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The Bengali American community has a strong presence in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are annual celebrations of Durga Puja. The community also hosts cultural events featuring Rabindranath Tagore’s music, dramas, and stories, and Satyajit Ray movies.

The newest offering is the Dishari Public Library, a Bengali library free and open to all. The library is housed at 2086 Walsh Ave., in Santa Clara. It is open on Saturdays only from 3-6 pm. 

The Bay Area’s very first Bengali library held its hybrid inauguration ceremony on Feb. 26. The book-loving community from all over the country participated in celebrating the major milestone in the Bay Area, via a virtual celebration on Zoom. 

Community Resource

In a conversation with three core members of the library team, Jaideep Das (the founder), Anirban Ghosh, and Debasish Bose, it became clear that developing a constant, permanent platform to cultivate the intellectual heritage of Bengal in the Bengali language was much needed. Cultural community events preserve the heritage but are typically festive, one-time events.

Volunteers sort books into genres at the new Dishari Public Library, while others work on the library management system. (Photo courtesy of Mantra Roy)

The library will function as a community resource where people can come together to exchange ideas, participate in debates and discussions, and borrow books and periodicals about a wide range of subjects (literature, history, the arts, cinema, music, to name a few). It will “enrich people,” by engaging with the intellectual treasures in print and other media, says Bose. 

Where does the library come from?

The Dishari Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2014 by Das, promotes Bengali language outside India and supports low-income communities in India and Bangladesh. The Foundation has been running a successful Bangla school that teaches the language to children and the wider community.

Learning a language loses its merit if it is not cultivated. Bengalis have a strong penchant for reading. What else can bring these two needs – cultivation of language and love for reading – together but a library? The idea of the Dishari Public Library was born.    

Volunteer-Driven

The increase in the number of Bengali speaking people in the Bay Area, the enthusiastic response from the community, the experience of teaching the Bengali language, a closely-knit group of volunteers who believed in the vision for the library, a very successful fundraising campaign, and a free office space for the library donated by a close friend who, one must mention, does not speak or read Bengali, were all the different avenues that came together to make the inauguration event on Feb. 26 possible. 

Like the name ‘Dishari’ (direction) suggests, the founding team hopes one day there will be more libraries that will host literary resources in other regional languages of India. In fact, the team is very eager to talk and discuss the ways reading enthusiasts in other languages of India can replicate the Dishari Library’s journey.The library is open to host collections in other languages of India, if community members approach the team, says Das. 

Rare, Author-Signed Copies

Between fundraising in November 2021 and the inauguration in February 2022, more than 500 books, including rare author-signed copies, were donated to the library. At the time of writing this story, more books have arrived from the community in the Bay Area and other parts of the United States. Friends and family members in Kolkata have shipped books through March and April.

Founding member Jaideep Das (right) with community members who donated rare music and audio collections in April 2022. (Photo courtesy of Mantra Roy)

A library management system, primarily developed by Ghosh, is in place. Patrons are actively creating free accounts and borrowing and returning books. The library’s website is Library team members visit community events and promote the library collection and have received immense support.  

Space For Local Writers To Showcase Work

Bose believes the three hundred people who joined the celebration on Zoom will celebrate the library as a resource center. It will provide to the community a space to enrich our minds. 

Local writers in regional languages will be able to showcase their work and engage in conversations with the readers.

Other regional-language focused libraries will share Dishari Public Library’s mission. 

Bigger Space On The Horizon

This foundational phase is “a marathon and not a 100 meter sprint,” says Das. Fewer patrons in slow weeks or months should not be a deterrent. As the collection keeps expanding, there will be a need for a bigger space. 

Volunteers discuss genre classifications and transliterated spellings of books and authors  (Photo courtesy of Mantra Roy)

Ghosh emphasizes that more participation from the community — volunteers, book donations, and as registered patrons — will make the Dishari Public Library more effective and more successful. 

All of them hope that more people will ask for books, continue to read, and the library will join hands with them to provide what they need. If readers in other regional languages of India want to talk to them or work with the founders, they can be reached at disharilibrary@gmail.com

Mantra Roy

Mantra Roy, Ph.D, MLIS, is the Collection Strategy Librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose State University. She is a Standing Committee Member at the International Federation of...