The Guyana National Library and Me Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
August 20, 2006

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I became a member of the Public Free Library (now the National Library) in the 1960s. The National Library gave me life and continues to sustain me even unto this moment as I write this article. It was that early that I formed a deep respect for books, that early I became a book lover, that early I acquired the joy of reading for leisure and it is why now, reading for research is not a burden.

I can recall many important events of my formative years but none as vividly as becoming a member of the National Library; a situation that became my calendar and diary. My life was measured in library time, and my growth by my weekly sojourns to the library. I looked forward to Saturdays, library days; there was excitement just waiting to return a book and to borrow another, cracking open gems of knowledge, travelling to worlds unknown and wallowing in endless entertainment. A most satisfying extension to that was sharing with colleagues what I read, retelling stories and regurgitating facts and figures.

This all started with my mother’s resolve that her children must be educated, much better than those from her generation who were literally stuck in the mud, planting rice and cutting cane. Without a proper financial base that resolve towards education was difficult but my mother solved the problem when she got the idea that books held the key to knowledge and therefore the key to success. And she was right; almost everything I know I acquired from the books in that library. I think my navel string is buried in the National Library.

The National Library, Georgetown, Guyana, was institutionalised in 1909. Although funding provided by American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, was available, it took about two years of preparatory works to qualify for that funding. A site for erection of building had to be located, design for erection approved and ordinances for the purchase of books and other requisites had to be passed. A Provisional Committee appointed in 1907 effectively dealt with those issues resulting in enactment of the Georgetown Public Free Library Ordinance and the laying of the foundation stone one year later in 1908.

In 1935, the original erection was extended to house the Economic Science, Anthropological and Historical Sections of the Museum. That was a blessing in disguise for there was need of space for a separate children’s library. So when in 1951, the museum exhibits were moved to the new museum building, the library utilised the whole structure for its operation.

Branches of the library were established after the 1950 legislation was passed to extend the library services outside of Georgetown; first in New Amsterdam (1953) then Mackenzie (1955). Other branches across the country were set up eventually.

What needs the central library and its branches couldn’t satisfy had to be met by the operation of a bookmobile. The first bookmobile service was established in 1970, catering for areas like Tucville, Peter’s Hall, Houston, Agricola, Providence and Soesdyke. A second bookmobile was put into service in 1976.

Apart from the physical improvements to the building, there were numerous developments in services offered by the library. The most significant was the publication of a Guyanese National Bibliography in 1973. That invaluable recording of our literary heritage became possible as a National Library came into being when in 1972 the Public Free Library Ordinance became the National Library Act. The compilation of a Guyanese National Bibliography was made more favourable when the Newspaper Ordinance was amended in 1972 to make the National Library one of the legal depositories for all materials printed and published in Guyana. That meant that one copy of every material that is printed or published in Guyana must be deposited at the National Library.

Other services offered by the National Library include a photocopying operation which came on stream in 1966, a gramophone record library opened in 1969, a reading room, and a toy library established in 1981 in the juvenile department to cater for the needs of preschoolers. At the turn of the new millennium, there was need for more space for the headquarters of the library and so a new wing was added. Completed in 2001, the extension housed the Administrative Department, Technical Services and Rural Departments, creating more space for the Reference and Juvenile Departments.

Even with the extension, the central library could not meet the literacy needs of the whole country. The National Library has become so entrenched in the psyche of Guyanese people that more and greater demands are being made of its services. For the first half of 2005, there were 211, 643 recorded users of the National Library while in 2004, there were 181, 539. That record indicates a substantial year to year increase in usage of the facility, a trend that was set in train since the beginning of that noble institution.

With every new demand, the stakeholders of that noble institution rise to the occasion, demonstrating a commitment to the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. All in keeping with the library’s mission statement which is, ‘To satisfy both nationally and internationally the information and recreational needs of the library’s users through the collection, organisation, dissemination and preservation of information in printed and other formats’.