PUBLIC libraries are there as publicly accessible repositories of knowledge. However, in the context of Bangladesh, because of the negligence of the authorities concerned, rare books and collections of historical documents are left to decay. The state of negligence is observed, as New Age reported on Saturday, as century-old books, manuscripts and important documents in the collection of the Chittagong City Corporation Public Library were left uncared at the Urban Health Complex Building at Bibirhat in Chittagong. The photograph accompanying the report shows that the library collection, developed since 1904, is now dumped haphazardly in the storage along with library furniture and other discarded materials of the health complex. The authorities concerned say that they were temporarily shifting the library to Bibirhat as development work is going on in the library building at Laldighi. To reconstruct a multi-storey building for the library, the city corporation in October 2017 shifted 45,000 books, journals, patents and furniture of the library to Bibirhat. While the renovation of a library built during the British period is a commendable move, it is not acceptable that the city corporation has started the renovation work without proper plans to preserve and an appropriate place to store the collection during this period of reconstruction.
Historians, social scientists, readers have considered the Chittagong City Corporation library to be a treasure trove of the past. The library collection included newspapers and periodicals, namely Mohammadi, Saogat, Prabhati, Begum and Purbasha. In addition, it also has gazettes published during the British and the inter-colonial Pakistani period. Library officials too acknowledged that their collection has books from the ninth century, but they followed no standard procedure when storing the collection at the health complex. In fact, during this reconstruction period, it was found that library staff are not attending their office timely. Library science experts, therefore, are rightly concerned that books kept in sacks or dumped carelessly could invite rats, fungus and insects and eventually be destroyed completely. They also emphasised that books require regular maintenance and care. Researchers who used the library regularly expressed serious dissatisfaction as the reconstruction has disrupted their access to resources. The feared fate of the city corporation library collection is illustrative of the general apathy of successive governments to the preservation and dissemination of historical knowledge.
The authorities, under the circumstances, must take immediate measures to properly store and preserve the century-old collection of the CCC public library following standard procedures. They must also make arrangement to ensure that the collection is available to readers and researchers during this interim period. In the long run, the government should revisit its policies regarding the management of public libraries for a better, nationwide library management. Recognising the historical importance of the library collection at different libraries, the government must take initiatives to digitise rare books, manuscripts and newspapers because once lost, the information cannot be retrieved.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial