In the year of 1978, a group of 10-15 people used to get together at the National Academy for Educational Management (NAEM). Their aim was to read books and discuss them. They also decided to discuss one book every week.
But they faced problem buying books. At that time, a man (Abdullah Abu Sayeed) came forward and gave them Tk 35. Several books were bought with it. And they eagerly finished each of the books.
Abdullah Abu Sayeed, the visionary of Bishwo Sahitto Kendro, was then a teacher at Dhaka College. Seeing the new generation’s interest in reading books, a new thought came to his mind.
He decided to quit the Dhaka College job. Instead of being confined to classroom wall, he wanted to spread the light of knowledge in the remote areas of the country. Since then, World Literature Centre started its activities to create enlightened people.
The number of members reading books at the NAEM auditorium was gradually increasing. After a few days, World Literature Centre moved to a rented house on Indira Road.
People from all walks of life including school, college, and university students were constantly getting involved with it. This trend continued for several years.
After that, World Literature Centre got an abandoned house at Bangla Motor from the government. The centre started its activities at that house. New faces started joining old ones to make the dream of Prof Abu Sayeed come true with the slogan, “We want enlightened people.”
With the belief in creating enlightened people, World Literature Centre has spread far and wide in the country. Today, it has a membership of 2.8 million.
One of the major functions of Bishwo Sahitto Kendro is to operate mobile library. With the aim of bringing books on people’s doorsteps, the mobile library programme was launched under the national library programme.
Even school-going teenagers in remote areas today find joy in reading books and mobile library gives them a taste of real library.
In 1999, mobile library was first launched in four major cities of the country–Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi. Now the total number of mobile library is 76 operating in 300 upazilas of 64 districts under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
The mobile library’s spectacular vehicles come in seven sizes which hold 4,000, 6,000, 8,000, 11,000 and 17,000 books respectively. Each library visits, on average, 40 areas in urban and rural areas every week and lends books to the members for half an hour to two hours.
It is decided in advance which vehicles will go to which area on which days of the week. The current membership of these libraries is 3.30 lakh.
The school-college programme started in 1984 as part of the countrywide excellence programme at Bishwo Sahitto Kendro.
This is the biggest step taken by the centre to strengthen students’ mind. In different parts of the country, two or three schools and colleges turn into one branch of the programme.
Efforts are made to find interested and talented students and build them as enlightened people. As part of it, students are allowed to read books suitable for their mind and age. Later, they are given test. Certificates and prizes are awarded to encourage the participants.
In 2004, some changes were made to this programme. The programme was conducted in educational institutions with the coordination of teachers and parents. Currently, this programme is running at 1,500 schools and 100 colleges in different parts of the country. Every year about 2 lakh students get the opportunity to read books.
Reading habit development activities
In 2009, Bishwo Sahitto Kendrob launched a new programme titled “Secondary Education Quality and Access Enhancement project” (SEQAEP) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education for the development of reading habit. Various steps have been taken to inculcate the habit of reading among the students.
This programme was conducted at 12,000 schools and madrasas in 250 upazilas of the country as of 2017. The total number of the members under this programme was 22 lakh.
In 2023, Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education under SEDP started this programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
This year the programme will be run at 15,000 educational institutions in 300 upazilas of 64 districts. It is expected that around 25 lakh students will benefit from the literacy development programme and 35 lakh books will be distributed by 2023.
Alor Ishkul (School of Light)
‘Alor Ishkul’ is being run at Bishwo Sahitto Kendro at Bangla Motor for six years. This programme started to develop the people with excellence and global outlook. Under this program, the members of Alor Ishkul can gain knowledge about various subjects, including art, literature, music, painting, philosophy, and science.
One of its most interesting activities is the ‘study circle’ where the members create reading habit among themselves by reading books collectively.
Bishwo Sahitto Kendro publishes books aimed at enlightening the people. Under this programme, efforts are being made to publish the best books in Bangla along with the best books of different countries and languages. About 540 books have been published so far.
Book sales centre
Bishwo Sahitto Kendro has its own book sales centre on the 2nd floor of its building. Along with selected best books from almost all publications of Bangladesh, selected Bengali books from best publications of West Bengal and high quality English books published in India, UK, USA etc. are put on sale at discount.
Apart from this, there are more than five hundred classic books on world literature, Bengali literature and juvenile literature published by Bishwo Sahitto Kendro.
Programme department of Bishwo Sahitto Kendro organises various programmes. Dhaka programme department of World Literature Centre is highly praised for organising cultural programmes as well as contemplative and intellectual programmes on various topics.
Apart from this, different kinds of cultural programmes are organised at schools, colleges and cultural branches of mobile library under the countrywide excellence programme.
How does it get financial support?
Bishwo Sahitto Kendro, registered by Department of Social Welfare and Bureau of NGO Affairs, is run on grants. It gets funding from the government, non-governmental organisations, financial and business institutions as well as individuals.
Shamim Al Mamun, Director at World Literature Centre, told The Business Post, “We have been working for almost 42 years to create prejudice-free, liberal and noble citizens. And our tool is the book. We want to make all children and young people bookish.”
“If children read world’s best books, they will gain knowledge and be good human beings. What they read at this age will long-lasting impression on their mind which will help them become enlightened persons,” he added.