While Pakistan has had digital libraries for much of this century (the Higher Education Commission launched the National Digital Library programme in 2004) ebooks remain rare in the country, with the Big 5 western ebook retailers indifferent and local players yet to emerge.
The latest news from the Punjab that twenty e-libraries have been established in the province, while welcome, isn’t going to change that.
The News reports that the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and Youth Affairs, Sports, Archaelogy and Tourism Department (YASAT) have established e-libraries in 20 districts of the Punjab comes with some caveats.
One would hope that a governmental department responsible for such a wide-ranging brief as youth affairs, sports, archaelogy and tourism would see an opportunity there to embrace the ebook as a form of entertainment as well as a tool for science and education, but what we know of the project so far suggests the new libraries are not going to be tools to bring reading to the masses.
While the libraries are supposedly
focused to promote e-reading and e-learning culture,
and will be free for the public to use, and open to the public seven days a week, offering free wi-fi, they are physical entities requiring personal attendance.
Each library comprises an auditorium with seating facility for 50 people, multimedia facility, e-Rozgar room with 16 computers, e-learn facility, digital library access room with 10 computers, five tables and beautiful work stations.
Those who cannot physically get tot he libraries will therefore be denied such benefits there are, which anyway appear to preclude reading for pleasure..
So while this initiative is to be welcomed, it does not bring Pakistan any closer to the free and easy access to fiction, non-fiction and learning tools we in the First World west take for granted thanks to digital library suppliers like OverDrive..
With none of the Big 5 western ebook retailers acknowledging Pakistan exists, and Pakistani publishers reluctant to invest in digitisation because there are no meaningful digital outlets, it looks like ebooks in Pakistan will remain a novelty for a few more years yet.