Librarian Training and Professional Opportunities in Bangladesh
This paper examines the infrastructure for library education in Bangladesh, including curriculum at all levels, and political considerations. A certificate course was introduced in 1958, master’s program in 1962, and doctoral program in 1979. All those programs have been at Dhaka University, which now has 14 professors of library science. Rajshahi University initiated a post-graduate diploma course in 1992, and a B.S.S. course in 1993. All curricula are traditional, with no practical computer applications up to this time. Continuing education opportunities are provided by the Library Association of Bangladesh, with some support from USIS, British Council, and agencies of other countries. Donor agencies also offer various international exchanges (study, teaching, visits) for professional personnel. Employment of librarians within Bangladesh has been satisfactory, but compensation in most libraries is low. Special libraries pay better than others, and have better technology. Political turmoil has been the cause of numerous shutdowns in the public universities, leading to an emergence of private universities, but none of these has yet undertaken instruction in library science.
At a time when adaptation to technology is an ongoing challenge in library training in every country, many developing countries have a problem serving their clientele at a very basic level. The pressing need is to produce librarians able to serve their constituencies with a minimum of materials and technology. While there is a growing clientele for advanced technological services, it is far too difficult for most library programs in developing countries to provide training at both ends of the spectrum. These countries must give higher priority to programs that meet librarians most fundamental training needs. Study abroad is the best option to provide advanced training for librarians wishing to take their place in an emerging information age. Thus, library science faculty must sublimate their own interests in advanced technology to meet the needs of students who will enter the workplace with only the most basic of resources.
This article examines the library training infrastructure in Bangladesh, a country with doctoral level training in library science, but an extremely limited resource base for library training. It describes training infrastructure, curriculum, geographical, political and economic constraints inherent in the system, and challenges faced by those operating a low technology program trying to move into the 21st century.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated and poorest countries in the world. Its per capita income in 1995 was US$200. Its population was 125 million spread over an area the size of Tunisia or Wisconsin. During the past few years, Bangladesh has experienced economic growth because of a growing garment industry sector and other industrial expansion. It has also had success in reducing its high birth rate. Yet, as the economic situation has grown somewhat brighter, the political situation has become more bleak.
Because of the heavy involvement of university students in the political process historically, Dhaka University, where much of the country’s library training occurs, has been closed for lengthy periods of time, creating significant impediments to training in all areas. The politically charged environment on campus has also kept the government from investing heavily in universities, leaving the system anemic and isolated.
Bangladesh has been fortunate to have had a full–service library science program long before political turmoil affected its universities. While some developing countries have just recently opened university–level library science programs, Bangladesh has been training librarians for more than forty years since the then–Pakistan government inaugurated a three–month training course for librarians at Dhaka University taught by London–trained Fazal Elahi. Bangladesh has gradually expanded its offerings, providing a breadth of training from short courses to the Ph.D.
Bangladesh was apart of India (as East Bengal) until 1947, then became East Pakistan. Independence was proclaimed in 1971. Library education has been strong in Bangladesh, as it is in India and Pakistan India has approximately 75 universities offering library education programs, including 30 Ph.D. programs. In Pakistan, there are seven library science programs, with Karachi University offering a Ph.D. Beyond what was colonial India, there are only two other library science programs in South Asia, at Colombo University and Kelaniya University in Sri Lanka.
In 1958, the East Pakistan Library Association introduced a 6-month certificate course in librarianship in Dhaka that would become the foundation for an undergraduate library science degree. The next year, Dhaka University began its oneyear postgraduate diploma course that became a masters degree program in 1962 and a twoyear masters program in 1976. The University began a doctoral degree program in 1979. Thus, by the end of the seventies, Bangladesh had an extensive infrastructure in place to produce a full complement of librarians. Rounding out the program, there is a threeyear honors course in library and information science initiated in 1988.
The Library Science program at Dhaka University has produced 1,081 postgraduate diplomas, 815 masters degrees, and four doctorates. During the 199596 academic year, the Department had 3040 students working on a B.A. (Honors) degree and 7080 working towards a masters degree. An average of 80 students graduate each year from the department. There are currently only five students enrolled in the Ph.D. program and no degrees have been granted during the past five years. At Dhaka University, no coursework is required for the Ph.D. Candidates generally work on a thesis topic with an advisor for two to four years.
The Department of Library Science is part of the Faculty of Arts; it has 14 professors. Four of the faculty have Ph.D.s, all from Dhaka Universitys own program. Two of the faculty are currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Another is doing a Ph.D. in India. Two members of the faculty have received masters from abroad (Pakistan and U.S.). Some of the faculty have also participated in short courses abroad. The Department of Library Science budget accounts for a little more than three percent of the Dhaka University budget. Being housed in a large arts college, the Department must compete with strong programs in the social sciences. There are no laboratory or practical opportunities within the Department, although the University Library serves as a resource. There are plans for the Department to procure its first two computers by the end of 1996.
By the mid1990s, Bangladesh was planning a second library science program, at Rajshahi University in the far northwest part of the country. Rajshahi began a oneyear postgraduate diploma course in 1992 followed by a B.S.S. honors course in 1993. The University has planned a masters degree course to begin in 1997. From a costefficiency standpoint, the library science program at Dhaka University is adequate to meet the needs of the country and a second library science program may put a further strain on already scarce resources. Yet, geographic dispersion of academic programs is a nationwide concern in a country where most resources in all areas reside in the capital of Dhaka. Disbursing resources and programs to remote constituencies carries a high social value and will likely continue. Even with a second library science program, geographical constraints loom large for those seeking library training. Students have to travel hours by bus or river ferry to reach the capital city. Living costs in Dhaka are high compared to the rural areas. Leaving families for long periods of time also creates hardship. With no distance learning system in place, there is little chance of getting an advanced degree without residency in either Dhaka or Rajshahi.
Library training in Bangladesh is funded almost entirely from the government. Limited support comes from special grants from donor countries. Tuition and fees are minimal. A masters student at Dhaka University pays approximately US$40 per year for admission and fees. For those who cannot afford tuition, various scholarships and financial aid are available. Because the average annual income in Bangladesh is less than US$200, it is unrealistic to think of raising tuition much beyond the current level. Consistent political turmoil in Bangladesh over the past decade has resulted in long closures, called session jams, at Dhaka University, but these delays have decreased in recent years. Such delays are frustrating to both students and their parents as hundreds of careers are put on hold. These chronic delays and the overall lack of confidence in the university system have caused much concern among Bangladeshis. Known as the Oxford of the East during the Indian Raj, Dhaka University has suffered significantly because of budgetary and political problems. For years, Bangladeshi public universities had a monopoly on higher education, forcing students into a single underfunded system. Now the wealthy have begun to send their children to universities abroad.
Beginning in 1992, the middle class received a new higher education alternative when a group of private Bangladeshi universities developed in the urban areas. None of the private universities offer courses in library science, but all provide a fairly sophisticated exposure to information technology. Students at the private universities have more exposure to electronic databases, the Internet, and remote catalogs than the most advanced library science students at Dhaka or Rajshahi University. Up to now, the private universities have concentrated on areas that offer highpaying jobs upon graduation like computer science, engineering, and business administration. When the private universities expand and mature, however, they will likely move into other areas. It is quite possible that the library science departments at Dhaka and Rajshahi Universities will have private competition in the broader information science area. A degree encompassing computerized information retrieval, elementary multimedia skills, and traditional reference courses could be quite popular.
The current syllabus at Dhaka University has a conspicuous lack of computer applications. It spans traditional courses in cataloging, bibliography and reference, indexing and abstracting, library management, and building library collections. There is one course that is devoted mainly to computer applications in libraries and information systems, but there is no practical component in the syllabus. At the current time, neither the Dhaka University library nor the Department of Library and Information Science has computers on the premises. Students have limited access to computers through the University computer facilities. There is a proposal for external funding for a departmental computer center that would provide students ready access to the Internet, OCLC, and computerized periodical databases.
Beyond universitylevel education, Bangladesh librarians have a critical need for basic and continuing education. Much of this training need has been met by the Library Association of Bangladesh (LAB) which was established in 1956 and has a membership of approximately 1,500. Its goals are to promote library service to the people of Bangladesh, to provide and promote facilities for training of librarianship and research in library science, to cooperate with libraries and library organizations with similar goals, and to improve the status and service conditions of library personnel. The association holds an annual meeting, is governed by an executive council that meets monthly, and publishes the twiceyearly journal, The Eastern Librarian. The LAB sponsors the Library Training Institute in Dhaka, which offers library and information science courses and training programs and supports continuing education opportunities for librarians through seminars and symposia. The institute sponsors a sixmonth certificate course in library science, a 12month post–graduate diploma course in library and information science, a basic librarianship course for armed forces personnel, and other special courses. These courses are taught at the Institutes facility in Dhaka, housed in the Dhaka Central Library. The association also advises the Library Training Institutes in Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi. The LAB course curriculum is modelled after the program at Dhaka Universitys Department of Library and Information Science, but pitched at a different level. Courses like reference sources and systems analysis are offered. Students at the Institute usually take leave from their paraprofessional positions to live and study in Dhaka. The Institute’s faculty consists of librarians from university and special libraries in the Dhaka area.
The Library Association of Bangladesh has shown an interest in new technologies through its regular symposia. Beginning in 1987, the Association focused on Modernization of Library Education and Services in Bangladesh and in 1993 on Preparing the Libraries and Librarians of Bangladesh for the 21st Century. A variety of guest lectures by foreign specialists has rounded out the Library Associations new technology emphasis. Judging by the good attendance at these sessions, there is keen interest from a certain segment of the library community in this subject.
Yet, interest varies greatly according to the type of library where a librarian is employed. Help with continuing education has also come from several foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations. Both the United States Information Service (USIS) and the British Council have provided visiting scholars and training courses to expose Bangladeshi librarians to other systems. Similar assistance has come from Germany, Sweden, Korea, and Japan. USIS in Dhaka is responsible for American educational and cultural exchanges with Bangladesh, and provides opportunities through its many programs for advanced study for Bangladeshis. USIS serves as the coordinator of the Fulbright program in Bangladesh, which sends native professors for study in the U.S. and brings American professors to Bangladesh for teaching and research. The USIS international visitors program offers onemonth professional visits to the U.S. to approximately 15 Bangladeshis each year, including librarians, journalists, economists, social workers, writers, and government officials. USIS also coordinates grants to the EastWest Center at the University of Hawaii and opportunities for study in the U.S. through the Hubert Humphrey program. While these programs are available to all disciplines, Bangladeshi librarians have been the recipients of many of these grants.
The British Council in Dhaka also provides opportunities for advanced study in Britain to Bangladeshi librarians. The British Commonwealth countries, like India, Australia, and Malaysia, are also popular locations for study. Returning home to Bangladesh with an advanced degree, especially from a Western university, carries prestige and respect. Among current librarians, three have received doctorates from India and another four are studying there. Most librarians with postgraduate degrees remain in Bangladesh, but a few have taken jobs in the Gulf states or the West.
Employment opportunities in Bangladesh for library science graduates have generally been good, but the pay is low, usually under US$1,000 per year. The Class 1 positions pay nearly US$1,300 per year, but there are few of them and they are difficult to obtain. Because there is no set pay scale for librarians that is consistent across the country, it is difficult to establish professional norms of compensation. As in most countries of the world, librarians enter the profession in Bangladesh knowing that compensation will never match their postgraduate educational level. The most lucrative opportunities for librarians in Bangladesh lie with the countrys elite special libraries that are in a class by themselves, drawing the best–trained librarians and offering the best opportunities for technological access. These positions can pay as much as US$5,000 to US$6,000 per year. Most special libraries are operated by nongovernmental organizations with external funding. According to a survey in 1991 done by the Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, Bangladesh has 664 special libraries. In comparison, there are only 13 academic libraries and 65 government public libraries in the country. The importance of special libraries is reflected in the placement of graduates. An informal survey of graduates of the Dhaka University Department of Library and Information Science found that 60 percent were employed in special libraries compared to 20 percent in public libraries and 10 percent in other libraries.
Special librarians are far more likely than others to have been abroad for training and to have far more sophisticated views about technology. This situation creates new opportunities for training. Most of the needs of this community are now being met informally within the special libraries. These libraries often serve as training grounds for those interested in some of the technologies not yet available in academic or public libraries. Librarians interested in new applications naturally gravitate to the special libraries for work or profession. At least one private company, Infoserve, has shown an interest in training librarians to work with the Internet. This firm, which does computer training for several groups of professionals, sees librarians as a potential market.
Bangladesh is fortunate in having a welldeveloped infrastructure for library training that includes a full complement of academic degrees to the Ph.D. and diploma and certificate programs for paraprofessionals. Through these programs, the training needs of most librarians in the country are being met. However, because most training takes place in Dhaka, geographical constraints impede countrywide access to courses. The academic training of librarians at the university level has been hampered by a nationwide problem of unrest and university closures. During these years of civil strife, universities have lost a great deal of credibility and opened the way for private universities to develop. While no private institution has developed a library science curriculum, there could be some kind of information science course in the future. Librarians whose needs are met least by the current library training system are those working in special libraries. This is the largest professional group in the country, outnumbering academic and public librarians combined. Because of donor aid, these special libraries are the most sophisticated in the country, having collections and information retrieval systems unknown to the nations other libraries.
Donor agencies sponsor librarians requiring a higher level of expertise for training in industrialized countries. Through this process, a small cadre of special librarians has been able to acquire advanced technological skills that they are able to apply in the workplace. The dual challenge is to diffuse those skills through the universities and professional institutes charged with training a new generation of librarians, but not to let special training get too far ahead of the basic needs of the nation’s current libraries.
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The authors wish to thank Minhaj Uddin Ahmed, graduate student in the Dhaka University Department of Library and Information Science, for his research assistance.
About the Authors
Jody Bales Foote is Assistant Professor, Education/Psychology Division, Southern Illinois University.
S.M. Mannan is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Library and Information Science, Dhaka University, Bangladesh.
©1996 Jody Bales Foote and S.M. Mannan.
Foote, Jody Bales and S.M. Mannan. “Librarian Training and Professional Opportunities in Bangladesh,” Third World Libraries, Volume 6, Number 2 (Spring 1996).
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