Md Mahbubur Rahman was deeply frustrated as a PhD researcher on local history.
His biggest reason: a glaring scarcity of necessary information in the country's archives.
The problem haunted him even when he became a teacher of the Department of History at the Rajshahi University.
However, in the 90's he visited the Netherlands and was astonished to find a heritage archive consisting of posters, leaflets, banners, festoons and periodicals.
He decided to build such an archive in Bangladesh.
Following the decision, in 1998 he started collecting these documents at his home in the Kajla area beside the Rajshahi University campus.
Later, in 2002, he officially launched the Heritage: Historical Archives of Bangladesh, which currently has about 80,000 documents, including leaflets, posters, bulletins, manifestos, festoons, caricatures, periodicals, and books published in the country in the last 50 years.
Dr Mahbubur Rahman has also collected historical documents, including the first population census of India published in 1872, surveys and land settlement documents, and various government reports from the colonial period.
"Leaflets, posters, banners, festoons, periodicals etc are important elements of history which can describe a period of a country. But these are not collected anywhere in Bangladesh. So, I started collecting these with personal effort," said Mahbubur Rahman, former professor of history, Rajshahi University.
"I started collecting leaflets, posters, periodicals and other magazines from different schools and colleges at home in 1998. I also asked my students to bring me souvenirs and magazines from their schools and colleges. I used to buy books and magazines from the old bookstore at Saheb Bazar in Rajshahi every day. One day I bought two maunds of Bichitra magazine from there," he said.
The archive now has about 30,000 periodicals, little magazines and research journals, 5,200 posters and 5,000 leaflets. The collection contains about 10,000 books, memoirs and periodicals on the history of the 64 districts of Bangladesh. It also has 471 MPhil and PhD theses and important books on the indigenous people and Chattogram Hill Tracts.
Mahbubur Rahman has collected 3,200 biographical books,including 572 books written on Bangabandhu. There are around 1,200 books on the history and culture of the country and about 500 books on politics.
In addition, numerous books and documents on various political and social movements, workers' rights, women's rights, political parties, student organisations, language movement, liberation war, etc have been collected in the Heritage Archives.
So far, 63 people have donated their personal collections to the Heritage Archives.
"When I started collecting, I wanted to focus on documents that are not usually found in the libraries of Bangladesh. No one in Bangladesh collected such things. Although most of the collection is from the the '90s, many are also from the '70s. They have a historical value," Mahbubur Rahman told The Business Standard.
"These materials have been collected from different parts of the country. I have set up a network in about 40 to 45 districts. They give us any magazines or books written on the local history of their district," he added.
He further said, "I started cataloguing my collection from 2002. Then in 2006 I bought land and built the current one-storey building. There are currently 178 seven-foot by three-foot bookshelves here. There are also some almirahs."
In 2011, former finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith visited the Heritage Archive and was overwhelmed seeing the huge collection. He later helped build three more floors for the Heritage Archives through the Ministry of Culture.
Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen also visited the archive on 14 November 2020.
Currently, it is managed by a trust headed by Mahbubur Rahman himself who has appointed six permanent employees.
The archive is open to researchers for four hours daily except Fridays. Apart from the library rooms, it has two guest rooms and a 70-seat seminar room for arranging seminars, symposiums and workshops.
A research journal titled Sthanio Itihash (local history) is published from the archive which featured Bangabandhu on its 23rd issue. The 25th issue of the journal will be on the golden jubilee of independence which will be released this month.
Mahbubur Rahman said, "The Heritage Archive has been built in such a way that a researcher will be able to write an essay on any subject in Bangladesh in seven days. However, the archives have no source of income of their own. It is funded by me and some other individuals. If there was any source of income, there would be no worries about it. Digitisation of the documents is currently being carried out in collaboration with a local research institute. Many leaflets, posters, magazines have been digitised so far."
A Family Museum has been created in the archive with different items of family life which are getting extinct day by day including the hookah, hurricane, traditional lamp, gramophone, telephone set, radio, pen, inkpad, typewriter, cyclostyle machine, agricultural machinery, coins, wedding cards, etc.