As the Charles W. Turnbull Regional Library prepares to open, territorial libraries and archives are underfunded and understaffed, and some are upset the Enid M. Baa Public Library closed abruptly in December, according to testifiers at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Construction on the Turnbull Library is complete and a team of people started moving materials from the Baa Library to the new library in December, according to Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Alicia Barnes’ testimony Wednesday to the Committee on Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation.
Meanwhile the Baa Library has been closed to help facilitate the move and because of a lack of money and manpower to operate both, Barnes said.
The new Turnbull facility has great resources, Barnes said, describing a patron computer lab, video conferencing capability in meeting rooms, a 120-seat public auditorium with digital projection and sound equipment, and video game activities. It also has preservation and conservation labs for print, audio-visual, microforms and other media and the von Scholten Collection Research Room featuring books and other resources on the Caribbean.
"Elegant display cases will house educational exhibits of ancient Indian artifacts, including pottery, tools and personal ornaments that were found in the area when Tutu Park Mall was constructed," Barnes said.
The new library has four preservation and conservation labs on the lower level, with a cartographic conservation lab and preservation storage room; a paper and book conservation lab; a digital media lab; and a microfilm and film processing, duplication and digitization lab.
And DPNR has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the V.I. Next Generation Network to create public computer centers to provide free public computer access in public libraries and other community centers.
Barnes said that while there was funding to complete the library and to help move collections into it, money is tight for regular operations.
The 2013 government budget has marked some funding for staff at the Turnbull Library, but not its full complement, so more staffing funds will be requested in the 2014 budget, she said. In that vein, Barnes said she hopes DPNR will be exempted from the current 5 percent budget cut and hiring freeze "so that the Charles Turnbull Regional Library can be officially opened with at least minimal operations."
Funding of $237,000 is in place for five library employees: a facilities director, a single librarian, one library aide, a library technician and a custodian. There is also $344,000 for supplies, from books to electronic database subscriptions. Another $242,000 is budgeted for utilities, and there are several smaller appropriations for various library expenses.
"It is anticipated that to bring the library to full operation, an additional $1.5 million will be required," Barnes said, but due to fiscal constraints, this will be phased in when money is available.
And while the Turnbull library is wonderful, she said that, "with the exception of the new facility, the technology infrastructure of all libraries needs to be upgraded."
Insufficient funding for staffing and a lack of staffing plague the territory’s libraries and also its efforts at managing territorial archives, Barnes said.
"Other than the territorial archivist, there are no archives or staff or dedicated personnel presently available to oversee archival or Caribbean collections held at the Enid M. Baa facility, Florence Williams Public Library, Athalie M. Petersen Public library, Elaine I. Sprauve Public Library and the Franklin Building," Barnes said.
"The Territorial Archives, therefore, is unable to provide references services to the public. At this time the Territorial Archives has neither a research room for the public to access its collections, nor professional staff on board to provide research assistance and supervise public access," she said.
Some library patrons and library supporters were upset at the closure of the Baa library.
"As we eagerly await the debut of the new library in Tutu, St. Thomas remains without any public library at all since the closing of the Enid M. Baa Public Library in Charlotte Amalie," St. Thomas resident Anita Davis wrote in submitted testimony.
"As limited as that facility was in its ability to serve the public, its closing was a great loss to its constituents and we are sorry to see those venerable doors shuttered," Davis said, going on to say "our libraries are understaffed and under-budgeted."
Lorraine Baa, representing the family of the library’s namesake, said she was saddened by the closure, focusing on the historical value and significance of Enid Baa’s accomplishments in life.
Several senators asked about the closure of the Baa Library. Sen. Janette Millin Young was the most critical. "You guys make these decisions almost in a bubble and don’t listen to the stakeholders," she said.
Barnes initially said it was a managerial decision. Later she said she would "take the hit for that."
"And if anyone may feel any degree of discomfort with the move, I take that and apologize," Barnes said.
The Turnbull Library should open to the public "hopefully by the end of March," Barnes said.
No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing. Present were Young, Chairman Myron Jackson and Sens. Shawn-Michael Malone, Tregenza Roach, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Kenneth Gittens. Nonmembers present included Sens. Craig Barshinger and Clarence Payne.