History This Week

Celebrating 100 years of public library service: a historical perspective of the National Library of Guyana

By Ms. Gwyneth George and
Ms. Gillian Thompson

(Part two)

This is the second article in a two-part series that gives a historical perspective of the development of the Public Library Service in Guyana. The first installment looked at the emergence and development of the public library service in Guyana up to 1959. This article will discuss the rural library service, the library as a social and cultural entity, library education, the work of the Public/National Library service as embodied in the Act of 1972 and the challenges facing the National Library as it celebrates 100 years of service to the Guyanese community.

Rural Library Service

In 1946, with the aid of British Council funds, deposit centres were set up in some rural areas but this was inadequate to service the needs of the rural population. By 1947, the British Council had taken over the work of the Carnegie Corporation and assumed responsibility for the libraries within the administration of the Regional Library Service, which was established in 1941 by the Carnegie Corporation to serve an area extending from the British Virgin Islands to British Guiana. Consequently in August 1950, Mr. J. Smeaton, Deputy Director of the Eastern Caribbean Regional Library, came to British Guiana to advise Ms. Ruby Franker, on the reorganisation of the Public Free Library and the establishment of a rural library service.

library, fore-runner to many of its kind in the districts of the colony, was declared open at Hague Village, West Coast Demerara on August 27, 1950, by the Honourable E.F. McDavid, C.M.G, C.B.E, Financial Secretary of the colony and first Guyanese Chairman of the Public Free Library Committee.  It was managed by a voluntary librarian, stocked with 500 books and accommodated at the community centre.

By 1952, seven such centres had been set up and these included Stanleytown on the West Bank Demerara (January 1951), Agricola on the East Bank Demerara (May 1951), Bagotsville on the West Bank Demerara (June 1952), and collections at two specified schools, the Essequibo Boys’ School, Essequibo (February 1953) and the Enmore Government School, East Coast Demerara (May 1954).

In 1955, a five-year plan was formulated for developing and extending this service.  As a result of this, a children’s section was introduced at each centre, the voluntary Assistants were trained, more centres were established, and collections were provided to schools without library facilities.

On April 23, 1953, the New Amsterdam Branch Library was officially opened with a book stock of 2,000 volumes.  This branch was funded by a grant of US$1,000 per annum from the Town Council. The Mckenzie Branch Library, the second in the line of such libraries, was declared open on February 19, 1955 with a stock of 3,021 volumes, following a request from the management of the Demerara Bauxite Co. (DEMBA) which provided the building. These Branches were managed by trained or professional librarians in the initial years, unlike the centres which were managed by Voluntary Assistants.

The first serious consideration was given towards the establishment of a mobile service in 1966.  This project was realised in 1970 when the Ministry of Overseas Development presented a gift of a mobile through the British High Commission.  This mobile service first extended its service to Tucville, then the Peter’s Hall area, and later on to other areas.

The Prisons Service was taken over from the Red Cross on December 1st, 1966.  This service was, and still is, provided to the prisons at Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Mazaruni and Sibley Hall.  Prison Officers are trained to manage these collections.

The Committee later approved the placing of ‘Deposit collections’ in communities too small for the establishment of a Centre.  Such collections were placed in Lethem, Rupununi, Issano, Mazaruni and Ituni, Demerara River.  Under this system, a guarantor is responsible for the supervision and return of the collection.

By February 28, 1970, there were thirty-two service points, two Branches at Mackenzie and New Amsterdam, two deposit collections, small collections in seven schools and a service to four prisons.

The Library as a social and
cultural entity

As early as 1941, the library recognised that its role was not only as a provider of books but as a social and cultural forum for the discussion and dissemination of ideas on a variety of topics.  Its small hall was popular as a meeting place where it hosted its Discussion Circle which examined a variety of issues ranging from wages, salaries, trade unionism and other issues. It also showcased Guyana’s published materials in the form of exhibitions and printed lists.  These activities were all geared towards stimulating readership and raising the level of awareness of cultural and social issues.

Library Education

As Savage observed, one of the crippling problems faced by West Indian libraries was the lack of suitably trained staff to man them. In 1947, under the Regional Library Training Scheme, three librarians were granted studentships by the British Council at the Central Library School, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.  The annual six-month training programme was implemented as a result of Savage’s recommendation and was designed to provide elementary training in modern methods of librarianship for recruits from the British Territories in the region and to provide a pool of persons basically qualified to carry out the work.  A certificate of competency with purely local value was given at the end of the course.

After World War II, professional training was usually obtained through the prevailing pattern of pre-professional recruitment, followed by in-service study for the examinations of the Library Association leading to the Associateship (A.L.A.) or the Fellowship (F.L.A.) of the Association.  In 1963, with the establishment of the University of Guyana, the Government entered into an agreement with the University of the West Indies (established in 1948) whereby a certain number of students accepted to read for degrees at UWI in various fields which included librarianship. In 1972, links with the Department of Library Studies, University of the West Indies was deepened and one trainee from the National Library was admitted to the UWI undergraduate course.

Public/National library service

In September, 1972, in the midst of the rising feeling of nationalism, the Library Ordinance was amended to establish the National Library – the Public Free Library was renamed the National Library with dual responsibility for National and Public library service.  Through the Publications and Newspapers Act (Act 4 of 1972), the library also became a depository of books printed in Guyana.

With the establishment of the National Library, the responsibilities of the library had increased, and of necessity its priorities had to be changed.  Whereas formerly the duty of the Public Free Library was to provide lending and reference services, with extension activities such as exhibitions, film shows and lectures, the main function of the National Library was to collect and preserve for posterity the written productions of Guyana.  Its secondary function was to produce the Guyanese National Bibliography. This is a subject listing of all works printed in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and deposited at the National Library.

Twentieth century developments

As early as 1965, efforts were made to raise funds for a three-storey building. A Building Fund Appeal was launched in 1969. In 1973, the British High Commission was approached and help was sought from the British Government who donated steel frames for the proposed building. After continuous lobbying for many years, the Central Government gave approval for the Library Extension and in 1997 funding was granted for its construction. Construction of this extension commenced in 1998 and was completed in 2001 with the frames donated by the British Government.

Library expansion continued with the   opening of the first urban branch at Ruimveldt in Georgetown in 1975, removing the need for persons living in South Georgetown to travel to the Headquarters. In 1976, residents of the interior benefited when the first library centres were set up in the Rupununi at Aishalton and Lethem. This rural library expansion continued  with  a Branch at Corriverton (1993) and the upgrading of the Bagotville Library Centre to a Branch Library to meet the demands of its clientele for longer opening hours, with the assistance of USAID. The acquisition of a new bookmobile in 2006 expanded the service points on the East Bank and West Bank of Demerara and deposit collections were established in Mabaruma, Barima/Waini.

The Library also reacted to the changing information environment by introducing computers at the Central Library in 1993 and a free Internet service in 2002.

The Challenges

In 2009, one hundred years after the National Library opened its doors to the Guyanese public, its greatest challenge is attracting and retaining trained and qualified staff.

The Library has also never been able to fulfil adequately its dual role of Public and National Library service as priority has always had to be given to the public library service.

Additionally, there is still the need for more space at the Central Library, the Headquarters, evidenced by the long lines of patrons, mainly school children, who queue up every day to use the Reference and Computer services. Since 1969, there was a call for another Branch Library in the eastern section of the city to allow the Library to effectively fulfil its mandate. The time has come for this to become a reality.



Join the Conversation

After you comment, click Post. If you're not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

The Comments section is intended to provide a forum for reasoned and reasonable debate on the newspaper's content and is an extension of the newspaper and what it has become well known for over its history: accuracy, balance and fairness. We reserve the right to edit/delete comments which contain attacks on other users, slander, coarse language and profanity, and gratuitous and incendiary references to race and ethnicity. We moderate ALL comments, so your comment will not be published until it has been reviewed by a moderator.