The 2017 Census estimated Lahore’s population to be at 11.13 million. Unfortunately, for this huge population, there are only a countable few public libraries that include the Quaid-e-Azam Library, Punjab Public Library, Dyal Singh Trust Library, Defence Public Library, and Model Town Library. Chughtai Public Library (acronymed as CPL) proves to be a valuable addition.
Presently, the CPL has two outlets: there is a central library on the canal, and its branch has been set up in Central Park (previously Mini Golf). The central library boasts 20,000 books, 40,000 e-books, and more than a thousand digital resources that are accessible to members through the Internet.
The digital resources, some of which are over 300 years old, have been collected from individuals, and public and private libraries. There is rare material that has great archival value, such as the three handwritten Quranic scriptures on rice paper.
Sudeeha Ishaq, a student of MPhil, Environmental Sciences, who is preparing for her Central Superior Service (CSS) exam, says she opted for the Chughtai Public Library because of “its comfortable environment, easy accessibility, and a cooperative staff.”
The library also has a separate section dedicated to books that aid in CSS exams.
The facility at the Central Park is comparatively smaller, but no less useful, especially for university students and those preparing for competitive exams. The library is not short on basic facilities like heating in winters and air conditioning in summers, power backup, and a variety of newspapers and magazines. Also, it has a lounge where people can study or enjoy a cup of tea (which is free for members). Besides, free WiFi, and computers/laptops are also available.
Dr Khalid Rehman, who is prepping for the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) exam, is of the view that CPL is “the best option, as far as public libraries in Lahore are concerned. Here I have the opportunity to demand a book that is not available at the library; the staff ensures that the referred book is available within two or three days.”
Muhammad Ashraf, who has served as a librarian in the central library on canal, says that the facilities have already got 1,430 registered members. This does not include the children who visit them every Saturday. Female staff has been hired to look after and engage with children under 12 years of age, from 7 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.”
He claims that the library is a resource of old as well as contemporary books and journals that cover a wide range of subjects including art, culture, science, geography, literature, education, jurisprudence, and medicine.
The facilities are open on Sundays and gazetted holidays.
Speaking exclusively to TNS, Dr Akhter Suhail Chughtai, the founder of CPL, says: “In the world of Internet, a lot of knowledge that wasn’t fortunate enough to be uploaded remains confined to rotting leaves in withered books. With them is lost a lot of valuable information and heritage. CPL is a humble effort to collect, organise, preserve, and make available to the common man every source of knowledge possible.”
He also speaks of “treasures of books lying in family libraries across Pakistan. In many cases, the pioneers of these facilities have either passed away or for some reason are unable to sustain them. If we can bring their precious documents together under one roof it will be a great service to the nation.”
He concludes by saying that controversial stuff which carries hate material or incites sectarianism is not allowed space in the CPL shelves. In this connection, a board has been set up to review everything that comes in.
All finances are taken care of by Dr Chughtai and his family. The board members welcome the donation of books, though.