After the education policy was adopted in 2010, almost four decades after independence, the information management sector began reforms to bring readers back into libraries.
But at a time when the government is aiming to build Digital Bangladesh by 2021, libraries, at the heart of the information-centred society, have somehow been excluded from the development plan, say information management professionals.
Chapter 20 of the education policy stipulates that libraries at educational institutions should be set up at Union Parishad levels. The government started some reforms based on the policy, they added. But those reforms haven’t gone far enough.
The main job of a library is to help readers find accurate information. But most of the time it becomes difficult for the readers to get the desired information as they do not have enough time to search for information sources. This is leading to a decrease in the number of library-goers, said Muhammad Mezbah-ul-Islam, professor and chairman of Information Science and Library Management at the University of Dhaka.
In such a situation the public libraries would be the best option for creating readers, he said.
But the truth is that the public libraries are still far away from the capacity needed to render this service, Prof Mezbah added.
He said the chapter 20 of the policy has been adopted in light of the Public Library Manifesto, adopted in 1994, by UNESCO and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).
According to UNESCO, the manifesto portrays public libraries as a living force for education, culture and information and as an essential agent for fostering peace and spiritual welfare through the minds of people.
It said information, literacy, education and culture should be at the core of public library services. It would create and strengthen reading habits from an early age, support education in any form of any level, providing opportunities for personal creative development, stimulating imagination and creativity, promoting awareness of cultural heritage, fostering inter-cultural dialogue and favouring cultural diversity while ensuring access for citizens to all sorts of community information and so on.
A policy was formulated to set up a public library in each Upazila (492 in total) but only a few upazilas have public libraries so far, he added.
According to Department of Public Libraries (DPL), at present the department has 71 libraries under their surveillance.
Ashish Kumar Sarker, director general of DPL said that after the education policy was adopted in 2010, drastic changes were made in the sector.
The department has libraries in every district and two upazila libraries in Jamalpur. A project proposal has been submitted to the Ministry of Planning to establish libraries in every upazila. The first phase would begin soon and 60 libraries would be built in every phase.
Besides, DPL is planning to conduct mobile libraries in every district, he added.
The mobile library was previously managed by Bishwa Sahitya Kendra. But as the project is getting expensive for them, the service would be conducted through DPL.
A proposal is awaiting approval by the planning ministry in this regard, said DG Ashish Kumar.
But questions were raised whether the government has the ability to run the programs. Currently only two public universities like Dhaka University and Rajshahi University and one private university, East West University, have departments of information science and library management.
If all the libraries get approval the DPL would require more than 500 librarians. Besides, the government has made it mandatory to have a librarian in every secondary and higher secondary level school.
Several district librarians and sources from DPL headquarters said the libraries did not get enough budget to run their activities.
DG Ashish Kumar said the government has approved a big project for the development of the department and a number of projects will be approved by the ECNEC committee soon. He hoped that the financial problem would be solved soon as the head of the government is eager for the development of the department.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is monitoring the upcoming project of construction of DPL headquarters to transform it into a cultural hub, he added.
Sarwat Masuda Reza, library manager of British Council, Bangladesh said the government has taken several measures to improve the condition of the public libraries and if implemented the number of readers will be increased.
However, Mahrukh Mohiuddin, director (marketing and business development) of University Press Limited, said further measures were needed to attract library users.
In 2001, a policy was formulated for libraries but could not be adopted for unknown reasons. Besides, systematic corruption inside the libraries, inefficient officials and workers and scanty government allotment are hindering the development.
She said corruption should be eradicated to bring positive changes in the libraries. Public-private partnership could also be introduced to solve the expenditure problem.
Muntasir Mamun, professor of Department of History of DU, said that a public library could be a hub of preserving culture where a person gets not only information but also enrich themselves with knowledge of cultural heritage.
The libraries did not get adequate budget for smooth development and that the money they got could not be spent on visible development activities. To gain public trust the department needs to make some visible development keeping all sorts of cultural facilities for the users.
Prof Mezbah said to build digital Bangladesh, the government needs to accelerate the information literacy campaign like mass education campaign.
Besides, the government should form a public libraries commission enacting a new law that would explain how the libraries would be run, he added.
On increasing the number of efficient information professionals, he said the government should expand information study to all public universities to create more candidates for the post.
On recruitment, he said the government has its own framework for recruitment. But recruiting more skilled officials will certainly improve the service provided by the libraries.