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5 February, 2019 12:09:00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 5 February, 2019 11:32:00 AM
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‘Libraries can become ideal community spaces’

FAISAL MAHMUD and MUBTASIM FUAD, Dhaka
‘Libraries can become ideal community spaces’

The job of Kirsty Crawford is not an easy one. Just braving Dhaka traffic to reach her office in Shahbagh and Fuller Road from her home in Gulshan 2 — five days a week — requires dedication and patience. A two-decade career inside libraries has made sure that she has plenty of both. Kirsty is currently working as the Programme Director of the British Council’s “Libraries Unlimited” programme, a Bill and Melinda Gates-funded initiative to transform the library landscape of Bangladesh.

“When I first got the job offer, I immediately jumped in. Who doesn’t want to influence the library system of an entire country,” Crawford jestfully said when we met her at her Gulshan house on a sunny winter noon.

Before taking up her recent assignment, Crawford worked as Director of Libraries of the British Council in India. She needed to travel across India frequently to manage nine libraries scattered across the country.

Crawford managed the famed libraries of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for 15 years before moving to the sub-continent in 2015. “I was bit by a travel bug,” she said when asked why she left the UK.

Libraries, according to Crawford, are more than what meet the eyes. “It’s not just books. In an increasingly digital world, we see the role of libraries as community and cultural centres. Public library services could focus on building community face-to-face, inspiring and educating patrons about art, literature and music and helping patrons engage in civil discourse.” 

The “Libraries Unlimited” programme was taken up with that vision — to improve public access to information and knowledge in Bangladesh.

“It has been designed based on the findings of the Library Landscape Assessment of Bangladesh (LLAB) study, published in June 2015. The LLAB study found that the libraries in Bangladesh were in a sorry state.”

“There are only 68 public libraries in Bangladesh, which means there is a library for every 2.2 million people. That’s not a good condition.”

To change the scenario, application for a grant in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was dropped and eventually it was accepted. “The Department of Libraries of Bangladesh promised to match the fund. A total of 10 million pound was raised for the programme,” she said.

The idea of having a National Library Day in Bangladesh to advocate for libraries came during one of the coffee breaks of the LLAB symposium, where leading policymakers and educationalists of Bangladesh were chatting over tea. “BRAC, UNESCO and the British Council vowed to make this happen and decided to take it to the Department of Public Libraries,” said Kirsty, “With National Library Day, the Libraries Unlimited project and the British Council Cultural Centre have set themselves in the forefront of library development in Bangladesh.”

“We have invested a lot for capacity development and training of librarians. Over a hundred librarians have been trained in customer services, community engagement, ICT and leadership as well.” Under this programme, twelve librarians have already been taken to the UK for different training. Last year, a number of librarians went to India, said Crawford.

Giving an example of creating leaders, Crawford said one librarian who got leadership training had started what is known as monthly “Lal-Cha er Adda.” “It’s a great way of engaging community people and starting the discourse. It became so successful that the Department of Public Libraries asked all of its librarians to do the same in their localities.” Also, as part of introducing innovative learning technologies in public libraries, Libraries Unlimited has taken “micro:bit” to the district level. “Through micro:bit, children and young people will be able to learn and develop the skill of coding by attending free classes, run by a pool of volunteers working in the IT sector or currently studying at leading universities with a popular Computer Science department.”

She said the micro:bit will popularise the context of coding among young people in Bangladesh and this will open exciting opportunities to coding, which is one of the fastest growing occupation worldwide - leading to future employment, community engagement, digital leadership and skills development.

When asked whether she believes that libraries would be able to bring changes in society, she replied: “It’s possible. With the provision of the right information and with customer centered collection and digital provision, you can reach millions. The Department of Public Libraries is developing a digital library under the programme. And with that, you can access all the knowledge and information you need through a device with internet.”

She also said that the department of public libraries is introducing an online catalogue, which will be helpful to know what people are borrowing, so that future book collection could be made in accordance with the people’s choice.

“Also, there are plans to introduce wi-fi in each library. With the proliferation of smartphones, it would be a very good place to learn and study if there is wi-fi. It could become the proper community space,” she said.

SR

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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