By Jean H Charles:
The United States has one of the best free public library systems in the world. It is one of the rare direct benefits that the citizens receive readily from their government in a common denominator delivery mode. Yet there are pressing calls by the same government at the local and the state level to cut some of the privilege in terms of staffing and length of opening time.
My love affair with the New York public library system started with the Uniondale library. The village of Uniondale, tucked between uppity Westbury and up and coming Roosevelt, out slowly from its past rundown status, is a haven for the large immigrant population mostly from the Caribbean and Latin America.
Uniondale has two great assets that made its tax status attractive for its population. It is home to Hofstra University, an aggressive higher educational institution that attracts students from the West coast and well over the pond into China with a word of mouth that I have found very amusing.
Uniondale is also home to the Nassau Coliseum where the New York Islanders and countless concerts by big name stars such as Aretha Franklyn take place regularly.
The library located on Uniondale Avenue has enough free parking for its visitors. It has a large spread of books extended into different sections for kids, adults and teenagers. In the center you find the computer area where clients surf the web with only their library card for a full hour. In the basement, the library has an auditorium and a gallery room.
My love affair with the Uniondale public library was short and sweet. It lasted until I discovered the public library in East Meadow. It has a larger stock of books and its liberal office hours are more generous than most towns in the area. It remains open way after other libraries in the region have been closed and the library does offer the first 20 copies from the computer free.
Leaving the Nassau County on my way to New York, I fell upon the magnificent and grandiose Elmont Memorial Public Library. It is a model for any town or city that wants to provide efficient, extensive and superb library services to its citizens. Speaking with the director of the library she told me there has been a zero percent increase in their budget of three million dollars. The Board used the space of an abandoned middle school to rebuild an imposing edifice. It saved the theatre that was transformed into a 420-seat, state of the art, fully fledged space, with a screen for movie projection.
The library is flanked with a reception area for gala and charity affairs with ample parking space for the clients. The extra-curricular activities generate enough funds that recycle into the core educational mission of the system. The library offers exhibition space for emerging artists. I did use the opportunity to present a Haitian art exhibition at all three above library sites for the satisfaction of hungry art lovers.
My wandering through the library system led me also to the Flushing Library located in the heart of the Queens brand new Chinatown. It is humming from its opening time in the morning until late in the evening with hungry learning aficionado Chinese people, young and old, sitting on the floor and everywhere a place can be found to savor the joy of reading. The library is generous to its clientele. It is stacked with ample books, magazines, CDs and movies of Chinese origin.
Crossing into the city, I am a regular of the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue right across the majestic main flagship home to the two lions, a true repository that could compete easily with the ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt. There, I can rent my own laptop computer with the price of my library card, which is free if you have any type of identification.
The Kings County (Brooklyn) home to the largest Caribbean community also has its ample share of public libraries, starting with the flagship one right across from Prospect Park. There, the activities start very early in the morning into the wee hours of the night.
In all and each of these libraries, I have found a staff pleasant and eager to serve. Even the homeless clients (who may tend to see the library as their home) are served and handle with dignity and sensitivity.
It would seem fit and proper if one or several of the libraries in the Kings system could be dedicated as a repository of the history, the culture and the scholarship of different islands of the Caribbean, in particular my own motherland Haiti, in light of the recent destruction due to the earthquake . The sons and daughters of these Diasporas will be well rooted in the motherland of their parents, making them better citizens here at home.
CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta in a first-person essay in Guideposts, titled Doctors without Borders, instructed the youngsters who asked him for the force behind his vast education and his celebrity, saying: “I was a bookish kid. I spent long hours in the library reading everything I could find, histories, biographies, science fiction, fantasy and mysteries.” He continued: “Even today if some kid asks me: what’s the first step to take to become a doctor, I would answer: ‘read, read, and read!’”
Extending the joy of reading overseas, it would be fit and proper if each one of the branch library in the Greater New York area could adopt a library in any town or village in the Caribbean, sending their tired, used (not abused) books, CDs and movies for the delectation of the avid, hungry for learning youngsters, who certainly do not have the privilege of ordering books at will, in their own neighborhood for the cost of a free library card.
Back in the United States, as the space program is winding down its expansion, investing through bloc grant, a billion and half in each State library system will produce well groomed meteoritic geniuses, who will place us easily in the next and better stratosphere for a better enjoyment of this planet!
April 16, 2011
Caribbean Blog International