Use of libraries across the country is gradually turning more and more limited. This is sad. A good number of public libraries are not seeing enthusiastic readers and visitors. Borrowings of books from many libraries have already declined. Even some libraries have either closed down or curtailed regular activities. Nevertheless, some new libraries have also emerged in the hope that local people will benefit. But in most of the cases, libraries have actually turned into mere storages of books and journals.
Gone are the days when a public library was a place of community assembling and interactions. Readers went to libraries to read and discuss with one another. People also found libraries as an ideal place to pass their time by reading books, talking on books. Literature, politics and society were main topics of discussion. To enrich discussions, they browsed, collected and read relevant books. Parents brought their children to make a library tour and encourage them to read books.
All these scenes have not fully vanished and still some people are visiting libraries. But, the number of people entering libraries is not rising, rather declining. From this trend, it is, however, not possible to draw a conclusion that reading habit has also gone down and fewer people are reading books today.
While book reading is generally correlated with library activities, in a society with changing values and behaviours this correlation may not remain the same. That's why reading rooms of libraries have largely turned into study centres for students preparing for public, academic and competitive examinations.
Sources of entertainment are diverse thanks to emergence and spread of digital devices now. Increased purchasing power of people also widens their capacity to spend on foods, travels and other entertainments. Thus many of them don't feel an urge to visit libraries. Again, the race for higher grading marks in public examinations makes both students and their guardians to spend their time on coaching or private tutors. The gradual distortion of the nation's education system makes the thing worse. Instead of going to libraries, most people feel comfortable with internet at home. There is also little urge to spend time in a library in search of any information from books. Smart phone and 'Google search' make it easier and faster.
Lack of smooth mobility due to chaotic public transport and unruly traffic is another factor that discourages many people to go to libraries and pass some of their time there. After office hours, almost everybody in Dhaka have to struggle to reach homes knowing full well that 30 minutes' drive may take even three hours. They are spending their valuable time in roads some of which may be easily spent in libraries.
Adopting information technology and rearrange library service accordingly is a big challenge nowadays. Though government-run public libraries have some regular financial supports, real library service is very limited there. Again, most of the private or community-run public libraries are struggling due to financial constraints. So, those have little capacity to upgrade and diversify their services with digitisation. Even, those who have adequate capacities also pay little attention in this regard.
Nevertheless, importance and relevance of libraries are undeniable no matter what changes take place in society. Though libraries need to rise up to changing patterns of society, the core idea of library will never die. Libraries are not book stores but knowledge stores with hidden treasures. Some innovation is needed now to revive these treasure houses.
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