As a former head of the Virgin Islands Library Services Department, I feel duty-bound to respond to your Feb. 22 article, “East End library reopens after 6 months.” It grieves me to see the current staff’s professional expertise and technical skills undervalued.

Among the projects my staff and I completed between 1986 and 1988 was the relocation of the East End District Library from opposite the then-East End Primary School in Major Bay to the more central site at Long Swamp rented from the late Dr. Quincy Lettsome. This move was designed to expand the facility’s catchment area and attract a greater use by adults during the day. It was renamed the East End/Long Look Community Library.


According to a summary of the decisions of a fully attended meeting of the Cabinet on March 24, 2021, Cabinet members decided that the government should rent new accommodation for the EE/LL Community Library at Major Bay, East End. The Cabinet summary did not state whether now-Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, then the deputy premier and education minister, had recused himself from a decision in the apparent financial interests of two distant cousins with ownership in the building.

The library was scheduled to open at the Wheatley Building in September 2023, but the date was delayed until Feb. 19, 2024 for some necessary work on the premises, which were occupied by a charity shop until late 2020. This suggests a lack of due diligence, so I wonder about the contractual status of the lease during the intervening three years. Were the landlords being paid a retainer under it? And who was responsible for those necessary works?

Road Town library

Regardless of what improvement the move made to the EE/LL Community Library, it has done little to reduce the need for a public library in Road Town, the VI’s capital and major centre of population. The VI also needs a centrally located public library headquarters to support the branch libraries and a replacement for the bookmobile which used to stop at schools and community centres throughout Tortola until it broke down before Hurricane Irma.

The Road Town Library has been closed since May 17, 2016 after its rented accommodation above Rite Way Food Market on Flemming Street was deemed as a health hazard.

Before that, the facility was located in a rental space above a store on Main Street, but the bookshelves were overcrowded and beset by rust, so we established the Caribbean Studies Unit by moving local and regional material to a location more amenable to serious research.

Meanwhile, the VI’s historic records in the government archives were housed in a locked room above the old post office in Main Street, unprotected from the environment or damage by insects.

Previous work

While based at the Road Town Library, we were able to aid the development of government and school libraries with advice on their organisation and management, and we obtained United Kingdom-funded collections of books for the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Department of Agriculture, and the medical library at the then-Peebles Hospital, among others.

We were also able to develop the library’s regional role as the national node for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States’ Infonet, with UNESCO funding the purchase of two microcomputers. The devices were also used in a summer progamme to introduce young students to simple computer games. We also co-hosted the OECS Conference on Environmental Topics in Summer Programmes.

Additionally, we hosted a seminar for local farmers on the Caribbean Information System for the Agricultural Sciences.

We would have found it very difficult to have accomplished any of those activities without having a building in Road Town from which to conduct them.