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Electronic Journal of Academic
and Special Librarianship
v.9 no.1 (Spring 2008)
Perceptions of LIS Professionals about Digital Libraries in
Pakistan: The Pakistani Perspective
Ashfaq Hussain, Librarian
FAST National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, Islamabad, Pakistan
Khalid Mahmood, Chairman, Department of Library & Information Science
University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan
Farzana Shafique, Lecturer, Department of Library & Information Science
Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan
The concept of the digital library is new in Pakistan. Although LIS professionals in Pakistan are
users of digital libraries, setting up local digital libraries is very rare here. This study analyzed
the perceptions of Library and Information Science (LIS) professionals in Pakistan concerning
digital libraries. Six research questions were asked:
1. What is the concept of the digital library?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital libraries?
3. What is the situation of digital libraries in Pakistan?
4. What are the problems in setting up digital libraries in Pakistan?
5. What are the needs and requirements for setting up digital libraries in Pakistan?
6. What are the suggestions to promote digital libraries in Pakistan?
The problems which are hindering the promotion of digital libraries in Pakistan include lack of
IT literacy, lack of funding, power failure, copyright issue, etc. The respondents suggested that
trained manpower and proper equipments and infrastructure, along with training, orientation,
support and awareness were essential requirements for setting up digital libraries locally.
The digital library is an umbrella term for conceptual modes of libraries that focuses on the
provision of services associated almost totally with digital content and to describe those aspects
of existing library services that have significant components (Prytherch, 2005). A digital library
is comprised of collections, services and infrastructure to support lifelong learning, research,
scholarly communication and preservation (“Digital libraries,” 2006). It is the collection of
services and the collection of information objects that support users in dealing with information
objects and the organization and presentation of those objects available directly or indirectly via
electronic/digital means. Feather & Sturges (2003) define digital libraries as organizations that
provide the resources, including the specialized staff, to select, structure, offer intellectual access
to, interpret, distribute, preserve the integrity of, and ensure the persistence over time of
collections of digital works so that they are readily and economically available for use by a
defined community or set of communities.
Developed countries are preserving human knowledge in digital form, which has less
managerial, preservation and conservation issues and providing instant access to their users’ and
researchers’ community. While developing countries are far behind in preservation of
information in digital form, which hinders in easy and instant provision of access to the users.
This digital age has raised the issues of digital divide between information rich and information
The idea of digital library is new in Pakistan. No research study was conducted to find out the
status of digital libraries in Pakistan. Only a few articles and reports are available which have
discussed the issue in Pakistani perspective. In 2004, the British Council planned to launch an
online digital library in Pakistan to help individuals and institutions in their research work. In the
same year, the United Nations launched its digital library to provide access to full-text
documents produced by various UN agencies, programs and funds that were active in Pakistan
(“UN Digital Library,” 2004). Pakistan Library Automation Group organized the first ever
national greenstone digital library training program at Riphah International University,
Islamabad in June 2006 (Pakistan Library Automation Group, 2006). The Higher Education
Commission (HEC) started a ‘National Digital Library’ program to provide local researchers
with access to international scholarly literature across a wide range of disciplines (Higher
Education Commission, 2006). A digital library consisting of 17,000 science journals was
established in Pakistan (Atta-ur-Rehman, 2005). Some other digital library projects have been
introduced in Pakistan such as United Nations Digital Library at Islamabad, which is an open-
access, online searchable repository; the Pakistan Library Network is a research initiative of
Planwel Academic and Research Network to build electronic access network of all the regional
libraries for furthering research and development; Pakistan Education and Research Network
(PERN) is a nationwide educational intranet connecting premiere educational and research
institutions of the country and the Pakistan Research Repository is a project of the Higher
Education Commission to promote the international visibility of research originating out of
institutes of higher education in Pakistan (Eprint, 2006; Pakistan Education & Research
Network, 2006; Planwel, 2001).
The objectives of this study were to find out the perceptions of LIS professionals regarding the
What is the concept of the digital library?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of digital libraries?
What is the situation of digital libraries in Pakistan?
What are the problems in setting up digital libraries in Pakistan?
What are the needs and requirements for setting up the digital libraries in Pakistan?
What are the suggestions to promote digital libraries in Pakistan?
Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant's experiences. The
flexibility of the technique allows an investigator to probe, to clarify, and to create new questions
based on what has already been heard (Powell, 2004). Therefore, interview technique was
employed for the collection of data for this study. An interview schedule was formulated based
on six research questions.
A purposive sampling method was adopted. Interviewees were selected based on their
professional knowledge, skills and work regarding library automation and the use of digital
libraries. A list of 25 LIS professionals, working in academic, public, special libraries and
library schools in Lahore, was made. They were contacted by telephone. Twenty persons agreed
to participate in the study. The principal author physically visited the participants at their offices.
The interviews were audio recoded with the help of an MP3 recorder. The transcripts of
interviews were qualitatively analyzed.
Analysis of Data and Discussion
Interviewees were asked to give their opinion about the various aspects of digital library.
Thematic analysis and interpretation of the qualitative data follows.
Concept of Digital Library
The interviewees perceived that the digital library was a confusing term, one that can be defined
in different ways. The definitions provided by the respondents are as follows: “The library which
includes digital objects, in broader term electronic documents, sounds, videos and other
documents which is accessible through personal desktop is a digital library” (N=12). “The
collection of the digital library will be in the form of zero and ones” (N=2). “All the recorded
information in a digital library will be in digital format i.e., books, journals, theses, dissertations,
patents, encyclopedias, etc.” (N=2). “The digital library is an organized collection of uniformed
electronic artifacts”, “A fully or partially automated collection is a digital library”, “The
Information stored and accessed through a machine is a digital library”, “An online collection of
scanned items is a digital library”, “Any material in digital format is a digital library”, “The
library that is using electronic devices to disseminate the information is a digital library”. The
frequency distribution of the responses is presented in Table 1.
Table 1. Interviewees’ Concept about the Digital Library
Concept of Digital Library
Library that is accessible through personal desktop
It has collection in the form of zero and ones
It has organized collection of uniformed artifacts
It has fully or partially automated collection
Any information stored and accessed through the machine
It has online collection of scanned items
Any material in the digital format
Use of electronic devices for dissemination of information
The interviewees also gave opinion about whether abstracting databases and subscribed
electronic resources can be called a digital library or not. They were of the view that “subscribed
resources are not a form of digital library. We can call it the collection of electronic resources,
electronic databases, or online databases but cannot claim it our own digital library as HEC is
using the name “National digital library program” for subscribed sources” (N=18). Some were of
the opinion that “Abstracting databases are the digital libraries” (N=14) and “Abstracting
databases are not the digital libraries but we can say it is a step toward digital libraries as they
don’t provide full text information” (N=11). There was an agreement of opinion among the
participant on the issue that the concept of library automation is quite different from a digital
library. “The environment of the digital library can be both online (Internet or Intranet) and
offline (CD-ROM, Flash disk and other digital devices)” (N=16). “The Internet is an essential
requirement for setting up a digital library” (N=9). “Video and audio cassettes are not part of a
digital library as this type of material is not in digital format” (N=18). “Video and audio cassettes
are part of a digital library” (N=2).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Libraries
The interviewees were asked to opine about the advantages and disadvantages of a digital
library. The common advantages narrated by the respondent include: “The digital library has a
comprehensive search facility”, “It is always time saving”, “It gives around the clock access”,
“Resource sharing is very easy with the help of a digital library” (N=20). “It occupies minimum
space”, “The digital library enables text plus sound and images”, “The digital library helps in
building a better image of the library in the society” (N=18). “It is portable” (N=16). “It can
deliver information very quickly” (N=15). “Remote access is possible, there is no need to go
physically to the library to get any information” (N=14). “Multiple users can access it at the
same time” (N=13). “It is a safe medium” (N=9). Frequency distribution of the responses on
advantages is presented in Table 2.
Table 2. Opinion about Advantages of Digital Library
Round the clock access
Convenient for resource sharing
Covers minimum space
Enables text with sounds
Build the image of the library
All the respondents were of the opinion that the advantages of the digital library are much more
than its disadvantages. However, the demerits narrated by the respondents are: “Power failure”
(N=20), “Internet security problems” (N=17), “No physical appearance” (N=16), “Computer or
server problems” (N=15), “Copyright issues” (N=12), and “People’s preference to read print
material” (N=9). Some opined that “The digital library has no disadvantage but has some hurdles
that can be removed” (N=2). Frequency distribution of responses on disadvantages is given
Table 3. Opinion about Disadvantages of Digital Library
Internet security problem
No physical appearance
Computer or server problem
People prefer to read print material
Situation of the Digital Libraries in Pakistan
Respondents were asked to opine about the situation of the digital libraries in Pakistan. All the
respondents were not satisfied with the current situation of digital libraries but were of the
opinion that now the concept of digital library is making its roots in Pakistan and some
institutions have taken initiatives towards it. They also claimed that digital libraries of UN and
the World Bank are the best examples of digital libraries in Pakistan.
In Lahore almost all reputed academic institutions are now thinking about developing digital
libraries. Some efforts have also been made by different institutions. Lahore University of
Management Science (LUMS) has set up a digital library of press clippings. Government
College University (GCU) has started a digital library of abstracts of theses and its publications,
like RAVI, Scientific Ravi, etc. Iqbal Academy has digitized the works of Allama Iqbal. Further
more, the institutions like COMSATS University, University of Management and Technology,
FAST National University, Quaid-e-Azam Library, Punjab University Library, University of
Engineering and Technology, Shirkat Gah, and SAMEDA are going to set up or plan their own
digital libraries. All the respondents agreed that the collective efforts in this regard are the dire
need of the hour especially at Lahore. All the interviewees were of the opinion that the co-
ordination among different institutions would reduce the duplication of work.
Keeping the situation of Pakistan in view, all the respondents recommended the freely available
software “Greenstone”, which can be used to set up a digital library. The astonishing feature of
this software is that the help, training and support are also freely available and a national training
workshop on Greenstone digital libraries was held in the month of June 2006 at Islamabad. Some
respondents (N=6) pointed out that the use of software for the digital library depends on financial
resources of the institution and there are many commercial software packages, which are
available with additional features. One example of these packages is the VTLS Virtua digital
library module. So we should choose the best suitable software to establish our own digital
Problems in Setting up Digital Libraries in Pakistan
The interviewees were asked to mention the problems that hinder setting up digital
libraries in Pakistan. All the respondents agreed that “IT literacy rate is very low in Pakistan,
which is the fundamental hindrance in setting up digital libraries.” “The copyright act is also a
barrier” (N=20). “Lack of funds is a problem in Pakistan” (N=16). “Basic required infrastructure
for digital libraries is not available in the country” (N=14). “Local resources (publications) are
not available for digitization” (N=12). “Absence of suitable infrastructure and trained
manpower”, “Resources are available but people are unaware of the importance of digital
libraries”, and “The higher administration is not willing for any change” (N=9). The frequency
distribution of responses is presented in Table 4.
Table 4. Problems in Setting Up Digital Libraries
Low IT literacy rate
Lack of funds
Non-availability of basic infrastructure
Local resources are not available
Lack of trained man power
Lack of awareness
Lack of interest by the higher management
Needs and Requirements for Setting Up Digital Libraries in Pakistan
All the participant of the study felt that “the appropriate hardware and software is essentially
required for setting up digital libraries in Pakistan.” “Locally published documents for
digitization are required” (N=18). “The funding is the major requirement for setting up digital
libraries in Pakistan” (N=15). The support and orientation is required in this regard (N=13). “The
cooperation of higher administration is the basic necessity as they have authority for making
decisions and if they are not willing for any change no one can do anything” (N=12). “The
availability of trained staff is most important and there is no institute in Pakistan, which offers it
as a separate subject, degree or course” (N=10). The frequency distribution of responses is
presented in Table 5.
Table 5. Needs and Requirements for Digital Libraries
Needs and Requirements
Appropriate hardware and software
Availability of documents for digitization
Support and orientation
Interest and cooperation by the higher administration
Education and training
Suggestions for the Promotion of Digital Libraries in Pakistan
The interviewees were also asked to give their suggestions for the promotion of digital libraries
in Pakistan. They said, “Proper arrangements should be made for the training and education of
digital librarianship in Pakistan. Library schools can play a vital role in this regard by
introducing a full time digital library course at the Master and MPhil levels. Professional
associations and library schools can organize seminars, conferences, workshops, continuing
education programs, and lecture series etc., for the promotion of digital librarianship in Pakistan.
Government or other funding agencies can be helpful in its promotion through frequent provision
of funds. The Library and Information Science professionals can also play a vital role in this
regard. They should work like a unit with full coordination for its development and promotion.
There should be an institute, organization or association of LIS professionals, which can provide
help, support and orientation to the librarians for setting up digital libraries in Pakistan.
The perceptions of selected LIS professionals in Pakistan reveal that the digital library is a
confused term, which can be defined in different ways. The respondents were of the view that in
this era of information technology, the digital library is the need of the hour and can play a vital
role to enhance research and development in the country. Keeping the Pakistani perspective in
view, the respondents mentioned many problems, which were hindering its promotion i.e., lack
of IT literacy, lack of funding, power failure, copyright issue, etc. They pointed out that the
trained manpower and proper equipments and infrastructure, along with training, orientation,
support and awareness were essential requirements for setting up a digital library. The present
situation of digital libraries in Pakistan is not satisfactory although some efforts have been made.
The respondents stressed that the training workshops, seminars, lectures and other activities are
needed for the promotion of digital libraries in Pakistan. It is suggested that library schools and
professional associations should divert their attention towards this important issue and take
necessary measures to promote the concept of digital librarianship in Pakistan.
Atta-ur-Rehman. (2005, March 28). Pakistan only country to have digital library. Daily Times.
Retrieved October 25, 2006 from http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/.
British Council may launch e-library. (2004, February 26). Daily Times. Retrieved October 25,
2006 from http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/.
Digital libraries. (2006). Retrieved October 17, 2006 from
Eprint. (2006). Retrieved November 25, 2006 from http://www.eprints.hec.gov.pk/.
Feather, J., & Sturges, P. (Eds.). (2003). International Encyclopedia of Information and Library
Science. (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Higher Education Commission. (2006). Retrieved November 25, 2006 from
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Pakistan Library Automation Group. (2006). Retrieved November 25, 2006 from
Planwel. (2001). Retrieved November 25, 2006 from http://www.planwel.edu/pln.htm.
Powell, R. R. (2004). Basic research methods for librarians. Westport, CT : Ablex.
Prytherch, R. J. (2005). Harrod’s librarians’ glossary and reference book. (10th ed.). Hants:
UN Digital Library now accessible. (2004, September 16). Daily Times. Retrieved May 8, 2007
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