A digital library is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity in the strictest term. Putting aside the convenience of having a digital resource, the plain impracticality of storing and maintaining millions of books in an evergrowing collection is the primary reason why libraries need to be digitized. However, a digital library is not just an establishment with soft copies of printed materials or e-books. A digital library is a much broader idea.
The first most important thing in a digital library is an accessible and searchable electronic catalogue. A library user has to be able to search titles using an online electronic system. This cataloguing requires a core database software and technology enabled data input system. The software will also be able to keep track of borrowing and sending automated reminders through email, among other functions. One of those functions is automatic borrowing and returning.
Borrowing and returning in a digital library
Digital library is not just about using e-books. It’s also about how hard copies are used, borrowed and returned. When the borrowing and returning of books get automated, there will be no need for human staff manually putting information into the system or overseeing the process physically. Each book will have bar codes and can be borrowed by the user by simply scanning the book at a terminal. The computer at the terminal records who is borrowing the book, when the user enters his/her user ID. This digitised system is now widely used across the world and it has been standardised in all developed countries.
Bangladesh dawdling towards a uniform digital library system
Digitisation and automated library systems in Bangladesh are still in the developing stage. Different institutions such as BANBEIS, BRAC university library, ICDDR,B publication unit, The National Library of Bangladesh and BIDS library have been undertaking acquisition and subscription of e-books and e-journals. Other initiatives include digitisation of paper based documents through scanning and Desk Top Publishing (DTP), developing database or online repository for metadata and full-text, providing searching and downloading facilities (online and offline), document and user profiling.
Which library do government officials use?
The Prime Minister's Office Library is the first administrative e-library in Bangladesh. It was established to provide reference services to the Prime Minister's Office. It started in in 1991, before which it was the President Secretariat Library. This is the official library for The Head of the State or Head of the Government Office of Bangladesh. It has more than 31,000pieces of reading material. More than 16,000 books have been entered into the online library management system. This library provides newspapers and magazines to the Prime Minister, her press cell and other high officials directly as daily routine work. Although not a public library, and usually, only the officials of the Prime Minister's Office can use and borrow books, any interested citizen may use this library with prior permission from the authorities.
Challenges in establishing a digital library ecosystem
In a paper titled “Digitization and Developing Digital Library and Information Support in Bangladesh: Professional Challenges” by Md Saiful Alam, associate professor at Department of Information Science and Library Management, University of Dhaka, there are 15 major challenges in the establishment of a digital preservation system and digital library system. These include adopting improved technology for digitising analog materials, design search and retrieval tools that compensate for abbreviated or incomplete cataloging or descriptive information, establishing protocols and standards for interoperability, intellectual property issues, integration between access to physical materials and their digital counterparts, making the digital library useful to different communities of users and for different purposes, lack of skilled manpower.
Further problems arise, Alam pointed out, because of a lack of interconnectivity among libraries, which would have allowed, among other solutions, to work collaboratively to address these challenges.