As we step over the threshold of the Northbrook Public Library, the sight of high ceilings, tall ornate bookshelves and the wonderful smell of old books transports us back to a different time. Built during the British Era, on Farashganj Road in Old Dhaka, the Northbrook Hall with its red brick walls is a fusion of Mughal and Renaissance architectural styles. The library, housed on the South-East side of the Hall was added on February, 1882.
The books in this library have been donated by kings, British officials, nawabs and aristocracy of that time- Nawab Ahsanullah Khan Bahadur, Kumar Rajendra Narayan Ray, Babu Gobinda Lal Basak, Lord Carmicheal (Governer of Bengal 1912) and Sharashi Bala Devi Choudhrani to name a few. “The library was started with a 1000 books and this collection increased over time,” says Mohammad Nazrul Islam, a library assistant for the past 25 years. “We have first editions of many classics and books of a variety of genres, some of the oldest dating back to 1803” he says. “Many famous writers, poets, academics, aristocrats and freedom fighters visited this library, and to this day, professors and students come here to do research,” he adds.
Unfortunately, during the Liberation War, many of the books were destroyed and the library was left in a state of disrepair. “During the flood in '88, I had to protect the books by laying them on the table and sitting with them day and night to make sure they were well covered,” recalls Islam. “The ceiling still leaks when there is rain. We have contacted Nagarbhaban many times and although the Mayor and other officials have come by, no steps have been taken to help us preserve these books- a part of our rich cultural heritage, many of which are now falling apart and need to be rebound. We have stopped lending books- they can only be read inside the premises,” he says.