Posted in family by jrahman on February 21, 2018

… are fun places with lots of books.  I love reading books.  I want to be the class librarian because I want to protect the books and help you read them.

That was the eight year old’s ‘statement’ as he nominated himself for the class librarian on the first day of Grade 3.  He was super excited to tell me about it as we walked home after school.  I shared his excitement as I too had great fun at libraries.

Not at his age though.  When I was his age, we lived in mofussil Bangladesh over a hundred km north of Dhaka.  I don’t think my primary school even had a library.  It was only when we moved to Dhaka in the mid-1980s that I first encountered libraries — a small one at the air force school that I attended, and much larger one at the British Council in Dhaka University.  I spent hours looking at atlases in these places.  British Council also had young adult novels and such like, though I had moved on to Alistair MacLean before long.  Many of my friends had frequented Bishwa Sahittya Kendra — I don’t know why I hardly ever went there.

Then we moved overseas.  I spent my high school / teen years in small countries — and I emphasise small, population less than a typical upazilla — in the tropics.  I attended schools for the expatriate children, with better libraries than any school in Bangladesh.  And the public libraries, including the one in the local university, were better than anything I had seen in Bangladesh.  Oh, these countries were every bit low income / developing / aid-dependent / poverty-stricken basket cases as Bangladesh.  My partner was amazed by the quality of one of these libraries just a few weeks ago.  Meanwhile, I don’t think the quality of Bangladeshi libraries have improved at all in the past quarter century.

What was I reading a quarter century / three decades  ago?  History and politics mostly.  The uprisings in the former Soviet empire as well as China and the first Gulf War led to reading news magazines, and then history books.  Before long, I discovered archives and back issues of Time, Newsweek and the Economist, and devoured the real time coverage of 1971 and 1947.

I presume much of such archival material has since been digitised.  What good is a physical library in a world of google and smartphone?

I guess for kids, the biggest benefit of libraries with physical books is pedagogic — to teach them how to look (as in, search), and search again (that is, research): skills that will come in handy no matter what happens to technology.  All else equal, we might expect the kids to become more curious, more imaginative in the presence of books.  If smart phones are destroying a generation, perhaps books can be the salvation.  Taking the kids to the local library has easily been one of the best afternoons ever.

But what about the adults?  I have to confess that I haven’t really used a library since leaving university.  I can see huge research potential in the district libraries of Bangladesh though — each of them are archival goldmines to be explored by serious researchers across all social studies.

Anyway, the boy is enjoying his ‘job’.  I should tell him about my experience working in libraries while at university.









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