It all began, in 2015 with the findings of the Library Landscape Assessment in Bangladesh (LLAB) - a research project the British Council implemented in Bangladesh funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. While this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the British Council and the Gates Foundation, it was also the beginning of a movement stirring up in the library sector of Bangladesh.
The LLAB research was not only comprehensive, but it was also insightful and honest. And, it brought forth the sorry state of public libraries in dire need of library policy reform, overhauling the available service suite, renovating the existing model of libraries, building capacity of libraries with 21st century skills such as leadership, digital literacy and customer service and the toughest of all, changing the mind-set of powerful government officials who were deeply seasoned with the traditional view of libraries- where libraries are book repository institutions with just lending services. LLAB also brought in the struggle of libraries globally but to survive, how libraries had to evolve. With best practices from around the world, LLAB put forth a vision of libraries fit for Bangladesh to creating a library sector in Bangladesh which is no longer on the bottom rung of policymakers, donors and very soon a favourite hangout places for women, youth and micro entrepreneurs of Bangladesh. LLAB went on to shape the Libraries Unlimited project which further works to develop this sector.
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 educationists of Bangladesh were chitchatting over tea. BRAC, UNESCO and the British Council vowed to make this happen and decided to bring it up to the Department of Public Libraries. With two years of constant advocacy, the British Council along with BRAC pushed forth a proposal to the cabinet division at Prime Minister’s Office. After two years and with the final approval from the Honourable Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, 5 February 2018 was announced as National Library Day in Bangladesh.
The day is aimed towards celebrating libraries nationwide and will be followed for years to come from 2018. This year, a message from the government went out urging citizens to use their nearest public libraries. Various national and international organisations, civil society activists, developing partners, youth leaders joined in on the celebration and promoted the benefits of using libraries. The Department of Public Libraries- the apex body in managing the public libraries in Bangladesh, arranged a discussion session with the presence of honourable Finance Minister of People’s Republic of Bangladesh to advocate for Libraries aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. The British Council observed this day through various activities and competition engaging people from all background specially those between 15-25 years.
Through the National Library Day, Libraries Unlimited project and our state of the art British Council library; we have set ourselves at the forefront of library development in Bangladesh. It not only opens up the future scope of engaging UK expertise in library development but also in other sectors such as lifelong learning, 21st-century skills, innovation, sustainable social business model etc. Libraries Unlimited is focused on catering to the information and learning needs of women, NEETs (youth not in education, employment and training) and micro-entrepreneurs. With successful project outcome of Libraries Unlimited, libraries will be the perfect platform to springboard change across a nation of 16 million people.