National Library is the custodian of the creative works of the nation as well as conservator and preserver of the nation's history, heritage and culture. In fact, a National Library acts as the barometre of a country's scholarship, as a mirror of its cultural heritage and also as the apex of its library system. The National Library of Bangladesh was established under a special order of the government soon after the liberation of the country.
Before independence, there was a branch of the Central Library of Pakistan in Dhaka that started functioning from September 1967 and was designated as 'Books and Newspapers Collection Branch'. Thus its duty was to procure books and newspapers published from the erstwhile East Pakistan. This was the predecessor of the National Library of Bangladesh. However, the National Library practically started functioning from 1973.
Though the National Library had a humble beginning but soon it assumed the characteristics of an important centre of learning both in national and international sense. It started collecting all important national and many international publications on various subjects, particularly history, politics, culture, administration, science, medicine and technology. It put particular emphasis on collecting all documents and publications relating to the land and people of Bangladesh both from home and abroad. Consequently, it has become the largest repository of paper materials in Bangladesh regarding the nation’s history and heritage.
In 1973 the Government placed the National Library of Bangladesh under the care of the Directorate of Archives and Libraries with necessary organisational changes. At present (2002) the Directorate is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
At the beginning, the National Library was housed in a rented building in Dhaka at 103 Elephant Road, then at 106 Central Road (also rented) and finally in 1985 it was moved to its own building constructed by the Government at Agargaon, Sher-e-Banglanagar, Dhaka.
The principal functions of the National Library of Bangladesh are as follows: 1) to collect and preserve all publications within the country in accordance with the Bangladesh Copyright Act, 1974 (amended 2000), to manage them properly and make them available to the readers and researchers; 2) to prepare and publish a national bibliography; 3) to act as the guardian of all the libraries in the country; 4) to make contact with all the libraries home and abroad and share and exchange resources and information with all of them; 5) to prepare and publish an index of all the editorials and important articles published in the national dailies; 6) to assist and co-operate for the development of the library science and information service; 7) to prepare and publish a library directory; 8) to allocate International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN); and 9) to prepare and publish a Union Catalogue for Bangladesh.
The National Library of Bangladesh has several sections namely the Bibliography Section, Library Section, Binding Section, Processing Section, Computer Section and Microfilm Section. It has undertaken an automation programme for its collection and information through Foxpro, Visual Foxpro and CDS/ISIS systems. A scanning programme through computer has also been adopted for preserving many rare books and documents.
It has also undertaken a microfilming programme for conserving rare materials especially the old newspapers. For this purpose it has very recently acquired a modern microfilm unit with computerised camera, a data processor, microfilm reader and printer.
Collection and preservation The National Library has a collection of some 400,000 books including rare books and manuscripts and about 100,000 copies of learned journals collected from various sources. The collection of journals is one of the major items of its acquisition programme. The Library has also received a large collection of rare books, journals and manuscripts from individuals as donations. It has also collected old daily newspapers, books and magazines from various government agencies and foreign sources like UNESCO, World Bank and ILO.
The Library has a good collection of Urdu, Arabic and Persian books as well as manuscripts and a large number of old maps of Bangladesh and that of the Indian subcontinent.
All the collections of the National Library are preserved in a seven-storied air-conditioned stack block equipped with modern facilities.
The National Library has various reader services and other facilities. It has four large Reading Rooms covering an area of some 743.22 sq m. It also has a temporary Exhibition Hall and a 300-seat capacity air-conditioned auditorium.
The National Library organises special exhibitions, seminars and symposia for all kinds of readers and users of the library, both children and adults, on a regular basis. Besides, it takes part in all national book fairs as well as in other relevant exhibitions within the country.
Although the National Library within the short period of its existence has successfully carried out its responsibilities, yet it is handicapped by the absence of any legislation in the country regarding the administration and development of libraries. An effort has recently been made to pass a new legislation in this connection. Meanwhile, the libraries including the National Library of Bangladesh are at present being run in accordance with the existing laws and usage of the country, inherited from the colonial rule which are not adequate enough to cope with the ever-changing socio-cultural environment of a newly independent country.
The National Library is headed by the Director of the Directorate of Archives and Libraries and has some 40 officials and staff. At present the National Library is situated in 32, Justice SM Murshed Road, Agargaon, Dhaka. Except Weekly and government holidays, it remains open from 9 am to 5 pm everyday. [Sharif Uddin Ahmed]