From 12pm to 6pm on Friday, February 26, the Boibondhu library held a free, open air book exchange festival at Rabinda Sarobar. Visitors had to bring books from their private collections to donate to the long stretch of books on display; in exchange, they could pick up as many books as they liked.
"Our target was to exchange 1,000 books, but due to the large number of participants, we managed to exchange almost 15,000 books in a day," Mahmudul Hasan, Coordinator, Boi Bondhu, told The Daily Star.
The event witnessed participation from people of all ages, from toddlers to adults. "It was an alternative to the much awaited Ekushey Boi Mela. I had several unread books in my home which I exchanged with my favourite ones," shared Toushik Ornee, a student of Dhaka College.
It was overwhelming to see so many book lovers unite to celebrate literature and their love of reading. While the event was an admirable and unique initiative to nurture the practice of reading free of cost, visitors shared some logistical issues that could be improved upon.
"It seems like people have exchanged the books they did not like with new ones. I could even spot some school textbooks and magazines," Nowshin Kamal Smita, a student of IBA, University of Dhaka, told The Daily Star.
"I brought 10 books and had a hard time finding new titles. Many books were in poor condition and some of them were severely damaged," added Hanif Wahid, a writer by profession. Clear instructions from the organisers could have prevented this problem.
The collection of Bangla books was expansive, from Tagore's greatest works to novels by Anisul Haque. "I would have loved to see more English books as we have a large community of English readers within the country," shared Maimuna Alam, a student of BRAC University.
Volunteers did a commendable job of helping the participants. However, maintaining social distance in such a crowded event can prove difficult. "We exchanged books within ourselves as we could not enter the line. At the end of day, the entire idea of a book exchange is what matters," said visitors Faria Islam and Sarah Jashim.
Boibondhu explained that the remaining books will be traveling to other parts of the country, where the library plans to host more exchange programmes. "We had the support of sponsors in Dhaka, but we might not be lucky enough to manage sponsors for other divisions," Mahmudul Hasan said.
A small portable library was also established at the premises of Rabindra Sarobar during the inauguration ceremony. Boibondhu plans to set up similar libraries at 33 parks around Dhaka city. Since 2018, they have been working tirelessly to establish libraries across the country—a total of 53 so far.
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