Vol. 4 Num 21 Wed. June 18, 2003  
Front Page

Macro-neglect to DU microfilms
Lack of preservation puts priceless books and manuscripts at decay-end

Due to lack of proper preservation, centuries old puthis and pandulipis (hand-written books and manuscripts), newspapers and periodicals printed in Bangladesh over the last century, have been decaying in the Dhaka University Central Library for years.

About 200 rare manuscripts and at least 500 microfilmed newspapers have already been damaged, although there is a regular supervisory committee. Another five hundred puthis and newspapers are going to meet the same fate if preventive steps are not taken, said sources in the library.

The university library has a collection of more than 30,000 such books and manuscripts, dating back to the medieval period, written on palm and banana leaves, barks, stone slabs and handmade papers in Sanskrit, Bangla, Arabic, Pali, Urdu, Persian, Maithili, Oriya, Hindi and a few dialects.

About 20,000 among the manuscripts have been identified and 6,500 most decayed manuscripts have been microfilmed and laminated, the sources said. Work on identifying other manuscripts is on but they are in such decrepit condition that it is difficult to work with them, they said.

"Sharada Tilok", a Sanskrit puthi more than 550 years old and rare Bengali works from the Middle Ages like "Padma Puran", "Yusuf Zulekha" and "Padmabati" by Alawal are some of the notables among the most decrepit volumes.

Some rare newspapers from the last century, which chronicled the events of division of Bengal in 1905, division of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, Amar Ekushey February in 1952, mass revolution in 1969, independence of Bangladesh in 1971 and many major social and cultural movements are decaying in the dusty, damp atmosphere.

The manuscripts are crammed in 49 shelves in a room that is so small that it hinders the staff to dust and air them and there is also shortage of manpower, the sources said. "We have informed the DU authorities several times about our problems but they are yet to take any step to improve the situation," said a staffer.

The microfilmed newspapers and periodicals are kept in a room where the air-coolers are active only in the office hours, whereas the coolers should work round the clock, at least in the hot and humid months. The office of the microfilm section remains open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. It works five and a half days a week and remains closed on government holidays. A microfilm reader and a microfilm and fiche reader have been lying in damage for years, said the sources.

In warmer months, it takes at least four hours to lower the room's temperature to a required level after switching on the coolers. The outmoded and inefficient air coolers in the manuscripts and microfilm section cannot maintain the required temperature at 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. The level of humidity should also be between 52 and 58 per cent all the time but there is no proper humidity control arrangement.

Alongside more efficient air-conditioning and humidity control systems, more rooms and increased manpower are needed to maintain the puthis and microfilms properly and index them systematically.

The temperature in the manuscripts section on a typical summer day was recorded at 34.50 degrees Celsius and humidity at 71 per cent, while temperature of the microfilmed newspaper section was 28.4 degrees and humidity 62 per cent with the air coolers and the humidity control machine running for at least three hours.

The five-member manuscript committee set up in 1980 with the librarian as its convenor to supervise the manuscripts section seems stringed by procedural and other handicaps.

Dr Muhammad Serajul Islam, the present librarian and convenor of the committee, told The Daily Star that some microfilmed manuscripts have been lost to time. A process to reprint them is underway, he said.

"We will shift the manuscripts section to the ground floor with modern power supply and air cooling system if the DU authorities permit. I have requested the vice-chancellor to allocate extra funds," he said.

Vice-Chancellor SMA Faiz who has been in the chair since September last said a project was working to modernise the manuscripts preservation system at the library. "We are conscious about the manuscripts as they are valuable assets of the university," he said.

The Dhaka University library with an enviable collection of rare books, puthis and pandulipis, newspapers and periodicals, maps and other reference materials served teachers, students and researchers from home and abroad for decades. But their numbers are decreasing day by day because of the present sordid state.

A microfilm on valuable reference of the Dhaka University Central Library lies damaged. About 200 rare manuscripts and at least 500 microfilmed newspapers have already been damaged and more are on way to meet the same future due to negligence of the authorities. Photo: STAR