The British Council’s Libraries Unlimited (LU) programme works closely with the government of Bangladesh and librarians across the country to improve public access to knowledge and information. Fatema Khatun, Librarian and Assistant Director, Department of Public Libraries (DPL) was one of the ten librarians from Bangladesh who were taken to the UK for a study visit by LU in November 2017. The tour was to introduce Bangladeshi librarians to the best practices, innovative library programmes, and new library designs.

She has designed an online reporting system for libraries across the country, which are, for the more significant parts, following a manual reporting system. In current times of digital progress in Bangladesh, Fatima has come up with an improved mechanism to increase effectiveness and ease for individuals working in the public libraries sector.

Before January 2018, the public libraries of Bangladesh were sending their monthly progress reports to the DPL by post. As the Assistant Director of the DPL, Fatema oversees the compilation of these reports and submits the summary to the Ministry of Cultural affairs on behalf of the DPL. In a recent follow-up with the LU, she stated that the process was suffering due to delays caused by the courier service. Sometimes it took her until the 10th of every month to send the report to the ministry, and the accuracy levels of the reports were not to standard. She wanted to address these challenges by implementing a process that replaced the slow manual approach to reporting.

“I was very keen on doing this,” she said. “So, I have proposed the online reporting system before the Director General of DPL in December 2017 as a part of my work plan towards digitalisation of public libraries.”

This online reporting system has been saving an estimated 200 hours of staff time a month for all the public libraries across the country, and the staff have been able to utilise this time for enhanced community engagement. Fatema’s recent follow up of the system also revealed that the online reporting system is highly efficient regarding data consistency and reduced level of errors.

After a trial period, the online reporting system became fully functional in July 2018. Within five months of the implementation phase, the reporting system has been proved highly efficient at reporting the library sector progress to the Ministry because of enhanced efficiency and accuracy. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh now receives the online progress report from all these libraries within the first two days of each month through the DPL.

Her workplan was widely accepted, and the online system was established in January 2018 by the DPL. The Monitoring and Evaluation team of LU project worked closely with Fatema throughout the design and implementation of the process and provided technical guidance. She said, “I was facing challenges regarding the implementation of the online system as the library sector staff of Bangladesh required training on using this new system. I have participated in Leadership training and Training of the Trainer (ToT) provided by LU project, which also supported me in organising and delivering training on online reporting system to seventy staff of the public libraries in five batches.”

Fatema said that she is grateful to the LU project because she got the idea of initiating the online reporting system across the 71 public libraries of Bangladesh after visiting the libraries in the UK. “Following my success with the online reporting system, all other sections of the DPL are now planning to go online.”

Under the leadership of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh, DPL has set ‘Improving Reader’s Services’ and ‘Organisational Capacity Building’ as their two key strategic objectives. The online reporting system inspired by the LU project has been a critical milestone towards achieving these strategic objectives of the Government of Bangladesh.

LU, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded project delivered by the British Council, aims to modernise the public libraries of Bangladesh across all 64 districts and improve public access to information and knowledge.