During my first visit to the United Kingdom since 2012, my first priority was to claim my senior citizen’s benefits, like entitlement to free travel on public transport. However, I was shocked to find the gates to Colchester Council’s enquiry office locked. After waiting for a police foot patrol to finish directing some foreign tourists to the castle, I turned to them for guidance.

I did not question their startling advice that I should go to the central library, as using its free access to the internet was later on my list. I found that austerity measures included relocating the council’s enquiry office to the ground floor of the library building, displacing the audio-visual department. It was busy with citizens paying local taxes and new residents asking about such services as the collection of different types of recyclable waste.

However, this busy-ness attracted even more users to the library services on the upper floor, with its layout redesigned to remove superfluous furniture, like card catalogues (except in the Local Studies Department). Moreover, my library card still enables me to access a large range of services online, whether living in Colchester or the Virgin Islands.


VI library closures

Here in the VI, even Alice, who went down the rabbit’s hole and through the looking glass, might have been taken aback by last week’s celebration of “reading is fun” when every public library was closed. It was if there had been a gigantic revivalist meeting under the tent on the cay when all the church buildings had been laid low by Irmaria. However, I’m sure that in those circumstances congregations would have come together in private homes and available halls.

It was great for the children to be read to last week, but parents and other adults used to take turns every Saturday to read stories to different age groups in the libraries, which also provided quiet, secure places for students to do their homework away from their families’ hustle and bustle.

The only service still operating is ZBVI’s slot recalling what happened on that day in the VI and world history, which concludes, “Hopefully, to encourage you to do your research on some of the items mentioned.” But beware of finding reliable evidence on matters of VI history online.

You should be able to do your own research in the VI Public Library’s Caribbean Studies Unit.


Gov’t ‘failing’

The government is failing in its statutory duty to provide public library services. To what uses are the talents of the professional library staff and the book funds being applied now? Is removal of the library budget helping to subsidise other expenditure?

Why should parents, researchers and other readers just sit by and accept their deprivation? The Friends of the Library should be revived, to step in and fill the vacuum, preferably with a government subvention. The library van also could be re-commissioned to resume its services to schools and local communities throughout Tortola, and more modest efforts could be undertaken on sister islands.


Local authors

We have been blessed by new books being launched by local authors. By law, a copy of each must be deposited with the public library. These would normally all be catalogued and shelved in the Caribbean Studies Unit, but where can authors look to do their research when it is closed to the public?

Before the storms, the professional library staff had been working on digitising back issues of newspapers. They also looked out for books published elsewhere of particular local interest.

I shall be covering some such books in a series of reviews, following my July 4 commentary on Sue Appleby’s The Cornish in the Caribbean (“Book on Cornish in Caribbean seen as important to VI history.”)

For some tourists, the Virgin Gorda copper mine, if properly promoted, would rival The Baths as an attraction. That commentary ended on an optimistic outlook, but unfortunately the mining venture failed economically and the mine was closed.

A few years later, the mine was reopened by another company, encouraged by concessions from a Legislative Council keen to attract a potential source of revenue and employment. However, Ms. Appleby reveals that legislators helped to kill the golden goose by insisting on imposing certain duties after the export of ore had begun, despite the drop in global prices for copper ore and the quality of the mine’s production. The effect of the mine’s closure on Virgin Gorda’s economy was disastrous.

What Ms. Appleby did not mention was that the colonial government was usually in a poor way and its next effort was a failed attempt to offer the use of the island as a regional penal colony.

Next time I will introduce you to the autobiography of a United Nations peacekeeper who has learned to love walking Tortola.