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Libraries and Museums are a Measure of a Culture

May 17, 2005- What is a library? According to my Webster dictionary it is a collection of books or manuscripts – a room or building where such collections are available. That is a very simple and generic definition of a library. We can readily assess the intellectual vitality of a community by certain institutions such as their schools – including colleges and/or universities – their museums and their libraries, most of all.
The library is the intellectual lighthouse for many communities across the USA. And the last time I checked the US Virgin Islands is a part and parcel of the United States of America. If we are to emulate anything, I believe it is more advantageous to emulate positive things of any culture. The most progressive communities academically or intellectually are those communities with adequate learning institutions with adequate libraries and museums. Museums keep us appraised of the past and the library, while keeping us informed of the past, also keeps us informed of contemporary events and literature as it assist in preparing us for the future.
Here in the US Virgin Islands we have public libraries on the three main islands: St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. We also have libraries on both campuses of the University of the Virgin Islands. Each of the public schools and private schools have their own libraries. How adequate these libraries are in meeting the needs of the people they are intended to serve needs to be assessed. My main focus herein however is the public libraries, which are intended for use by the public at large. The Virgin Islands is a very cosmopolitan community, we have several racial and ethnic groups represented and several different languages. While English remains the principal language, the official language, there is a large population of Spanish speaking, French speaking, Arabic speaking, Creole, etc. Those are all literary languages and there is literature that can be collected and made available for use by our residents. While we do not have a homogeneous society, we can foster an integrated, inclusive society. Our library could be a lead institution to promote such integration, such inclusiveness, a very important factor in nation building.
On St Croix there is the Florence Williams Public Library on King St. Christiansted and the Althalie McFarlane Petersen Public Library on Strand St. Frederiksted. In yesteryears the library in Frederiksted was a busy center of cultural activities. Many theatrical presentations took place there. In the Florence Williams Public Library in Christiansted there used to be many types of conferences and exhibits. What has happened that we hardly hear of any of those activities of cultural expressions and intellectual stimulating presentations anymore? Have we grown intellectually tired, is there an intellectual drought? Is all of this a consequence of the current quality of education in our schools? Where are all those educated people in our community? What are they doing with all those academic titles to uplift the educational and intellectual level of our community? I believe it is a waste, a shame to waste all that cumulus of knowledge and experiences, not to share the same with the community in which they live and claim to have some affection for. People of all ages and gender can contribute, I know there are a few who are doing their part, but where are the others, there are many more out there with all types of knowledge and experiences that could be shared to enrich our community, to make it a better place for all. There is the Elaine Sprauve Public Library in Cruz Bay, St. John providing service in that community.
On St. Thomas there is the Enid M. Baa library on Dronningens Gade (Main St.) The structure also houses the Von Schoulten Collection, a historical treasure chest of the USVI. The structure is no longer adequate to meet the library needs of a growing community. Unfortunately the political leaders of the territory do not give priority to such values as education, cultural enrichment, or intellectually stimulating programs. This is not a prejudicial statement, it is a description of the reality we are living. There are those of us who recognize things as they are, we do not pretend they are as we would like them to be. We are working to improve our situation by acknowledging the deficiencies as we see them, seeking assistance in correcting them. A couple years ago The Friends of the Enid M. Baa Public Library was formed. It is now a full-fledged 501 registered nonprofit organization doing business as The Friends of the St. Thomas Public Libraries. The principal objectives or purposes of this organization is: To promote and improve Enid M. Baa Public Library, to promote literacy on St. Thomas and to advocate for a new library for St. Thomas.
Under the dynamic leadership of Carol Lotz Felix the organization has achieved quite a number of firsts, including raising thousands of dollars for the many programs of the organization benefitting the Enid M. Baa Public Library and the community as a whole. The organization has kept its attention on and continued with efforts in keeping the prospect of a new St Thomas public library on the front burner. So much so that we were recently told that ground breaking for the new library would finally take place this year, 2005.
It is our hope that the new library will receive the full support of the entire community, because without massive community support the politicians will not give it the priority it deserves. We hope the project will not be downsized because of alleged financial restraints by the politicians that it fails to meet the immediate and long term needs of the community. The new library could be the cultural lighthouse of our community, a real cultural complex with full state of the art library services, spaces for exhibits, conferences and classes including meeting rooms for cultural and nonprofit organizations and maybe even a mini theater for dramatic presentations. It is hoped that the new library will be a true center for the cultural renaissance of St Thomas and possible stimulate an intellectual renaissance of all Virgin Islands. The Friends of St Thomas Public Libraries continues to promote continued and improved services at the Enid M. Baa Public Library. Our libraries are intended to be beacons, lighthouses in our communities, follow the light, keep the lights on for an enlightened community.

Editors note:We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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