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Purpose The purpose of this study is to answer the following questions: what are an open system and its components? How can the open system model be used to describe a library system including its objectives and functions? What is the situation of librarianship in Pakistan in terms of the elements, characteristics and features of an open system model? Design/methodology/approach The study is based on a review of the literature. The challenges which are faced by librarianship today are presented as a supra‐system of a library system. Inputs (people, knowledge, material, energy, capital and finance), processes, outputs and feedback mechanism of Pakistani librarianship are described. Characteristics of an open system such as users, controller, cycle of events, teleology, mission and negative entropy are presented with special reference to libraries in Pakistan. Findings That the Library system in Pakistan would benefit from the application of an open systems approach, but resource and other constraints prevent this from happening. Research limitations/implications Attempts to show how open systems theory can be applied to the sphere of a national library system. Practical implications The barriers to implementing the systems model offered in this paper are essentially practical: resource constraints, political priorities, and related social or governmental factors. Originality/value The paper is useful not only to understand how a library can be studied using systems theory but also to have a picture of the present state of librarianship in Pakistan.
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Libraries in Pakistan: a systemic
Khalid Mahmood
Department of Library & Information Science, University of the Punjab,
Lahore, Pakistan
Abdul Hameed
Department of Special Education, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan
Syed Jalaluddin Haider
Department of Library & Information Science, University of Karachi, Pakistan
Purpose – The purpose of this study is to answer the following questions: what are an open system
and its components? How can the open system model be used to describe a library system including
its objectives and functions? What is the situation of librarianship in Pakistan in terms of the
elements, characteristics and features of an open system model?
Design/methodology/approach – The study is based on a review of the literature. The challenges
which are faced by librarianship today are presented as a supra-system of a library system. Inputs
(people, knowledge, material, energy, capital and finance), processes, outputs and feedback
mechanism of Pakistani librarianship are described. Characteristics of an open system such as
users, controller, cycle of events, teleology, mission and negative entropy are presented with special
reference to libraries in Pakistan.
Findings – That the Library system in Pakistan would benefit from the application of an open
systems approach, but resource and other constraints prevent this from happening.
Research limitations/implications – Attempts to show how open systems theory can be applied
to the sphere of a national library system.
Practical implications – The barriers to implementing the systems model offered in this paper are
essentially practical: resource constraints, political priorities, and related social or governmental
Originality/value – The paper is useful not only to understand how a library can be studied using
systems theory but also to have a picture of the present state of librarianship in Pakistan.
Keywords Libraries, Pakistan, Open systems
Paper type General review
Systems theory, presented in the early years of the 20th century, has contributed
much to the understanding of complex social phenomena. A system can be defined as
an assembly of components, connected together in an organized way. The components
are affected by being in the system and the behavior of the system is changed if they
leave it. This organized assembly ‘does’ something and has been identified as of
particular interest for that reason (Open Systems Group, 1981). Systems are further
divided into two categories, i.e. closed and open systems. An open system is a system
that is connected to and interacts with its environment.
A library system can be taken as a social organization. For that purpose it is
considered as an open, purposeful and socio-technical system. It interacts and
exchanges resources with the social environment (i.e. the society or community that
This paper is based on dissertation research for PhD at the University of the Punjab. The
citation is Khalid Mahmood, ‘‘Alternative funding model for Libraries in Pakistan,’’ PhD thesis,
University of the Punjab, Lahore, 2003.
Received 24 November 2004
Reviewed 12 January 2005
Revised 17 June 2005
Accepted 29 September
Library Review
Vol. 55 No. 1, 2006
pp. 20-34
EEmerald Group PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/00242530610641763
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
constitutes its supra-system) and achieves steady-state or dynamic equilibrium
through the means of knowledge inputs or feedback mechanism.
The library as a social organization can be defined as an assemblage of interrelated,
interdependent and interacting functional components comprising of men, money,
materials, methods, procedures, ideas and information technology and so forth,
established and unified by human design to form a coherent whole, to provide
opportunities for independent learning and thinking to people or to meet the
information needs of the consumers who constitute its supra-social system.
The library as a human activity system performs specific functions. It finds,
acquires, processes, systematically maintains, and archives information or knowledge
to provide easy access to its users for their information needs and intellectual growth.
The library, as an information organization, serves both society at large and a specific
client group. The premise is that the library system is a sub-system of the larger social
systems such as communication systems. It must accomplish its goals or mission
within the constraints imposed by the environmental supra-system. A model of the
library as a general open system is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Open system model of the
Libraries in
Purpose and methodology
The purpose of this study is to answer the following questions:
NWhat is an open system and its components?
NHow can the open system model be used to describe a library system including
its objectives and functions?
NWhat is the situation of Pakistan librarianship in terms of the elements,
characteristics and features of an open system model?
The study is based on a review of literature. Components of the library system as an
open system are described with the help of international monographs, journal and
online literature. Pakistani readings are used to describe the library situation in that
Library environment
The environment is the supra-system in which any system functions. It comprises a
set of elements, factors, or variables that are not a part of the system as such, but
change in any of them can produce change in the system. The environmental factors,
which may influence information organizations like libraries, are the economic,
political, technological, social and educational practices and policies. Some of the
factors that influence the libraries of today to a great extent are explained below.
Information explosion
The production of information has been growing with ever-increasing pace for the last
two or three centuries: it is estimated that the world produces between one and two
exabytes[1] of unique information per year, or roughly 250 megabytes for every man,
woman and child on earth. This is equivalent to the textual content of 250 books per
person (Lyman and Varian, 2000). According to another estimate, more than 2,000
books are published every week. More than 1,600 daily newspapers create about 62.3
million copies a day in the United States alone. The top 100 American magazines
produce about 240 million copies per issue (Qubein, 2001). The rate of expansion
threatens the ability of mankind to cope with the flow and volume of information
available, so that the problem of information overload is a common experience for
researchers all over the world.
Multimedia knowledge sources
For centuries, libraries have been dealing with books printed on paper. During the
19th and 20th centuries, however, mankind invented more sophisticated modes of
recording and communicating information. The invention of the camera replaced rigid
print (based on an alphabetic representation of language) with the colored still and
motion pictures free of language codes. These do not require any language ability, and
hence their impact was broader and deeper on the human mind. Later, the invention of
telegraph, telephone, radio, cinema and television opened up new avenues for
information dissemination. Today electronic media for information storage and
communication are extensively used. The computer has made it possible to store
millions of pages of information on a small size magnetic or optical disk, and retrieve
it instantly. Another feature of using electronics for information storage is the
capacity to manipulate more than one medium (text, image, sound, animation, video
and so forth) at the same time. This feature has introduced the previously
unimaginable concept of the digital book. Encyclopedias, atlases and similar works of
reference, as well as highly specialized training tools in fields as diverse as
engineering and surgery, are increasingly made available in multimedia rather than
print on paper.
The revolution in communications technology
The revolution in information technology has provided multiple fast channels for
communication. Networks of various types connect people through wire, micro-wave
and satellite channels. Some 16 million miles of fiber optic cable spin a
communications web around the globe, and each cable can handle 10 million
communications at a time. According to one estimate in 2002, there were 605.6 million
people in the world who were users of the Internet (Nua Internet Surveys, 2002), and in
2004 this had expanded to 934 million, with a prediction of 1.04 billion for 2005
(Computer Industry Almanac, 2004) – thus, modern communications technology has
had a profound impact on the knowledge acquisition pattern of today, breaking the
boundaries of time and place. One can attend real-time lectures and join group
discussions, with the instructor at the same or a different location from the learner,
while, on the other hand, one can learn from recorded lectures and other archived
course material that can be accessed any time, any place (Cogburn, 1998). In Pakistan,
the Pakistan Telecommunication Company has provided Internet facilities to its users
in 1,039 cities. In 2002, there were 3.69 million telephone subscribers in Pakistan
(Pakistan Telecommunication Company, 2002) and there were about 1.7 million
Internet users in the country (Pakistan, Finance Division, 2002), but by 2005 the
number of cell phone subscribers in the country crossed the 10 million mark for the
first time ever, outnumbering those using the 50-year-old fixed telephony service by
100 per cent in just ten years (Ayub, 2005). In consequence, to fully utilize the
provisions of modern communications technology, in 2002 a virtual university was
established in Pakistan. This university has a capacity of 1,000 students attached to
five campuses across the country. The progress of the university was analyzed in
2002 (Daudpota, 2002) and by 2007, the university anticipates that the annual
enrollment capacity will exceed over 20,000 students (Virtual University, 2002). The
present web sites contain the mission statement[2] and course material for the
Shifting responsibility of knowledge acquisition from state to individual
The decline in the global economy during 1980s and 1990s introduced the policy of
privatization of public enterprises in various developed and developing countries.
This also led to the privatization of education, particularly at higher education (HE)
level. Policies for cost recovery were implemented in educational institutions
throughout the world. Pakistan, although far behind some other developing countries,
has also decided to seek private support for higher education. The Government of
Pakistan has realized that it alone cannot meet the increasing demands for higher
education in the country and has decided to encourage the private sector to play its
role in providing higher education facilities. After liberalization of government
policies, many universities have been set up in the private sector: a reasonable tax
rebate is offered to these institutions and self-financing schemes have been introduced
into public sector educational institutions. Universities and professional colleges are
allowed to admit 10 per cent of their students under this scheme ‘‘Logical and
unavoidable’’ (1996). The government also has a plan to recover a part of the cost of
Libraries in
higher education from students’ fees. To achieve this goal, a 10 per cent increase in
fees is allowed every year. The government has set a target for self-generated funds of
universities to reach 50 per cent of their total budget by the year 2010 (Pakistan, 1998).
For this purpose, the government has also given financial and administrative
autonomy to many institutions of higher education. These changes clearly indicate
that the burden of acquisition of knowledge is being shifted from the state to the
Ever-decreasing public funding for libraries
Federal, provincial and local governments provide most of the funding for libraries
without which their survival would be difficult. During the last two decades libraries
have witnessed a decline in their funding: literature from developed countries is full of
reports of libraries facing this problem. Due to poor economies the situation in
developing countries is dismal, the effects of poor funding including inadequate
collections, cancellation of periodical subscriptions, space problems, cuts in library
opening hours, closure of branch libraries, cuts in staff, problems in the conservation
of material, and more importantly, poor services. In Pakistan, libraries have never
been adequately funded because of the poor economy. During the fiscal year 2000-
2001, Pakistan’s per capita income was only US$ 427 (Pakistan Finance Division,
2002), and although it has increased to over $700 more recently (Pakistan Ministry of
Finance, 2004) in the human development index of 177 countries, Pakistan’s position
was 142 out of 177 in 2004 (United Nations Development Programme, 2004). One third
of the total population of Pakistan lives below the poverty line.
Rising cost of library material
The increase in price of library materials has multiplied the shrinkage of financial
resources of libraries. The annual cost increase in library material exceeds general
inflation by a very wide margin. According to one series of surveys, the cost of serials
increased by 226 per cent from 1986 to 2000 (Case, 2001) and by 215 per cent from
1986 to 2003 (Kyrillidou and Young, 2004). Pakistani libraries are dependent on
imports from the US and UK for nearly 90 per cent of their resource material.
Unfavorable changes in foreign currency exchange rates during the last two decades
have further aggravated this problem in Pakistan.
Internet as a challenge for libraries
Home delivery of information through the means of modern information and
communications technology, particularly the Internet, has challenged the need of the
library as a physical place. The new concepts of ‘‘libraries without walls’’ and ‘‘virtual
libraries’’ are becoming popular for economic reasons. As more and more information
is made available through telecommunication lines and electronic databases without
requiring a physical facility, material and staff, the old concept of the library is
becoming obsolete (Feicheng, 2000). In order to survive, libraries have started new
home delivery based services for users. According to a survey of 70 American
academic libraries, 99 per cent offer e-mail reference, and 29 per cent offer real-time
reference service (Tenopir, 2001).
Censor-free information flow
In the past, a large amount of important information was rejected through state
control due to political, religious, social or other reasons. Now, information technology
has made it an impossible task to impose any kind of censorship. A new
consciousness of communication freedom has opened the window to the global
village where the individual is free to access whatever is available on screen. The
Internet is a highly private and attractive channel of communication where people are
free to see and express themselves on any subject in any manner they deem fit. On the
other hand, this censor free flow of information poses threats to local culture and
values. With the help of modern communication technology, developed countries are
transforming the social systems of developing countries, and for this reason, some
societies have started to oppose the globalization of knowledge. Unless libraries
provide a free and competitive environment for knowledge seekers, they will not
survive in this new society.
Information as an economic commodity
Information has become an economic commodity, which can be bought and sold.
Books, journals and particularly computer software have a substantial value added
price with the highest ever depreciation rate in their resale values. Logically it is
difficult to defend the method of pricing of information material. Economists and
information scientists who have addressed this issue generally agree that the user
rather than the producer determines the value of information, as opposed to its cost.
The value of information has no relation to its tangible part. The price of computer
software and even the hardware may depreciate from Rs.50,000 to zero in value in a
span of less than a year. The value of informational material may be perceived
differently by different people and perhaps even by the same person at different
points in time, place and context. Because of its increasing market share, the economic
value of information is ever-increasing, strengthening its hold on the economy of any
country. The societies who are rich in information production are also the wealthy
nations in the world with a power to control other nations and to keep them poor in
Libraries in competition with other information centers
Libraries have to compete with other libraries as well as the information centers. The
changing trend in funding information centers (other than libraries) has forced
libraries to redesign their marketing strategies. Many libraries have taken the role in
repackaging information centers according to the needs of their clients. Competitive
marketing activities are now very popular in libraries and new strategies have given
birth to innovative products and services for which libraries can charge fees to raise
their financial resources (Coffman, 1995).
Inputs consist of all those elements or objects the supra-system provides for the
system to be consumed by the system. The system receives inputs from its supra-
system in the form of people, knowledge, materials, energy, capital and finance.
People should be thought of as the most important input to the library system.
Without people, with their needs and wants, a social system would not exist. Staff are
hired with a varied background of knowledge, attitudes, and skills that are needed to
make the library system work. Library users come to the system as consumers to
fulfill their information needs. In Pakistan, most of the libraries have inadequate
Libraries in
professional and non-professional staff, the staffing of libraries being in no way linked
with consumer demand or size of book stock. The people input in university libraries
is comparatively better, but there is a lack of support staff in college libraries and
small public libraries are without any professional staff (Haider, 1998b). The brain
drain in the field of librarianship has badly affected staff availability in Pakistan
(Usmani, 1986). Due to the lack of competent personnel in the profession for top
managerial positions, most of universities and other large libraries are without a full-
fledged librarian (Haider, 1996b). Professional staff come from library schools without
the skills that are actually required in this modern world – their curricula and
teaching methods are outdated and they lack facilities in terms of computing and
other information technology. As a result, their graduates are unsuited to the positions
of librarians (Khan, 1994). Thus, for various reasons, the profession of librarianship in
Pakistan struggles to attract appropriate people (Haider, 1998a). In society, librarians
donotenjoythesamestatusasphysicians, engineers, lawyers, and other
professionals, so that (for example) in academic institutions, the status and salaries
of librarians are not equal to that of teachers and other administrative officers and
they are seldom on decision-making bodies. In most cases, librarians are considered no
more than clerks, while in most government departments there is no service structure
(promotion formula) for librarians.
Knowledge is fundamental to the successful accomplishment of the output or goals of
a system. The library system consumes the knowledge of techniques and procedures
of library science and the effectiveness of the system is directly related to the nature
and quality of knowledge. Information collected through feedback is also a form of
knowledge input to the library system. Knowledge about new publications is another
example of this kind of input, though the situation in Pakistan again is not
satisfactory in this regard. There is a great shortage of professional knowledge in
library science in the country, particularly in the Urdu language. Most of the books are
imported, mainly from the USA and UK, and these are not always relevant to the local
needs of the library system in Pakistan. There is a dearth of bibliographical sources,
which would help in book selection in libraries, nor are basic technical tools necessary
for the classification and cataloguing of library materials available in most libraries.
The country has no uniform national cataloguing policy or any acceptable
classification scheme suited to our national requirements and there are no proper
continuing education opportunities for library staff.
Materials are consumed by the system in the performance of its various functions. In
the case of the library system, materials means recorded knowledge (from information
sources such as books, journals, newspapers, maps, audio/video recordings, micro-
forms and CDs and the like) that is processed in the library and is made available for
use of library members. Inappropriate and substandard material inputs lead to
substandard process and outputs, and material inputs do not fulfill the needs of the
library system in Pakistan, because owing to financial constraints a paucity of good
manuscripts, disadvantageous author-publisher relationships, the slow return of
investment and book piracy, the publishing trade is not well developed in Pakistan
(Haider, 1996a) and is not recognized as an industry by the government. Most library
material is imported from the USA and UK, but due to financial constraints, libraries
cannot afford costly imported books.
Another related problem is the unrealistic profit-oriented behavior of booksellers:
they do not supply required books with reasonable profit. University libraries as a
group are considered better than the others (Pakistan, 1998), but no university library
in Pakistan can claim that it has a balanced stock, an up-to-date and exhaustive
specialized collection (Ahmad, 1984a). The rate of annual addition is quite poor, so
that most of the libraries are full of obsolete and irrelevant materials. Hardly have any
libraries developed a sizable collection of non-print materials (Ahmad, 1984b), while in
the case of journals, the situation is even more deplorable. Due to funding problems,
libraries have had to face drastic cuts in journal subscriptions and similarly their
collections lack standard reference works in almost all major fields of knowledge.
Energy sources are required by most social-technical systems. In the case of a library
system, electricity is needed to run all types of machines and to light reading and
work areas. Air conditioning in a library is a must for its proper functioning, but while
electricity is the most common form of energy input in libraries, Pakistan has been a
victim of extreme power crises. Electricity in Pakistan is not only expensive but also
unreliable with libraries having to bear power breaks, sometimes for many long hours.
Public sector libraries seldom have alternative power arrangements, and extreme heat
and humidity in summer and chilling cold in the winter season badly affect any
library system. Even energy in the sense of what is produced by human beings
(productivity) falls short of expectation. Attitudes and working habits are the major
obstacles: shortened working hours and low motivation result in a low production of
human energy.
Capital is defined as the buildings, machines, tools and equipment that are needed to
perform the processes of the system. The library system needs building, furniture,
typewriters, computers, microfilm readers, photocopiers and binding machinery and
so forth. Proper buildings are a basic need of libraries, but most Pakistani library
buildings are not up to the mark. Instead of purpose-built library buildings, some
colleges have converted classrooms, galleries and corridors into libraries. Buildings
are in need of repair and renovation (Haider, 1998b), and most libraries are suffering
from an acute shortage of space. They generally fail to make an adequate provision of
places for stock, staff and readers, while proper atmospheric conditions in terms of
temperature, humidity, ventilation, noise and removal of dust and other impurities in
the air are not provided. Due to the growing cost of energy, libraries cannot afford air-
conditioning systems (Ahmad, 1984b). Libraries also lack quick and easy commu-
nication facilities such as telephone, fax, and email, which may partially block the
feedback to the system.
Finance is needed to procure all required inputs to the system. Money is required to
buy services of people, materials, energy, capital, and knowledge. Low financial
support is one of the major factors that has hindered library development in Pakistan.
Academic and special libraries are financed by their parent organizations and
comparatively, special libraries get better financial support than other types of
Libraries in
libraries. But there is not enough support for public libraries: these are normally
supported by the provincial and local governments, but there are no standards and
guidelines for library funding, so the provincial and local governments allocate very
little resources for libraries. Financial support for college libraries is also inadequate,
but financial support available for university libraries is somewhat better. There are
two major reasons for poor library funding in Pakistan:
(1) the poor state of the economy and
(2) low priority given to libraries by the government.
People and material inputs have been greatly affected due to poor library funding.
Due to the devaluation of the Pakistani Rupee and the rapidly growing cost of
materials, it is very difficult for libraries to provide adequate services with meager
financial support, while self-generation of income or alternative funding plan remains
rare in libraries. Similarly, most library staff do not engage in fund-raising activities.
A library system processes its key inputs through technical operations, and
transforms them into products having added utility for its users. This process occurs
when the staff, using technical knowledge, human energy and synergistic behavior
with or without the aid of equipment such as computers and other materials, analyze,
classify, label, and systematically store documents in order for quick retrieval or to
make them easily accessible to readers who visit the library either to seek some
specific information or to acquire knowledge about the topics of their interest, through
self-study. The bibliographic records of these documents (i.e. surrogates of the
documents representing their attributes or data elements) are also prepared and
displayed in the catalogs. These records are also used to provide varied
bibliographical products and services to the readers.
The processes of the Pakistan library system are the same as inputs in that the
processes use obsolete technique and technology and hence cannot keep abreast of the
emerging needs of the clients. There are flaws in collection building. A well-written
collection development policy is not considered at all necessary by the librarians. The
faculty members in academic institutions take little interest in selection procedure of
the library material (Ahmad, 1984b).
Cataloguing of library material is not accurate in that bibliographic details are
frequently incomplete, the rules and subject headings used for preparing the catalog
entries are not always the latest ones and the classification schemes being used are
rigid and outdated. Catalogs also lack sufficient added entries and consistent filing,
and fail to serve as a current index of information storage (Khan, 1994). Due to
shortage of staff or other reasons, a backlog of un-catalogued material has become a
permanent feature of the typical library, as books remain on the shelves in technical
services departments for several months waiting to be catalogued. There is no
effective mechanism to recover overdue books and there is no practice of stock taking
on a regular basis so that worn out and out of date books are not discarded.
The concept of library instruction is very rare in Pakistan (Haider, 1996b) and there
are no library promotion activities. There is a lack of promotional material, such as
posters, signs, book exhibits, book jacket displays, news items, feature articles, book
talks, poetry reading and other cultural activities. Users are not aware of library
services, with the result that there is no community involvement in library activities
and no ‘Friends of the Library’ groups working for library promotion.
The concept of resource sharing in libraries has not been introduced and there is no
formal system of inter-library loan. Due to lack of funds, libraries cannot even supply
photocopies to other requesting libraries (Ahmad, 1984b). Many universities have
central as well as departmental libraries, but with no coordination among them.
Some libraries have started automating their processes. Various large libraries do
have the Internet, email, and CD-ROM technologies, but without proper planning and
training. As such, these technologies have not brought a drastic change in processing
of library inputs.
Library system outputs are resources transformed into processed documents and their
surrogates: the products and services of an organized library system provide
opportunities for independent thinking and learning to its users. In fact, processed
documents serve as inputs for the self-study of library members. The library members
read such documents and through intellectual processing acquire knowledge, gather
information and leave the library system as better-informed or more knowledgeable
Without proper inputs and processes, a satisfactory output can never be achieved. In
Pakistan, the modern concept of a library service has not been fully exploited by the
government or other library donors, public services having a low priority in the public
exchequer (Anwar, 1996). Most libraries do not even have an open access policy,
meaning readers cannot browse and choose books at need. A major factor in inadequate
library services is the fear among librarians that if a book is lost the librarian will have
to pay for it from his salary – in many cases they have had to pay off the total cost of
missing or lost books (Ahmad, 1984b). Consequently, librarians do not encourage the
use of library material and instead try to protect material. But in spite of all preventive
measures book losses have not been reduced by any significant amount, and so readers
are still being deprived of good books due to this protective attitude.
On the other hand, due to poor education and low research activity in the country,
information is less in demand than it should be. Consequently, available library
resources are not fully utilized and the annual book issue in almost all types of
libraries is extremely low. Extensive reference and information services are very rare
in libraries, professional staff being occupied with clerical and routine tasks without
sufficient time to offer these services (Ahmad, 1984b). Even in special libraries,
services like indexing, abstracting, translation, literature searching and editorial
assistance are rare (Haider, 1996b). Libraries do not produce bibliographies of unique
and valuable library holdings and there are only isolated instances of libraries
attempting to preserve valuable publications through micrographic processes for
future generations. Book stocks need maintenance (binding, repair, and so forth) while
libraries’ opening hours are also very limited (Ahmad, 1984a).
Feedback, in the form of opinions, consumer complaints and evaluative reports,
enables the system to keep control over its components, correct their functioning,
adapt the system to changing conditions and maintain steady-state or dynamic
equilibrium. The library system, like any other system, is affected by the changes in
the internal and external environment and must be capable of consuming the feedback
in order to keep the efficiency of the system at an optimal level by adapting itself to
changing conditions. The library gets two kinds of feedback:
Libraries in
(1) external changing requirements imposed by its supra-system;
(2) information about its internal operations, quality of products and services.
For instance, from the external environment, the library system may have to respond
Nnew technology, which can be incorporated to improve the functioning of the
system and
Nnew publications, out of which certain items can be selected, purchased or
obtained and added in the collection.
The library system may also get feedback from the complaints of its readers or the
community about the inadequacy of its collection, ineffective services, or negative
attitude of the staff and the like. This information, when used by the relevant sections,
contributes to an improvement in the system.
Internal feedback provides information about the performance level of the system’s
components, whether the staff is working in a cohesive manner, or whether there is
conflict or dissatisfaction among them. Based on analogous information, the decision-
maker (i.e. the system’s controller or manager) regulates or modifies the interacting
components or activities in some way, so that the system’s performance is kept at an
optimum level, and the system’s targets are achieved. Thus, the role and purpose of
the library feedback mechanism is to monitor library activities, and the environment
in which the library operates, to provide facts to the library management so that they
can make suitable decisions and take appropriate actions to maintain the library
system in a steady and healthy state.
There is no formal mechanism to obtain and consume feedback in the library
system in Pakistan. However, several library experts have come to Pakistan from
various countries to study the library situation, and they submitted their
recommendations for the improvement of library services (Khurshid, 2000).
Similarly, many local authors have continuously been pointing out the poor state of
libraries. Library users criticize the attitude of library staff. ‘‘Once a reader comes to
the library, discouraged by library staff, decides not to come again. They are generally
dissatisfied with library services’’ (Ahmed, 1982).
Users or clients of a library
The library user, which includes all its potential members, is a very crucial component
of a library system. They are the reason for which an information organization or a
library system is conceived and established. Thus, the effectiveness of any library
system can best be determined by the extent to which it provides for the fulfillment of
its user’s informational or self-learning needs and interests.
In Pakistan, libraries find a very small number of serious users of their resources.
The teaching methods are based on formal classroom instruction and students rely
heavily on textbooks prescribed in their curriculum or recommended by their teachers.
There is no emphasis on project work and group study, so that, as a result, students
do not need to work in a library. Students come for pursuits other than academic ones
– for example, reading rooms in university and college libraries have become meeting
places and common rooms (Shaikh, 1990). No system can survive without reasonable
marketing: the fewer the number of users for a particular library system, the less the
resource allocation for the system and the more problems the system will face in
raising funding.
Controller or decision-maker of the library system
Generally speaking, there is a committee or an individual person acting in this
Nto assure that the necessary resources are obtained and used efficiently and
effectively in the accomplishment of system’s objectives;
Nto keep system’s components functioning at the optimum level; and
Nto make the system responsive to the feedback and changes in the supra-system.
The authority can bring changes in the objectives, structure and functioning in
components of a library system or subsystems, can take regulatory steps to stop the
system falling from its desired performance level, and can take positive steps to
increase the performance-level or utility of the system. The authority can take
decisions to change the system according to changed circumstances. It introduces new
operations and services based on the findings of the system concerned. Performance
or outcomes of systems normally depend on the management style of the decision-
maker or manager.
The controlling authority of library systems does function at a satisfactory level in
Pakistan, with good communications and successful management the two important
techniques for providing effective library services. But librarians do feel that there is a
lack of communication within the organization as a result of the attitude of superiors
towards subordinates (Ahmad, 1984b). The situation becomes worst where superiors
are non-librarians: a system of consultation with staff is seldom found and librarians
are not involved in decision-making processes, generally having no say in book
selection or writing off lost books. A good understanding between librarian and
library committee is very rare, and in colleges, when a lecturer is appointed in charge
of the library to supervise the work of the librarian, the role of the professional
librarian is undermined by this practice. All this results in demotivation, a lack of any
sense of responsibility, and stifling of initiative among library staff.
A cycle of events
The library as an open system must have a cycle of events, that is, its products must
be consumed partially by it as the input for the completion of the cycle within the
system. The library system acts as a means of spreading information as ‘‘public
knowledge’’ – readers come to the library and get desired information or knowledge
by means of the easy access provided by the library to recorded knowledge. Among
the users of the library some become authors and produce new knowledge as
published documents. These documents form inputs to a library system through its
acquisition subsystem and a new cycle of events starts within the library system.
Circulation of library material is another example of the cycle of events. Documents
are borrowed, returned, and borrowed again.
According to systems theory, organizations are considered as purposeful systems,
that is, they have a certain mission or purpose, which they strive to achieve or
accomplish. The library is also teleological. It must have a purpose so that all its
activities are directed towards achieving its mission. The purpose or mission of the
library system is to make public knowledge available through effective and efficient
services and products.
Libraries in
Mission, goals, objectives and policies
A human system or socio-technical system, being an open teleological system, must
have some mission or central purpose to justify its creation and continued existence in
a supra-system. The central purpose of a library system is to provide opportunities for
self-education and learning to its clients or members by way of providing sources of
documented knowledge (books, journals, and other resources) and information
(bibliographical or otherwise) according to their requirements. The mission of the
system directs the formation of goals, objectives and performance measures. Any
organizational system has long-term goals and short-term objectives that can be
explicit or implicit. Most objectives are defined at the subsystem level. After the goals
and objectives of each unit are defined, the policies or the guidelines to be followed for
carrying out day-to-day library tasks are adopted.
In Pakistan, libraries are set up without a clear mission. Most public sector libraries
do not have any written statement in this regard. The librarians and other staff,
therefore, are unable to conceive the goals or objectives to be achieved. For example,
college libraries are mostly set up to fulfill the statutory requirement to get affiliation
with university and examination boards, with the result that the library has never
been seen as an essential and effective instrument for supporting the teaching
program of a college. Most college libraries are established as a requirement of
academic culture or tradition and are hardly used for promoting academic excellence
to their full potential.
Negative entropy
According to systems theory, an open system is capable of resisting trends towards
distraction by maintaining dynamic equilibrium between the demands of the
environment and its performance through better organization, growth and efficiency.
A progressive library system maintains dynamic equilibrium, adapts or modifies its
activities and operational goals to fit or adjust with the changing environmental
conditions. Human inputs play a crucial role and continue to facilitate the learning of
techniques which improve the system’s efficiency.
This characteristic of the library system demands a continuous adaptability to
changes taking place in the society – but libraries in Pakistan are not very responsive
to these changes. The financial and other resources necessary for providing new
services are not adequately provided to the library system, and moreover, available
resources are not converted into effective consumable output due to bad management,
outdated technology and lack of motivation on the part of library staff. As a result, the
library system in Pakistan has declined over time, and although not at a terminal
stage, libraries continue to serve the needs of the clients despite their deteriorated
standards of delivery and deficient outputs. There is no movement in the library
profession in Pakistan to take corrective measures and bring the system up to
international standards.
The investigation of the library system in Pakistan presents a gloomy state of affairs.
The external environment poses many challenges to librarianship, but right from the
stages of input through output and feedback, the situation of Pakistani libraries is less
than satisfactory. No serious effort has been made to understand its library system as
an open system, that is, one which needs proper inputs and processes to produce
desired outputs. Allocation of sufficient finance is an essential input of any library
system which in this case has been progressively withdrawn without realizing the
impact on library outputs, leaving the country’s library system near collapse.
Libraries are there but without clear mission, having failed to help the nation in its
socio-economic development and prosperity. Libraries lack the proper attention of the
authorities, because government undervalues the role of libraries in social and
economic growth and does not provide facilities essential for a good country-wide
library infrastructure.
The library system in Pakistan thus needs an overhauling. Library leadership
should come forward to meet the challenges of the hour and address all relevant issues
regarding the provision of library services in the country: above all, support from
society in general and government in particular, which are always vital to the running
of an effective library system.
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Further reading
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This paper discusses the origin and development of libraries and librarianship in the territories constituting Pakistan. Library development in independent Pakistan progressed with-out planning in the absence of a national library. The National Library was opened in 1993. Although irregular, the Pakistan National Bibliography from 1962 onward has been published. Between 1000 and 1300 books are published each year. There is no library-legislation. Maintained by local bodies, the 281 existing public libraries present a gloomy picture. The university libraries are the most developed in respect of resources, its organization and services. The condition of 500 college libraries is unsatisfactory. The school library developmentis in its embryonic stage. Special libraries are in the process of transformation from theirtraditional approach to modernity. The concept of computer-oriented information is gaining ground. Six post-graduate library schools turn out approximately 200 graduates annually. The Pakistan Libray Association failed to provide an effective leadership. (Part 1)
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Discusses the results of a survey of academic member libraries of the ARL (Association of Research Libraries) that investigated changes in reference services over the last three years and how electronic resources have impacted them. Topics include remote users; email reference; and live virtual reference. (LRW)
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