Loving our Libraries a bit extra on this year’s Library Lovers’ Day
Written by Malika Singh
February 14 celebrates love of all kinds, and yes, even the love we have for our libraries! Library Lovers’ Day was started in 2006 by the State Library of New South Wales in Australia. It is an important day to raise awareness of the importance of libraries. Libraries are the heart of the communities they serve and have provided access to free resources of knowledge since the first established library in the 7th century B.C. Libraries bridge the ever-present inequality gap in our communities and remain valuable even in the age of technology. Accessibility to and diversity in our libraries are paramount. Persons should have access to libraries regardless of age, income, ethnicity, geographical barriers, and other factors.
The National Library of Guyana was named in 1972 to reflect its status as both a public and national library. It is located in central Georgetown, with locations in New Amsterdam, Linden, Ruimveldt, Bagotville, and Corriverton. The National Library of Guyana provides many invaluable services to the people of Guyana. As a National Library, they compile the Guyanese National Bibliography, which lists every publication printed in the country. In addition to reference and lending departments, the public library offers a phonograph records service and a toy library service. Further, to benefit areas not catered for by the main branch, the Rural, Mobile and Prison services exist. Citizens can also benefit from access to photocopying, the internet, and the library’s conference room.
The multitude of aforementioned services offered by our beloved library and those offered worldwide are what make these institutions a core component of our communities. This is meant to be reflected in this year’s theme for Library Lovers Day, “Only You”, which encourages reflection on the enrichment libraries offer us. The Breadfruit Collective’s Founder and Managing Director, Christine Samwaroo, was especially elated to learn of this year’s theme with which her personal experiences with our local library perfectly align. Growing up, Christine described the library as her refuge. She has fond recollections of walking with her friends from the bus park to the library, where she would receive not only help with her homework but valuable advice too. She describes her use of the library as the “long route” to finding information. Though long, this route was invaluable, as Christine had no access to the internet or electricity yet was able to excel academically with the library as a resource.
It is even more nostalgic visiting the library now as an adult, states Christine.
“It's unbelievable to walk through the doors of the library and remember all the Fridays coming into the library for help with my school assignments. It is heartwarming that a book that I co-authored is now available to borrowers in this same library.”
In 2021, The Breadfruit Collective worked alongside the Ministry of Health and The Guyana Youth and Environmental Network to write The Sprouts and the Mystery of the Flood, a children’s book that explores the connections of Climate Change and Health using a Guyanese perspective.
Despite being a public good, the process of accessing the library in Guyana remains tedious. In order to join the library in Guyana, an adult requires an ID card or Passport. A child, on the other hand, must be capable of independently writing their name, age, and address to fill a form. They also require a guarantor (parent/guardian) working in or around Georgetown. The form must then be signed and stamped with the school’s official stamp by the child’s headteacher. A landline or mobile phone number is needed. The process has changed slightly from Christine’s younger days. She remembers the process being long and finding a reference living in or around Georgetown being difficult. Personally, “the lack of a landline number proved to be a roadblock for me and the acceptance of mobile numbers gives me hope that the process is becoming more inclusive.” Libraries have shown us that they are places that are needed, and therefore, we must continue to push barriers on ways to become more accessible and inclusive of all people and all children.
As we think about the important role of our libraries, they must provide books that represent lived realities in the country and Caribbean. Children should see themselves in literature, as well as the limitless possibilities of who might be reflected back at them. Diversity in libraries also encourages people to appreciate their own culture as well as the cultures of others. There is much room for diversity at our local library and the first step in addressing such an issue is acknowledging that it exists. Recommendations for improving the diversity in our bookshelves include having a diversity and inclusion committee, seeking content by marginalized, underrepresented, and local creators, and even cataloging books based on diverse topics. It requires constant upgrades and changes that would meet the needs of citizens.
At The Breadfruit Collective (TBC), we believe there is a long way to go in making the library a place that serves all people, particularly children, to the best of its abilities. We recognise our role as changemakers and the need to share resources and capacities. In celebration of World Children’s Day, TBC started its “Children and Environment” series by hosting a public program at the library. We believe that through storytelling, we can spark change on climate action and encourage learners to share their thoughts and perspectives. TBC continues to offer its time to be a part of the library's weekend “Read-a-loud” programs.
Christine Samwaroo and Afeefa Richardson engaging learners through read-a-loud activity at the Guyana National Library
Libraries remain one of the only places where resources are accessible and free to everyone. In Guyana, we need to preserve the National Library not only as a landmark, but we need to continue to invest in its development. There is a role for governments, businesses and NGOs to share their resources, call for more programming and help in preserving Guyana’s culture. There is room for individuals to volunteer. On the other hand, the library must also allow citizens to share their thoughts on ways it can become better by involving qualified people on its board and making decisions in a transparent manner. There is an urgent need for the Minister of Education to ensure that libraries are funded both in and out of Georgetown. To ensure that all schools are equipped with these resources. People in the diaspora must collaborate with local groups to understand the context and current realities of life in Guyana and seek ways to support their work.
Despite the access to technology, there is still a strong need for libraries and the services it brings to children and adults alike. Through Christine’s own experience of receiving help with her homework and with TBC’s most recent activity, it is clear that people are interested in services, especially when it is done through the library. A place that they know, trust, feel safe in, and love.
For volunteering opportunities and to learn about ways to support the library, kindly contact Ms. Emiley King, Chief Librarian at email@example.com.