- Caribbean Libraries in the 21st Century: Changes, Challenges, and Choices
Librarianship in the Caribbean region is fraught with economic, geographic, and cultural challenges. As defined in this ambitious book, the Caribbean subsumes "those countries in the Caribbean archipelago, the mainland countries (including the Guianas), and the states of the United States of America, which border on the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico" (xvii). Given these wide-ranging parameters, it must have seemed a daunting task to undertake this volume. The Caribbean region, as the authors point out, "includes many territories with historical, political, linguistic, and cultural affiliations that are as varied as their past, [and] has been greatly influenced by the relationships of the pre- and postcolonial era. English, French, Dutch, and Spanish are the main languages but local languages such as Papiamento (in the Dutch Islands) and Creole (in the French Islands) are also spoken" (xvii). That the book succeeds in discussing the concerns of a multiplicity of places as well as critical, universal issues in contemporary librarianship is a tribute to the editors and contributors, most of whom hail, appropriately, from the Caribbean region.
The organization of this volume is logical and lucid. Part 1, "Historical Perspective," includes discussions of library development in Trinidad, Tobago, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, and the Bahamas. Part 2, "Management of the 21st Century Library—Collections, Staff, and Services," considers the general experiences of two academic libraries in Jamaica, how ephemera figured into the collection policies of a West Indian academic library, and the use of the Elizabeth Moys classification scheme for legal materials in area libraries. One chapter in this section speaks to the plight of much of the region with its plaintive title: "Collection Development and Management in Small Academic Libraries in Jamaica: Where Is My Budget?"
Libraries beyond the Caribbean may take note of chapters in part 3 ("Innovative Services") on library services for the blind and print disabled as well as a fascinating account of creating customized information services for a competitive agricultural sector. Part 4 acknowledges the elephant in the room with three chapters on the integration and impact of information technology on library services, including discussions of Internet access management in Jamaican public libraries and digitization initiatives in Trinidad and Tobago. (For a more in-depth consideration of the impact of technology in this region, beyond libraries, readers may want to turn to a UN publication, Road Maps towards an Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean, published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [ECLAC] in 2003.)
Collaboration among libraries informs the chapters in part 5, "Library Cooperation and Resource Sharing in the 21st Century." The College Library Information Network (COLINET), the subject of the first of these chapters, appears to be a promising consortium offering support for area libraries. Ethical questions regarding removing valuables from their country of origin have been much in the news lately with respect to museum pieces. Here, the issue makes an appearance in a timely chapter about the H. D. Carberry Collection, a private collection of some one thousand volumes from Jamaica, including inscribed and first editions of Caribbean literature, much of it out of print, published between 1959 and [End Page 359] 1990, that was purchased by and relocated to the University of Illinois in 1997. The authors address a profoundly difficult question, "Why are these books here and not there?" Titled "The Caribbean Library in Diaspora," this is, I think, one of the book's most riveting pieces.
Parts 6 and 7, "Education of Library Users" and "Distance Education," include chapters on information literacy in Caribbean academic libraries and comparative discussions of distance learning techniques across the region. These chapters emphasize the role of librarians as instructors and their willingness to take on the challenges of the future. The book's final section, "Caribbean Librarians," also considers the future of librarianship in the area ("Change Management . . .") along with recent achievements in...