via Trinidad Express Gerard Best reports on the newly opened National Library in Port of Spain
Wednesday, March 16th 2005
From the outside, it looks more like a NASA Research Centre or some kind of ancient Amerindian temple than a library. Enter the National Libraries and Information System Authority (NALIS) building and you're miles away from the old Port of Spain public library.
On the first floor, laughing children work their way through a constructed mini-maze to the Children's Library After School Story Shop. Over in the Young Adult Library, their teenage counterparts hunch over internet access terminals, silently downloading free ringtones, photos and online academic support material.
"Excuse. This is the way to the ALTA class?"
It is a middle aged woman, perhaps one of the 50,000 new Adult Library members, asking for directions to an Adult Literacy Tutors Association afterwork session. The elevator attendant takes her up to the first level.
The Children's, Young Adults' and Adult Libraries are just three of the libraries under NALIS' purview.
"We do have in this building the three Port of Spain libraries but the main role of NALIS is administrative," emphasises Anselma Mohammed, Librarian 4 (Acting), Technical Services Department.
Mohammed explains that the building, which opened on March 26, 2003, is more than just a library. It is the seat of the administrative offices of NALIS, the Authority which now staffs and services libraries in government offices, educational institutions and hundreds of government and government-assisted schools across the nation. All the country's public libraries have been brought into one comprehensive system under NALIS.
And since its establishment in September 1998, the Authority has done more than give the nation's libraries a new face. The Information Networks department has also set up a virtual interface between the NALIS and the public.
"Our address is www.nalis.gov.tt. We want people to start thinking of the website first when they want information," Mohammed said, adding that anyone could now access the National Libraries database from the internet. Quick online searches, it seems, may altogether replace the hassle of going to the physical building to see if a book is in stock and available.
But it's almost worth making the trip downtown just to check out the towering skylight over the spiralling, cylindrical atrium in the front lobby. Amidst the historic Holy Trinity Cathedral, Red House and Woodford Square, the NALIS building is a relatively "new kid on the block", chock full of 21st century gadgets.
In the audio-visual cinema, the amphitheatre and the seminar rooms, for example, multimedia facilities abound. In the Adult Library, a high-tech automated check-out station gives bustling professional Library members a time-saving alternative to the traditional check-out counter.
And then there's the latest National Libraries ID--a plastic card with a unique barcode and colour photo ID. (It may be time to burn those tattered library pockets). To become a Library member, you need only produce one form of official identification and a proof of address. Your picture is taken right there in the Library and scanned onto the plastic card while you wait. The whole process takes only a few minutes and is absolutely free.
But the ultramodern NALIS building is also the repository of many historical local and regional publications. Mohammed explained that the mandate of the Heritage Library, located on the First Floor, was "to preserve and to make accessible everything that has been published in the region, by someone from the region or about the region."
The irony, of course, is that the Port of Spain Libraries and the structure that houses them are themselves a regional phenomenon, not least of all because of the facilities provided for persons with disabilities.
"We at the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter of Disabled Peoples' International often say that the Port of Spain Library was built for persons with disabilities and other people just get to use it," joked T&TDPI President, George Daniel, making light of the NALIS building's special provisions for visually challenged, hearing impaired and physically disable people.
"I only hope that the other libraries in the country would follow suit," said Daniel, hinting that the NALIS building was that proverbial book out of which all other libraries should tear, or at least photocopy, a page.
26 public libraries in T&T
There are 26 public libraries in Trinidad and Tobago, including the four Port of Spain libraries in the NALIS building itself. Here is a alphabetical list of the location and telephone number of the other public libraries overseen by NALIS.
Arima 667 3370
Diego Martin 637 7915
Maloney 642 2207
Sangre Grande 668 2328
San Juan 638 2179
St James 622 1059
Tunapuna 662 7037
Chaguanas 665 9058
Couva 636 0073
St Helena 669 8697
Carnegie Free Library (Lending) 652 3228
Carnegie Free Library (Reference) 653 9912
Debe 647 2569
La Brea 648 7134
Mayaro 630 8048
Moruga 656 7217
Point Fortin 648 2337
Princes Town 655 5448
Siparia 649 2930
Charlotteville 660 5311
Roxborough 639 2256
Scarborough 639 3635
NALIS is also responsible for several libraries in the education sector, including:
the School Libraries Division
the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre Library
the libraries at the two Teachers Training Colleges at Valsayn and Corinth
the library of the Ministry of Education Headquarters
the Library of the Technical, Vocational, Educational and Training Division of the Ministry of Education and libraries at approximately 600 primary and secondary schools.