The National Library – serving Guyana for 103 years
With a rich history of constant evolution aimed at bringing literacy to the Guyanese public, the National Library celebrated 103 years of existence last week Sunday (September 9, 2012).
Boasting five branches, 21 centres, four prison services and 14 bookmobile stops located on the East and West Banks of Demerara as well as on the East Bank of Essequibo, the Library has engaging innovative measures to achieve its mandate.
The Church Street, Georgetown facility was constructed in 1907 with a £7000 grant provided by entrepreneur Andrew Carnegie.
On December 23, 1907, the first meeting of the Provisional Committee appointed by the Governor, Sir F.M. Hodgson, was held to give effect to the proposal to establish the Public Free Library for Georgetown in a building to be erected from the funds provided by Andrew Carnegie. Understandably the facility was named the Carnegie Free Library when it first opened its doors.
It was later renamed the Georgetown Public Free Library, then the Public Library. In September, 1972, the Library Ordinance was amended which saw the name Public Library being changed to National Library with dual responsibility for National and Public Library Services. The Library was, and still is, managed by one centrally controlled library authority, the National Library Committee, a semi-autonomous statutory library body with operations financed mainly by Central Government.
Ordinance No. 12 of 1908, called the Georgetown Public Free Library Ordinance, was enacted on July 8, 1908. The Ordinance provided for the maintenance of the library to be undertaken jointly by the Combined Court and the Mayor and Town Council of Georgetown.
In September, 1909, the Library, with reading room, lending and reference facilities, was opened to the public. An ornamental iron grille separated the public from the books. On the outer side of the grille was a table with a printed catalogue chained to it, and books were borrowed by consulting the catalogue, writing the titles and numbers of the book required on a request slip and handing it to a Librarian through a small window in the grille. This was the closed access system.
In 1909, there were 57,000 books and 1,500 members. Today, that number has grown to approximately 421,984 and 191,790 respectively.
In 1933, through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the building was enlarged to provide accommodation on the upper floor for the British Guiana Museum. The Museum occupied this space from 1935 – 1951.
After its relocation the library benefited from the acquisition of this additional space to facilitate the required re-organisation and expansion of the service.
Later a plan was formulated for developing and extending the library service. As a result of this centres and branches were opened at various locations across the country, a children’s section was established at each. Collections were also provided to schools without library facilities.
Additionally, the Library took over the Prisons Service from the Red Cross on December 1, 1966. This service is still provided to the prisons at Georgetown, New Amsterdam. Mazaruni and Timehri. Prison Officers are trained to manage these collections.
The first serious consideration was given towards the establishment of a mobile library service in 1966. This project was realized in 1970 when the Ministry of Overseas Development presented a gift of a mobile service through the British High Commission.
The mobile service was first extended to Tucville, then the Peter’s Hall area, and later other areas.
The acquisition of a new bookmobile in 2006 has since expanded the service points on the East Bank and West Banks of Demerara.