I cannot help but draw comparisons. Cultural, socio-economic factors, civil liberties or lack there of, rights of women and children, innovation, rationality, state of consciousness/awareness and dealing with reality, how compassionate a society really is. The list, for me, literally goes on and on. The constant evaluation and analysis itself, has to do with living and growing up in different countries.
Now, I have been into reading for as far back as I can remember. Be it reading story books in Urdu from a very early age, to be able to eventually understand and grasp the language in school. To moving to Marvel comics. Let’s admit…a little bit of Archie comics too…actually a lot of Archie comics. Then, I was one of those kids who enjoyed perusing through text books. I’d love going through the details, to be able to absorb the content. I’d read stuff for the sake of understanding and never to be able to score all A’s. That wasn’t me. I’d make sure that what I read, I understood. Otherwise, what was the point of reading? Quantity never appealed to me in this respect. I soon found myself graduating into the sphere of fiction. In the 90′s we read everything from John Grisham to Robert Ludlum and everything in between. Also borrowing heavily from the private libraries of friends and families. I read titles, that I cannot even recall right now. From zombie titles, to sci-fi from the 60 (Golden Age of sci-fi. and I still read sci-fi titles from the 60′s). Maybe this is the reason why my head is full of so much jargon information.
Anyhow, specific to the blog-post and coming back to private libraries. Places like Pakistan and parts of the Middle East don’t really have a lot of libraries. The public libraries that they do have, literally look like the the storage area for a really old museum. These libraries are filled with manuscripts and material from the 1800′s to the 50′s. They wouldn’t even have that if it wasn’t for the British rule. If you are lucky, you might find a copy of the daily English newspaper. All the other newspapers are tabloids. In the 90′s, there were only be 6 or 7 such libraries for a city with 10 million inhabitants! Worst of all, you cannot even borrow a book and take it home with you. Conditions such as these, are prevalent for 95% of the population. There is no middle class. If you happen to be in the top 5%, then sure enough, you could afford subscriptions to any magazines, periodicals or the entire collection of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. Brittanica made a killing in Pakistan in the 90′s (pre Encarta time frame). Also, if you were in the top 5%, you could afford sending your kid to a school that would be on par with any other educational institute in the world. And yes, the libraries in these schools were well maintained.
But it begets the question, how can a society, any society even think about advancement, when it does nothing to promote knowledge? Libraries are one of the pillars upon which you build a civilization. A society without libraries is a society steeped in darkness. A mindless slide into the abyss and eventually into irrelevance really. A lack of such a simple yet fundamental institution can and does explain the myriad of problems that these societies face.
I happened to be at a library on the very second day I came to Canada. I just loved it. I somewhat knew what to expect based on what my friends and family had told me before my arrival. But to actually see the books, and best of all to be able to borrow them was awesome. I know it sounds ridiculous. It even sounds weird to me after all this time in Canada. But an experience is an experience. Once I got a job and the money started coming in, I graduated to Chapters/Indigo pretty quickly. A gentleman has got to build his collection. I bought tons of books. My friends used to joke that I buy all these different books and I don’t get to read them all. Which was partly true, but I do go through most of them eventually. But I never lost the connection to the local library. I’d still end up at the local library any given month. I’d get the titles I need. At this time in my life I do not have the luxury of taking my time to go through all the content. So I employ speed reading habits where I possibly can. But once you have gone through so many titles, you kind of know which one of the titles deserve your utmost attention (slow reading) as opposed to the others.
I hear some people saying that a shift is occurring. That the consumer reading habits are moving towards different mediums and books are losing their appeal as a consequence. I personally have 2 tablets and a kindle. I use all of them. In addition to that, I go through tons of open education sourcesavailable on the web. But! I still borrow tons of stuff from the library. And I could never see myself living in a city/locale that does not go above and beyond when it comes to supporting it’s Library network. And every single time I go to the library, doesn’t matter which city/locale in Ontario, it is jam packed.
Last summer, one of the councilors in Toronto, Doug Ford went on a proposed cost cutting aventure. Doug is Rob Ford’s brother, who is currently the big mayor of Toronto. Unfortunately the Ford administration also wanted to put the Toronto Library Network on the (proposed) chopping board. They wanted to shut down a significant number of libraries under the Toronto Public Library network (there are 99 branches in total as of today). Since then there has been a huge outcry from the Library workers themselves. The editorials in all the major Canadian newspapers have cautioned against such a move. This move by the Ford administration even managed to catch the ire of Margaret Atwood, one of Canada’s renowned novelist. Someone had to stand up to these guys.
Just today I came across the following news article. India to link 9000 libraries: PM Manmohan. The plan is to upgrade and modernize 9000 (yes NINE THOUSAND) libraries all across India. The intent is to link all the libraries to each other and digitize as much content as possible. And to quote from the article “A young reader sitting in his village public library should be able to access books and information from across the world,” And they want to do this for every State, City, Local municipality in India. Think about this and the 35$ tablet that has been developed in India. Information of all sorts will be widely available for potentially each one of the inhabitants in India. I am blown away! What an amazing move by the Indian Government. This is an investment that will benefit India in so many different ways, that it’s hard to even quantify the positive impact this would have. In fact, Malaysia did something similar back in the 90′s and I am sure developing a culture of knowledge and sharing information has a lot to do with their success. Living in the information age, these kind of moves are a no-brainer really.
Just connecting the dots, seeing what the politicians in Canada are doing and what the politicians in some of the developing countries are doing. I cannot help but wonder if we are going into a regressive state of sort. I understand these are hard times and some kind of an austerity measure has to kick in to balance the budget. But for the life of me, I cannot understand why key areas such as knowledge, education and/or health care have to be on the chopping board. When we should be spending money to modernize these institutions and services for the future. India just did, what are you gonna do Rob Ford?