Community information services through public libraries in Bangladesh: problems and proposals.

Author:Islam, Anwarul


In the present information age, information is considered to be a resource, a product, and thereby a need. Therefore, the problem of developing countries of the world is not merely economic poverty; it is also information poverty, which must be a great concern to human beings. Information is a basic need, and must be a priority. This kind of productive survival information is called Community Information (CI), which is crucial for socio-economic development in developing countries. Community Information Services (CIS) are concerned with the provision of problem-solving information. Public libraries are important institutions in the information society. In Bangladesh, these libraries have served society in various forms for development where there is a crucial shortage of educated and skilled manpower, logistical support, and infrastructure. Bangladesh needs to emphasize community information services development in their development plan, because it still faces poverty, health, and literacy problems. A majority of its population, more than 80 percent, lives in rural areas where the average information access is still very low. Illiteracy and lack of information service facilities have been pinpointed as primary causes of these problems, especially in rural communities. To improve the living standards of the rural people, the government of Bangladesh has as its goals to increase information service facilities and the eradication of illiteracy. Public library based community services are a means to solve these problems.

Community Information Services

CI is a combination of two terms, i.e., Community and Information. The term "Information" is used to identify many concepts; hence, it is extremely difficult to define it precisely. Normally, information is a message, communicated by a communicator to a receiver. Giggey (1988) defines community as "a group of people who have something common. This can be their age, education, religion, interest, political affiliation, activities, work, possession or a combination of two or more of these". CI is information for the survival and growth of the community, or information required by members of the community to make effective use of the available resources around them. The information service through which CI is provided to communities is called Community Information Service (CIS).

It may be worthwhile to look at two definitions of this concept in order to understand the focus and scope of CIS. Joseph (1993) described CIS in 1976 as offering:

* Survival information, such as that related to health, housing, income, legal protection, economic opportunity, and political rights.

* Citizen action information, needed for effective participation as individuals or as members of a group in the social, political, legal, economic process.

CIS was defined in 1980 by a group appointed by the British Library Association as:

Services which assist individuals and groups with daily problem--solving and with participation in the democratic process. The services concentrate on the needs of those who do not have ready access to other sources of assistance and on the most important problems that people have to face, problems to do with their homes, their jobs, and their rights. (BLA 1980)

The generally accepted definition today is services offered by all types of libraries and other organizations to provide people with information relevant to their everyday life, particularly those in the lower-economic and disadvantaged groups who need to learn how to obtain, understand, and use information. It was originally intended to help eradicate deprivation and illiteracy in the rural areas. CIS activities include health, education, employment, agriculture, village industries, daily necessities, consumer services, and so on.

Objectives of the Study

The major objectives of this study are:

* To be familiar with the concept of Community Information Service (CIS) and its effectiveness through public libraries

* To discuss present CIS activities and propose a plan for introducing public library based CIS in Bangladesh.

* To suggest that public library based CIS will be an innovative way to help people in communities, and provide recommendations for overcoming the limitations.


This study uses both qualitative and quantitative approaches along with review of related literature. The conceptual and textual information related to the present study were collected from primary and secondary sources of information such as books, journals, magazines, newspapers, conference proceedings, official documents, and unpublished sources. Websites were also used for collecting information.

CIS and Public Libraries Worldwide

CIS is concerned with the provision of problem-oriented information. UNESCO (1972) states that the "public library must offer to adults and children the opportunity to keep in touch with their times, to educate themselves continuously and to keep abreast of progress in sciences and arts. Its contents should be a living demonstration of the evaluation of knowledge and culture, constantly reviewed, kept up-to-date and attractively presented. In this way it will help people from their own opinions, and develop their creative and critical capacities and powers of appreciation. The public is concerned with the communication of information and ideas, whatever the form in which these may be expressed." The public library is rightly designated as an agency for the promotion of universal education. Its task is to disseminate information and enrich personal and social life. The idea of public libraries offering information on everyday societal problems is not new. However, public library involvement in this area in the UK and USA increased after World War II, with active cooperation among governmental and social agencies to help disadvantaged segments of the community.

During the 1960s and 1970s, a shift took place and libraries started offering CIS directly. CIS was introduced by public libraries in the Western countries in response to an expressed need at a time when general library service was more or less universally available. The New York Public Library is one of the most active in offering CIS. Each branch has current information on local community and city-wide services. People can find information about community...

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