminates information via electronic means. E-library is a virtual representation of electronic material. In other words, it’s a fingertip library for researchers.
The concept of E-Library is a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Some projects were undertaken in the last couple of decades, several other projects have been initiated by different universities and other research institutions in Pakistan. Many indigenous library Software has been designed by several institutions showing their repository to the end-users. The demand of researchers is increasing rapidly. Many people do not find time to visit the library personally. In such circumstances researchers rely on electronic libraries. Librarians are changing agents and abreast themselves with the latest technologies. Many open-source softwares are available for the digitization of library data via Internet. Some most popular software such as DSpace, Endnote and Greenstone etc are of prime importance.
The first-ever project was initiated by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan by granting access to different institutions in the country. HEC is providing access to high quality, peer-reviewed journals, databases, articles and e-books across a wide range of disciplines. Digital Library is a programme which provides online contents to researchers within public and private universities and non-profit research organizations. Another fascinating project of Higher Education Commission is Pakistan Research Repository (PRR). The purpose of this project is to showcase the PhD theses of various scholars on the web. This website updates from time to time and theses from different universities are made available here.
Before that, another project was initiated by the then Chief Minister of Punjab Shahbaz Sharif. The Punjab IT Board was given the task to launch a central digital library and access to full-text e-books, e-journals, e-theses, online reference collections were rewarded to 20 Districts of Punjab. Several workshops/seminars/conferences were conducted on open invitation freely. The Board also decided that the access to these libraries will be expanded to public and private university libraries soon. Many Librarians were engaged to run these libraries smoothly. Prime Minister Imran Khan terminated all library staff in the last couple of weeks from their active jobs. The government with poor policy failed to devise policy plans for the researchers in Pakistan, most researchers rely on libraries.
Physical branches have already been shut down, but still, a few libraries offer a wealth of digital content for those who have internet access elsewhere. UNESCO and International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) jointly initiated a programme which links researchers with contemporary library services. Meanwhile, another step has been taken by Internet archive on 24 March, under name of National Emergency Library which gives access to 1.4 million books in its digital lending library and it has been decided that such services will remain in place until June 30, 2020.
The Digital Library project of Punjab province was a nice gesture having paramount importances for the entire community. The scholars have benefited from scholarly contents at their home during COVID-19. Researchers in Pakistan face numerous challenges, one such challenge is to get their desired contents via electronic libraries. The Prime Minister was considered a ray of hope for the entire nation, but, stopping the working librarians from their active jobs is injustice with library staff. The PM needs to take aggressive action against this unethical steps taken by their staff in Punjab province. The e-libraries should be made accessible for all researchers in province. There is a dire need for more libraries throughout the country. Such libraries are likely to enhance research level of our valued researchers.
Many jobless librarians ought to be adjusted in e-libraries back. The Government of Pakistan would be compassionate towards librarians. It is an established fact that those who shut the door of libraries will open the door of ignorance. The PM of Pakistan should bear in mind that demand for library services has surged since the shutdown began in March. The coming era would be an era of online activities and without e-libraries Pakistan will never be able to cope with any pandemic/outbreak in future.
—The writer is a library officer at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad.