Words have the power to shape our world, and everyone in the world deserves the opportunity to think and read those words. Reading is one of the most basic and most powerful foundations of democratic, literate and peaceful societies. We all want to equip our children with confidence and empathy, and leave a world that is better than the one we inhabit. What is the best way to do that? Building spaces where they can read – read about anything that they want to, read with absolute freedom. Libraries are the gateways where thoughts take flight, where we can look back at all of history’s lessons, and where other worlds are made possible.
This year, in what was a tremendous move towards encouraging and popularising reading, the Government of Bangladesh dedicated February 5 as National Library Day. In an increasingly fast-paced world where reading is perceived to be under grave threat, this is a hugely important step. The news was received with the warmest enthusiasm here at BRAC, home of the world’s largest secular private education system, and the country’s biggest network of reading spaces.
Learning is not just for classrooms
Reading develops critical thinking, and the ability to imagine. Every piece of fiction a child reads is a step towards imagining and understanding different worlds. Every progress that we have made in this world is the result of someone thinking and imagining other possibilities.
Someone once asked Albert Einstein how we could make our children intelligent. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales” he said. “If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Everything changes when we read. Our vocabulary expands through reading, and with that so does our worldviews.
At BRAC we envision a world where every child can read, imagine and understand. Today, BRAC’s readership base consists of 1.4 million people. Students, out-of-school children, farmers, housewives, doctors, no one is excluded.
Our 2,900 community libraries- gonokendros– are multi-purpose learning centres,many equipped with internet facilities. They act as a bridge to the world outside for many remote villages. The rooms are stocked with books, magazines and films, and are managed by locally recruited librarians. They have been the reason for a large number of semi-literate women to become regular readers. The majority of these libraries are co-funded by the communities themselves.
Our mobile libraries bring knowledge to the doorsteps of those who are unable to get to our community libraries. The librarian, usually a woman from the community, carries up to 100 books in a trunk by a rickshaw or a van once or twice a week.
In addition, young people across 60 districts are involved in our 5,000 reading clubs, specially designed to encourage reading among young people. Many of these readers have dropped out of school.
How do we create a better future? Celebrate libraries
If we want to fight for a responsible generation, a generation free of crime and radicalism, libraries are what we need. The correlations between literacy and crime have been proven too many times: once literate, children can engage with their world, become vested in their communities, and turn away from violence.
Libraries are the quiet, reflective places that every citizen should have equal access to, no matter who they are. Let us rejoice in the newly opened Baati Ghor and Bengal Boi, and let us also celebrate initiatives like UPL’s Adopt-A-Library. Let us raise more empathetic readers than television viewers, and build more libraries than shopping malls across the streets of Bangladesh.