Sarwar Hasan: The Library and the Research Worker

PIIA’s founder Barrister Sarwar Hasan thought that the test of a real scholar is whether he has been published by a publisher of world repute.

khwaja-sarwar-hasanIt has been said of the great Arab historian, Tabari, that he wrote forty pages a day for forty years. Edward Gibbon took fifteen years to write the eight volumes of his famous book, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. We have taken these two examples of writers of multi-volume works for the reason that, while they belong to two different cultures and periods, the nature of their effort was the same. Undoubtedly it was in both cases a purely personal effort. The material which they drew upon for their books was also self-collected. And, of course, their purpose was not monetary gain. They were motivated by a passion for enquiry and zeal for making available to others the knowledge which they themselves were deeply interested in acquiring. The times in which Tabari or Gibbon wrote were more spacious than present. There was then more leisure than there is today and practically no competition.

The problem of earning a livelihood to maintain oneself and one’s family was also not so acute. Thus it was that men of learning read books which they themselves collected or books to which they had access in private collections or such public libraries as then existed. They were research workers who fended for themselves. Circumstances have now changed. The research worker of today is not a man of leisure. He has generally to earn his living by his writing. He has to work under severe pressure of time. He knows that he has competitors in the field and must finish his work before his rival does. He writes for publication. He might be in the employ of a research organization. He might have a contract with a publishing house, which is certain to have set a deadline for the completion of his work. These facts have led to the development of techniques to assure that research is quick as well as sound. These techniques all revolve round library organization.

Libraries are known to have existed for thousands of years. There were libraries in Egypt as early as the times of the Ptolemies. And it was a great Ptolemaic library at Alexandria which was burnt by Julius Caesar in B.C. 47. There were libraries annexed to monasteries in mediaeval Europe. There were large, very large, libraries in the Baghdad of the Abbasid Caliphs, in Arab Spain and in Turkistan established and maintained by Taimur and his successors. There is no question that there must have been big libraries in the Mughal capital of Delhi and certainly a great royal library. But none was heard of after the independence war of 1857. My surmise is that it must have been located in the section of the town between the Fort and the Jame Masjid, where the elite lived and which was razed to the ground by the British after their capture of Delhi. But general libraries, whether in Asia or Europe, were store houses of books and did not provide special facilities for research in the modern sense. There is utility in, and need for, general libraries today also. However, a library organized for research has its own distinctive character.

A research library has special organizational features. Of course, like a general library, it has a catalogue. But apart from that, all the material in it, whether contained in books or in periodical journals or in newspapers, is classified and indexed. This enables the research worker to lay his hands on just what he wants without having to search for it. A good research library would also have a digest, with an index, subject-wise and author-wise, of all the material in it, Furthermore, a research library would have bibliographies on various subjects, or be able to prepare a bibliography on request by a research scholar. With these at his disposal, the research scholar is saved much trouble and time in getting the material he needs.

Such organization is possible only if the library is properly equipped and has staff which is properly trained in these special functions. Thus not only is the library important but also the librarian. The library should be well stocked selectively and the librarian should possess the qualifications and qualities needed to enable him to serve as an aide and a guide to the research worker. The librarian we have in mind should himself have a passion for enquiry and for classifying and arranging material and information.

I am privileged to be associated with the library of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. It is a specialized library devoted to the subject for whose study the Institute exists. That subject is not a static one; new books have to be acquired for the library, in fact from day to day. The library has encyclopedias and other reference material, scholarly books, and publications of governments of various countries of the world. These are organized subject-wise or area-wise. The shelves are open and there is free access to them. The library is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Because of the fast changing nature of international affairs it cannot be studied from books alone. Resort has therefore to be made to specialized journals.

The Institute’s library receives about two hundred journals. Our aim is to have at least two journals from every country, one representing the point of view of its government and the other a different point of view. We have bound volumes of back files of newspapers and journals such as Dawn since 1948, The Times London since 1949, International Affairs London, Foreign Affairs New York, The Economist London, The Eastern Economist Delhi, to quote only a few examples. The most prized possession of the Institute are its press-clippings archives, which, in respect of their comprehensiveness and system of arrangement, are regarded as unique in Pakistan.

The Institute’s library has a complete set not only of the United Nations Treaty Series but also of the League of Nations Treaty Series. It has a microfilm reader and a number of microfilms of unpublished work done about Pakistan in some foreign countries. Apart from books, old as well as new, about various countries and various aspects of international relations and diplomacy, it has up to date sections on international law and international economics. To provide a correct historic perspective to scholars working on the problems of Pakistan of today, the Institute has files of Maulana Mohammed Ali’s Comrade and Hamdard, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s Tehzib-ul-Akhlaq. It also has some other rare and out-of-print books. However, although what we have is sufficient to attract research workers not only from various parts of Pakistan but also from far distant countries, it is far from enough. Neither in respect of the size of its holdings, nor the extent of the facilities which it can provide to the research worker, can our library compare with libraries of like nature in the intellectually awakened countries of the world. But if we had more funds, we certainly could improve it.

There is a great need for research in the field of social sciences in Pakistan. So far, we have not even scratched the surface. In the world today, a country is respected not only for its armed strength and the economic prosperity of its masses, but also for the quality of its intellectual achievements. Let us pause and consider what kind of books are published in Pakistan. A number of books by authors, some with academic designations, which have been published might as well not have been published. Their substance is unsound and badly organized; usually they are undocumented and indifferently written. They are cheaply printed on cheap paper and bring no credit to the country. Our publishing houses, too, do not always have high standards. One is forced to the conclusion that the test of a real scholar is whether he has had a book published by a publisher of world repute.

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Filed under Discussion, India, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, PIIA, Sarwar Hasan

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