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  • Early Days of the Central Library and the Book Van in Trinidad and Tobago
  • Claudia Hill (bio)

In my father's photo album are two photographs of a book van (figures 1 and 2). The old black-and-white photographs, carefully mounted between black photo-corners on the page, are slightly faded but otherwise in excellent condition. My father, Errol Hill, John D. Willard Professor of Drama and Oratory, Emeritus, at Dartmouth College, showed me the photographs years ago when I announced my intention to go to library school.1 He told me then that he had studied librarianship in the 1940s in his home country of Trinidad. Much later I realized that the photographs held valuable information about the early days of the Central Library and the book van in Trinidad and Tobago.

Researching the story of the photographs after my father's death revealed a fascinating collaboration between the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the British Council in support of librarianship in the Eastern Caribbean. Along the way I came to understand the important role the mobile library service played in the formative days of the Central Library of Trinidad and Tobago, then British colonies. From my research I developed a growing admiration of those who have supported mobile libraries in the past and those who continue to do this work today.

In the first photograph eleven people face the viewer, their backs to the book van. Eight women in the photo wear short-sleeved cotton dresses or skirts and tops. The tall young man standing on the far right of the photo, a head taller than the women, is my father. He wears a dark jacket and light slacks. Another man in the photo wears a light suit and tie. A third man, on the far left, likely the driver, has on light slacks and a short-sleeved shirt and sports a straw hat. A makeshift canvas covering, rolled up to the van's ceiling, takes the place of the driver's door. On the side of the book van are the words CENTRAL LIBRARY in capital letters. In smaller block letters, partially obscured by some of the women in the group, is the name of my father's island of Trinidad. The lush foliage in the background is typical of the tropical flora of the Caribbean. [End Page 180]

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Figure 1.

Nine graduates of the first library training class in Trinidad stand next to the book van of the Central Library of Trinidad and Tobago, March 1944. Copyright ©2006 by the Estate of Errol Gaston Hill, The Papers of Errol G. Hill in the Dartmouth College Library, Rauner Special Collections Library, Hanover, New Hampshire.

On the back of this photo is an inscription in cursive script: "Library training class & staff, March, 1944" and the surnames of the men and women: "Layne, (driver), Young, Watson, MacEachine, Armstrong (B'dos), Lumsden, Gallwey (A'gua), Valain, McArthur (B.G.), Dr. Stewart."2 Two additional names are written below these: "R. Charles" (absent) and "Miss Mahon (B'dos) w/drew." According to this inscription, these library students came from Antigua, Barbados, and British Guiana (now Guyana) as well as Trinidad. That the course would draw students from across the Eastern Caribbean was intriguing. This led me to wonder about the type of training these librarians received, who funded the training, and how the book van was used.

A second photograph of many of the same students, including my father, shows them artificially posed reading books in front of the van. Books can be seen on exterior shelving on the side of the van. Raised panels shield the books from the sun while permitting patrons to view them. A man, suited and bespectacled (presumably "R. Charles," who was absent from the earlier photograph), shares a book with a young woman. The inscription on the reverse of this image reads: "Library training class, March 1944." [End Page 181]

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Figure 2.

Members of the first library training class in Trinidad pose for a group photo, March 1944. Copyright ©2006 by the Estate of Errol Gaston Hill, The Papers...


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