This is the first in an ongoing series of editorial opinion pieces imagining the big, positive changes that could affect people’s lives from little, inexpensive changes here and there, building a more utopian U.S. Virgin Islands.
Imagine if the $22 million Charles W. Turnbull Regional Library, opened in 2013, with its children’s and adolescent collections, were open the exact same number of hours it is right now, in this world, with employees working exactly the same number of hours – but with one big difference: Those hours were noon to 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
Imagine if all the libraries, Christiansted’s Florence Augusta Williams Public Library, (forgetting for now the mold issue) and Frederiksted’s Athalie McFarlane Petersen Public Library, finally reopened. Or just the Turnbull and Williams libraries, since they are at least open.
This should be cost free. No one has to work overtime. The libraries would still be open five days and 40 hours each week. It might even save a little on air conditioning after the sun goes down. Some employees might not like the change. People being people, someone will gripe about any change of any kind.
But surely some would jump at the chance to get up later and take care of some errands during regular business hours. Somehow the stores and restaurants that make up most of the V.I. economy manage to keep hours other than nine to five.
Imagine if all the V.I. children, adults and seniors who don’t have a nice, quiet place to study or read, or a good internet connection, could stay at the library after school, or even after dinner and read, write and study. And on weekends, would have a free, quiet, safe, air-conditioned place for homework, reading, internet research or whatever.
Imagine how many students would have better grades. Or would come across a book or article, on paper or online, that sparked an interest, in medicine, history, space science, law, nature and biology, mechanics, engineering, writing or any of myriad other possibilities.
Imagine a teenage boy living in this world as it really is, in one of the half-dozen or so USVI neighborhoods where two or three times a year a teen or twenty-something is gunned down. He strives to fit in with the neighboring boys – boys who live by a code of the street, where people take justice in their own hands, retaliating, meeting violence with violence, sometimes shooting people they suspect might be connected to other people who shot one of their own. Maybe he ends up shooting someone. Maybe he ends up shot. Maybe he’s in the car when the police find a gun. If he’s lucky and prudent, he skates past the worst dangers but maybe still struggles to get by later in life with a high school degree and no college.
Imagine instead, the library was open until 8 and when he was 10 years old, he started voraciously reading at the library after school, until his mom picked him up after work and took him home. His grades soar, he’s too busy to spend any time with the rough boys, meets kids who also have scholarly interests, goes to college on a scholarship and becomes an attorney, a computer programmer, accountant, engineer or maybe a teacher.
Imagine if retirees trying to save on air conditioning or just eager for a place to go, sitting in the air-conditioned comfort, reading a free newspaper or taking an online course on a Saturday morning or afternoon.
But imagine if. Would it really take much, out of the billion-dollar annual budget, to make it happen? Is there no federal funding? What would it take to make it a reality?