I was looking for apartments when I moved to LA. The apartments ads online was giving many reasons why theirs the best. It’s convenient from the local shopping malls, restaurants, post offices and libraries. Wait what?? Libraries! Will that even matter! Apparently it does. So one fine afternoon I looked up in “All Knowing” all mighty of information-Google, to see if there are any public libraries around my house. Believe me, I found 2 in a fifteen mile radius. I thought who’d have time in a city like LA to go to public libraries. I was expecting a dampened building with a depressed librarian with homeless people on the footsteps. Instead I found a buzzing environment of neighboring people reading books, browsing internet and children listening to reading sessions. To my surprise that was the picture every time I went to the library. I asked the librarian curiously if people try to steal books, she said laughingly, “Well they do, but they paid for it anyways, didn’t they?” She was right; the library system is run by the city, therefore paid by tax money. I go there often, if not to bring books, just to pass my leisure time, talk to people and learn from them. I realized this is not only a place to learn but also to share knowledge and thoughts, especially in election season it really helps to know what people think! Then I wondered where my library in Dhaka was?
If you ask your father or uncles many of you might be surprised to know that they used to go to district libraries. At least I heard stories how they used walk miles to go to the nearest library to read or get books. How many of our generation has a memory like that? Maximum we have is the memory of checking out books from school library in library period, that’s if the schools had a library or taking books from Bishwa Shahitta Kendro, when they came to school. But how many libraries are there in Dhaka? Besides British Council, Public Library and the library in Dhaka University (which is for their students only) I don’t think most of us would know that many. Where did all those libraries go, that our fathers used to go to? Do they still exist; do people still go and read books there? Dhaka city has over ten million people, and the country has millions of school going children. Did we ever think that community library could’ve been a source of recreation and knowledge for them?
It’s not only a place for reading books; it’s also a community center. Most of our generation has to do their “addafying” is restaurants, where you have to spend money to spend time! No problem with that, we did that too and sometimes a cup of tea and little space for shouting is highly appreciated!! But libraries can be a great alternative source for discussion and acquiring information. I always believe you are born with instincts but those instincts grow into habit with the influence of your environment. If we don’t expose our next generation to the system of order, they will only learn the system of chaos. Going to a library, reading books in quiet environment, checking out books and returning in time teaches time management, patience-well the system of order.
Many of us talk about digital revolution in Bangladesh. Fair enough, but do we even know what do we want from that digital revolution? Is it just establishments of few call centers and few website development firms? One aspect of that revolution has to be exposing our youth to the vast source of knowledge and making the elderly generation understand that internet doesn’t only provide porn sites. Libraries could’ve been a wonderful source in the district level to provide an average man exposure to the outside world. Community centers in libraries could’ve been used to organize discussions and competitions. The more you see, the greater your vision gets. We could’ve had an instant source of educating our communities. But are we even looking at this option, I doubt it.
In last Ekushey Boi Mela, the largest book fair in Bangladesh, books were sold worth 3 Crore Taka, that’s almost half a million dollars! As far as I know there are many book fairs that take place all round the year and all over the country. That shows interest among people to read books. I still remember the Fridays when Bishwa Shahitta Kendor’s bus would come to the main road and hundreds of kids would be standing in line to take books. None thought why would we need portable libraries for our kids? Why can’t we have one in every electorate zones in Dhaka, or district towns? Just in one road of Dhanmondi, if people think 4 shopping centers are not absurd then why would a library for the whole area? If you have money you’ll go to British Council but what if I’m an ordinary middle class student? How many books can I effort in a year and how many schools actually have good libraries. I know government have a ministry that actually gets allocation to buy books every year for libraries. They have to answer, what they actually do with the money. I would also like to ask the so called ‘civil society’, don’t they realize an entire generation is getting paralyzed without any constructive recreation. Soon they’ll lose the habit of asking questions because they won’t even know what to ask. Is that what we want? And we scratch our heads why our next generations do drugs and becoming violent.
There’s hardly any movie theater to go to, fast food places are becoming a refuge, and this can’t be a healthy environment for a generation to groom scholars. We are always talking about creative education policy; how about utilize things that we have in our hand a little better before experimenting new ideas on kids. I remember participating in book based quiz competitions. I don’t think that’s a good way to encourage children in reading books. Competition doesn’t make people creative; that has to come from curiosity and interest. How about reading sessions in schools to start with? I’m sure publishing houses and writers wouldn’t mind spending one hour a week with children! And how about restructuring a community library system. In a ever busy city life, may be a depot of books will become a sanctuary for many of us 🙂