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The National Library Day: Vision 2021 and the role of libraries

| Updated: February 04, 2019 22:04:34

Picture used for representational purpose — Collected Picture used for representational purpose — Collected

The National Library Day 2019 will be celebrated today with the theme: 'Make the enlightened people read books in the library' (গ্রন্থাগারে বই পড়ি আলোকিত মানুষ গড়ি).

The ministry of cultural affairs, along with various library associations and institutions, will organise colourful rallies, seminars, symposiums and cultural programmes in capital Dhaka and also in districts across the country.

The foundation stone of the Central Public Library was laid on February 05, 1954. National Library Day was first observed on February 05, 2018 in commemoration of that occasion.

According to the British Council Bangladesh, the idea of having the National Library Day in Bangladesh to advocate for libraries came during one of the coffee breaks of a Library Landscape Assessment in Bangladesh (LLAB) symposium in 2015 where leading policymakers and educationists of Bangladesh were chitchatting over tea. BRAC, UNESCO and the British Council vowed to make this happen and decided to bring it up to the Department of Public Libraries. With two years of constant advocacy, the British Council, along with BRAC, pushed forth a proposal to the cabinet division at Prime Minister's Office. After two years and with the final approval from the Prime Minister February 05 was announced as the National Library Day in Bangladesh.

DIGITAL BANGLADESH INITIATIVE: Digital Bangladesh under Vision 2021 was visualised in the 2008 election manifesto of the Awami League.  Digital centres as part of the Access to Information (a2i) programme of  the government of Bangladesh were launched in 2010 , with support from UNDP. More than 5,400 digital centres as a one-stop information and service delivery outlets, have since been established. These digital centres ensure that the underprivileged - regardless of their literacy and ICT (information and communications technology) literacy - can access information and services vital to their livelihood, with just their fingerprint.

However, many studies and statistics show that Bangladesh is the lowest internet-using country in the Asia-Pacific.  In 2015, approximately 12.1 per cent of the population in Bangladesh had access to the internet. According to the 'AfterAccess' survey conducted by LIRNEasia, an Asia Pacific-based think-tank, only 33 per cent of the population, aged 15-65, in Bangladesh know what the internet is!  Only 13 per cent of the population in Bangladesh use the internet, the lowest among the countries surveyed in Asia.

We must have public libraries in every union and these libraries will be serving as the bridge between those who are well-informed about access to information and those who aren't.

Libraries play a fundamental role in developed society not only for access to information but also as a centre for all types of entertainment. Information can be retrieved easily online. But then again, what about those who do not have access to the internet? How can they tap into the information they need?

Without establishing digital libraries in the rural areas and having skilled manpower to serve the rural community, it will be hardly possible to achieve digital vision nationwide. Therefore, the existence of libraries with digital facilities in at the union level is a must to implement Vision 2021. These digital libraries should relate to the central or national database of the country. Through these libraries, everyone will be able to access information. These libraries will give the citizens online access to books, local historical records, archive films, and museum objects - and provide services so they can use them. Further, the culture of studying books in libraries, visiting libraries for accessing information and participating in library activities is vital to protect the youth from moral degradation. Local libraries can become hubs of information for villagers in the current time of fake news.

Kirsty Crawford, the project coordinator of the Libraries Unlimited, British Council, shows in her recent study that, libraries in Bangladesh are never an investment priority, all libraries had suffered from under-funding, lack of resources and poor facilities - with one government public library per 2.2 million people.

Good news is that, the British Council is implementing a project called Libraries Unlimited (LU) in Bangladesh in partnership with the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and supported by the Department of Public Libraries. However, only a few urban libraries are within this project. The project needs to be expanded.

There are 68 government public libraries in Bangladesh, which are centralised under the Department of Public Libraries, a division of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. There are also 64 Shishu (Children's) Academy libraries, 1603 non-government public libraries and 3596 NGO-operated libraries, of which 2725 are run by BRAC. However, compared to the total population in the country, the number of libraries and their facilities are not enough at all.

Prof. Dr. Md. Nsiruddin is 

Dean, National University; Prodip Roy is Editor, The Librarian Times


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