The unexplained closure of the East End public library last month is yet another unfortunate example of successive governments’ longstanding neglect of the territory’s library system.
The Virgin Islands now appears to be left with no more than one functioning public library, if that, and Tortola with none at all.
Sadly, the recent closure looks like part of a larger pattern.
In early 2016, the main branch in Road Town shut its doors amid conflicting excuses, and the effort to open a new facility in Pasea Estate was long delayed even before Hurricane Irma hit in September 2017. After that, the Pasea facility became a temporary high school, and no comprehensive plan has been put forward for the new main branch that officials have promised repeatedly.
The EE branch was the only public library on Tortola before it shut down last month, and its closure has been shrouded in the same secrecy that has surrounded the main branch. The official announcement provided no reason for the decision, and the Beacon’s calls to library officials went unanswered. As a result, residents are left to wonder why the facility closed and when it might reopen.
Meanwhile, neither Virgin Gorda nor Jost Van Dyke has had a functioning public library since Irma, and although a reopening was announced last year for Anegada’s, officials last month declined to provide any updates.
The silence is deafening. A few misguided residents have suggested that libraries are unnecessary in the digital age when information can be sourced at the click of a button.
On the contrary, they are more important than ever given the unreliability of so much online content. In the age of “fake news,” libraries and their employees can help residents re-learn old-fashioned research methods that stress accuracy. Moreover, VI facilities also hold local and regional books, newspapers and other publications that are not available online — or, in some cases, anywhere else in the world.
Currently, the community is being deprived of these valuable resources — some of which are being destroyed by mould for want of the urgent attention they need — because successive governments have refused to prioritise libraries even while playing fast and loose with the public’s money by awarding questionable no-bid contracts for other purposes.
The Recovery to Development Plan calls for the construction of a new building to house a central library and the territorial archives. This concept is the right way forward. Very soon, we hope to hear government’s plan for getting it done and for opening libraries in East End and the sister islands.
All of these facilities should embrace the digital age by offering modern technologies including e-books, online research options and others. As a model, officials can look to progressive countries such as Finland, where Helsinki’s new Oodi library is being designed as an “indoor town square” complete with a cinema, recording studio and spaces to socialise and work.
Rather than an afterthought, libraries should be considered a crucial component of building back stronger.