National Library Centenary, part 5

September 6, 2009 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Guyanese Literature 

By Petamber Persaud

The National Library, Georgetown, Guyana, was opened to the public in September 1909. Although funding provided by Scottish-born American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, was available, it took about two years of preparatory works to qualify for that funding. A site for erection of building had to be located, design for erection approved and ordinances for the purchase of books and other requisites had to be passed. A Provisional Committee appointed in 1907 effectively dealt with those issues resulting in enactment of the Georgetown Public Free Library Ordinance and the laying of the foundation stone one year later in 1908.
In 1909, there were 57,000 books and 1500 members. A 2007-survey revealed that the central library boasted a collection of 397,893 books and 22,058 registered borrowers.
The National Library is situated at the junction of Main and Church Streets, Georgetown. The original building was in the form of an inverted cross. Down the ages there were numerous modifications to the original structure. In 1935, the original erection was extended to house the Economic Science, Anthropological and Historical Sections of the Museum. That was a blessing in disguise for when in 1951, the museum exhibits were moved to the new museum building, the library was able to utilise the whole structure for its operation. One of the more important target groups to make use of this additional space was the juveniles – children having a separate space.
At the turn of the new millennium, there was need for more space at the headquarters of the library and so a new wing was added. Completed in 2001, the extension housed the Administrative Department, Technical Services and Rural Departments, thereby creating more space for the Reference and Juvenile Departments.
Even with the extension, the central library could not meet the literacy needs of the whole country. Branches of the library were established after the 1950 legislation was passed to extend the library services outside of Georgetown; first in New Amsterdam (1953) then Mackenzie (1955). Now the library has a presence in all ten administrative regions of the country with the establishment of five Branches in New Amsterdam, Linden, Ruimveldt, Bagotville and Corriverton, twenty library Centres in rural areas, Deposit Collections, and service to four prisons.
What needs the central library and its branches could not satisfy had to be met by the operation of a bookmobile. The first bookmobile service was established in 1970, catering for areas like Tucville, Peter’s Hall, Houston, Agricola, Providence and Soesdyke. A second bookmobile was put into service in 1976.
Apart from the physical improvements to the building, there were numerous developments in services offered by the library. Two of the more significant developments were, one, the ‘open access’ system in 1940 and two, the publication of a Guyanese National Bibliography in 1973. That invaluable recording of our literary heritage became possible as a National Library came into being when in 1972 the Public Free Library Ordinance became the National Library Act.
The compilation of a Guyanese National Bibliography was made more favourable when the Newspaper Ordinance was amended in 1972 to make the National Library one of the legal depositories for all materials printed and published in Guyana. That meant that one copy of every material that is printed or published in Guyana must be deposited at the National Library.
Other services offered by the National Library include a photocopying operation which came on stream in 1966, a gramophone record library opened in 1969, a reading room, a toy library established in 1981 in the juvenile department to cater for the needs of preschoolers, and an internet service.
The operation of the library is managed by the Committee of the National Library which should consist of a chairman and not more than twelve or less than nine other persons.
The National Library has become so entrenched in the psyche of Guyanese people that more and greater demands are being made of its services as an educational, social, cultural and recreational institution. And each time the stakeholders of that noble institution rise to the occasion, demonstrating a commitment to the maintenance and upkeep of the facility. All in keeping with the library’s mission statement which is, ‘To satisfy both nationally and internationally the information and recreational needs of the library’s users through the collection, organisation, dissemination and preservation of information in printed and other formats’.

Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email:

What’s happening:
• The Guyana Annual magazine is inviting entries to its eight literary competitions namely Open Story and Open Poetry, Youth Story and Youth Poetry, Henry Josiah Writing Story for Children, Rajkumari Singh Writing Poetry for Children, Martin Carter Essay (under 13), Egbert Martin Poetry (under 13) and to its art and photography competitions. Closing date for entries is September 30, 2009. For further information, please contact me via above.
• On Between the Lines tonight, on NCN TV (Ch. 11) at 2100 hours, you could view a discourse on ‘the movement of man’ [with emphasis on slavery and indentureship] featuring Nalini Mohabir whose PhD dissertation is on the last return ship from British Guiana to India and Juliet Alexander whose PhD dissertation is on the movement of enslaved African from the Caribbean to Australia.

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