Revert to old reading habits
- Chief Librarian urges By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
January 6, 2002

GUYANA’S National Library, established in 1909 by US philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie as a gift to Guyana, has been continuously expanding its services, despite limited finances and several social and attitudinal changes that tend to compete with reading as a pastime.

According to Chief Librarian, Ms. Carol Sills, the extension of the library’s services to the rural areas began since the 1950s when National Library Centres were established at Hague, New Amsterdam, Corriverton, Linden and Ruimveldt.

The National Library now has four branches and 17 centres across the country, Ms. Sills said, and explained that the branches operate on a full-time basis, while the centres provide a part-time service. In addition, a mobile unit on the East Bank Demerara, is providing a service along three routes between Soesdyke/Linden to Kurukuru.

Ms. Sills, in an interview with the Chronicle, said schools are used as the stop points, which adequately facilitates students. Adults from the respective communities can also access the service at the schools. The prison locations at Camp Street, New Amsterdam, Mazaruni and Timehri are also serviced, she said.

Currently, negotiations are ongoing with the administrative officials in Region Two to identify a suitable building at Anna Regina for the establishment of another branch there.

Asked if the membership of the Library has increased in recent years, Ms. Sills said no, but explained that use of the Library facilities has increased. She attributed this to the more project-oriented curriculum and examinations within the education system, which require much research.

The present collection of books stands at about 1.3 million, she said, adding that it has increased over the last three years. Overseas-based and local Guyanese have been making regular contributions to the Library’s collection.

As regards the issue of reduced reading, she said the use of modern electronic technological developments, as well as the preoccupation with the more entrenched television, have all impacted negatively on the urge to read. This, she said, has to be corrected if Guyana is to improve its literacy levels.

However, the Chief Librarian has also acknowledged the need to modernise the services of the Library. To this end, she said that during this month, it will begin providing an internet service. The focus this year is on computerising the services of the Library.

Last year, as efforts to upgrade the facility continued, an extension to the original building was completed to accommodate more office and storage space. The undertaking was done through funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to the tune of $56M. However, care was taken to preserve the aesthetics of the edifice which is one of Guyana’s historical buildings, the Chief Librarian explained.

Ms. Sills said the greatest difficulty facing the National Library is the serious shortage of professional librarians to manage it. She said there is now only one qualified librarian and another who is in training. There are vacancies for 13 others. However, she is optimistic that this situation would be alleviated when a training programme, being formulated by the Guyana Library Association, is implemented later this year.

The Chief Librarian attributed poor salaries - which are linked to the public service scales of salaries - as a major factor in the Library not being able to attract qualified personnel. She feels that de-linking the Library from the public service, so that more attractive salaries could be offered, might help to rectify the situation.

Asked why she stuck to the library field, Ms. Sills related that when she left school in 1976, she started to work at the Library and it has remained her “first love.”

She added that the job afforded her the opportunity to interact with the public and travel around the country during her visits to the other branches and centres. She also gets a sense of satisfaction from helping people and finding creative ways of overcoming challenges that are encountered in her work.