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Hope for the Public Library

The Grenada National Trust (GNT) has hopes for the shuttered Public Library. The historic structure on the Carenage that was severely damaged by Hurricane Ivan 18 years ago has been permanently closed to the public since 2011. 

In December 2020 GNT President Darryl Brathwaite told this newspaper that the Trust was pushing to have the library restored and opened to the public “after 15 years of neglect.” “We want to save what’s left,” he said then. When asked about plans for the library at the time, Minister of Education Emmalin Pierre said government was pursuing finances for what she indicated would be a multi-million dollar project. A year later, speaking in Parliament, she reported that government continued its pursuit of an investor for the library. However, the building remains closed.

Author David Ambrose, one of Grenada’s strongest advocates for making the Public Library available to students, researchers and all citizens, referred to the Minister’s comments in the House of Representatives as a “token mention.”

“Since that time no utterance has come from any office of government about the status of the library. Most young people aren’t even aware that that dilapidated building once housed the library,” Ambrose told The Grenadian Voice on Wednesday.

The GNT is of the view that a $500,000 investment could be enough to restore the building. The Trust proposes that the ground floor of the building be used for commercial purposes with businesses that attract tourists to generate revenue, while the upper level would be dedicated to primary and secondary school students.

“It would be a community space for children in a semi-supervised environment. They are the ones that need the library; for reading and research yes, but also as a safe place to socialise,” Brathwaite told this newspaper.

In days gone by not only was the library a place for children to socialise after classes, they were also in a safe place until their parents finished work.

“Some even did their homework in the library,” one parent noted.

While the library contains books and other rare documents about Grenada and the Caribbean, a modern library would have many services and provide far-reaching benefits, according to Ambrose.

“A library could have hosted reading and writing clubs for children; recitals for the public with Grenadian authors; art exhibitions; story-telling sessions; games evenings; lectures on Grenadian history and culture. In this time where so many people, including students, are stressed because of work or digital technology overload, a library and its activities would be ideal to de-stress. So, a functioning public library could play a role in mitigating the mental health issues that plague our people in recent times.” 

So far, there has been little, if any, mention of the library on the campaign trail that got underway after the Prime Minister rang the bell on May 14. Claudette Joseph, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate for the Town of Saint George, released a video featuring students calling for the library to be opened. Speaking to this newspaper on Wednesday, she said the NDC has plans for legislation to ensure all “heritage buildings” are maintained and properly preserved. It is not “cast in stone” that the building on the Carenage would house a new library. She said there are other locations that could accommodate a library, such as a refurbished York House, which was also damaged by Hurricane Ivan and remains in a state of disrepair.

Similarly, Peter David, the New National Party (NNP) candidate for Town, agrees that the deteriorating Public Library must be rebuilt “because of the historic nature of the building,” and sees York House as a possible location for a new library.

“I have also advocated that we need a national archive and a more technologically modern library,” he said, suggesting the upper floor of York House could be used for a modern library and archive, while the lower level would be an art gallery for local artists.

This newspaper is aware that the NDC, under the leadership of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, had proposed to relocate the library to York House.

Maria Davies, president of the Willie Redhead Foundation, said it is “absolutely appalling that there is no interest in saving the library” on the part of successive governments since 2004. She says over the years the Foundation has written letters, held meetings and gathered signatures in its efforts to reach government ministers and public officials.

“Every single time we have been met with indifference,” Davies said.

This does not surprise Brathwaite, who says “the people of the country are just not interested.” When asked why the state of the building and the future of the public library have not been priorities in current election campaign, he said voters “are not taking heritage seriously enough.”

This should have been a “hot campaign issue,” according to Ambrose, who said it is unfortunate that Grenadians have not heard more from political parties about their plans for the Public Library.

 “It is also sad that more students are indifferent to the fate of the non-functioning Public Library. But we cannot blame them since re-establishing this important institution has not been a priority for governments for so long.”

As for the national archives, many of which were housed in the library and date back hundreds of years, Davies said there has been “no definitive answer as to whether anything has been removed from the building. We have no way of verifying that.”

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