Jan. 29, 2006 — Financial support for local libraries from the public and private sector are helping to make a 12-year-old dream come true: the building of the new Tutu Park Library on St. Thomas. This is according to Wallace Williams, territorial director of libraries, who spoke at the annual Friends of St. Thomas Public Libraries meeting held Saturday evening at the Lockhart Elementary School.
Williams said some of this support is "unprecedented" — especially in the area of government appropriations, which topped $8 million in 2005 after the approval of the Omnibus Authorization Act and the 2006 government operations budget. The money comes from both the General Fund and the Public Finance Authority.
In addition to making the Tutu Park Library a reality, these funds are helping to pay for repairs at the Enid Baa Library on St. Thomas, the Athalie M. Petersen Library on St. Croix and the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library on St. John.
At a Senate budget hearing in September, Williams and Claudette Lewis, executive assistant commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said they have been pushing for the new Tutu library – paid for by the Tutu Park Mall as part of an EDC benefits package – for years without any results. However, at the time, Lewis said a groundbreaking was scheduled for January 2006, with the library scheduled to open in early July. (See "Library Officials Push for Money to Improve").
While these dates have changed, said Lewis at Saturday night's meeting: "We are seeing very real action taking place in terms of the new library's development."
Lewis added that she now expects the groundbreaking sometime in March, with the library scheduled to open at the end of the year.
Lewis passed around plans of the new facility to those attending the meeting and discussed the layout of the structure, which includes an 84-space parking lot, an auditorium, and 5,000 square feet for document storage. Lewis added that there would also be three parts of the library – a main building and two connected wings.
She said the main building would house the children's room, among other collections, while one wing would house a general reading room and the other wing would be solely dedicated to a Caribbean collection. The Caribbean collection is comprised of artifacts recovered from the Tutu Park site prior to the building of the mall, along with visuals to explain their importance.
After the meeting, Lewis used only three words to describe how she felt about the project finally coming to fruition: "Thank you God," she said.
Williams also took time during the meeting to highlight some of the other accomplishments achieved by the Division of Libraries. Among the biggest accomplishments, he said, is the territory's Web site, which can be accessed by many V.I. public school students and features over nine collections ranging from various literature resources, to local documents.
Williams also spoke about the many grants and private donations given to the Division of Libraries in the past year. Among those discussed were: a $10,000 donation from the Golden Eagle Corp. of St. John for a new video collection and a $25,000 donation from the Mahogany Run Golf Course's "Resorts to Reading" program for the purchase of new young adult and children's books.
Future library projects were also discussed Saturday night, including the creation of a virtual library for the territory – which would decrease the amount of books in the regular libraries by allowing residents to access books online – and a creative writing workshop for young adults.
The 60-session workshop — which will be conducted by Alexander Leslie Lacy, an author whom Williams said has worked with prestigious writers such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes — will start in February and move throughout the territory.
Both Williams and Lewis said another goal is to focus on bringing new librarians to the territory's libraries through the creation of a master's degree program at the University of the Virgin Islands. Lewis said UVI will be working with the University of Pittsburgh to start the program, which would offer local students a degree in Library Science.
Jorge J. Estemac, president of the Friends of the St. Thomas Public Libraries, said he has also been concerned about the lack of librarians in the territory. At the meeting, Estemac said he was recently told that out of the 18 public schools in the St. Thomas-St. John district, six had no librarians.
"I recently contacted the office of the Board of Education to find out if any action is being taken on their part to remedy this situation, and I was referred back to the Department of Education," Estemac said. "I would not express my personal conclusion to that response but one fact that is inescapable is that neither the Education Department or the Board of Education appear to give library services in schools the importance it deserves."
Estemac further said that more volunteers were needed to help with the Friends' many community activities, including the Hospital Cart at the Schneider Regional Medical Center, the Literacy Project which promotes reading at various local day care centers and clinics, and the Saturday Children's Reading Program.
"Let us in the community join forces to do what we can, while we can, for as long as we can," he said.
Estemac also discussed some of the group's accomplishments over the past year, including the creation of a new Web site.
Click here for the Web site for the territory's libraries.
Sens. Craig W. Barshinger and Shawn-Michael Malone were also present at Saturday's meeting.
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