Libraries finally getting attention, but...

Libraries finally getting attention, but...

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

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Dear Editor,

The Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) welcomes the news that the Government of Jamaica will be allocating $169 million for the repairs of libraries across several parishes to include the Kingston and St Andrew and Westmoreland parish libraries, to name just two.

Whilst this is great news, we however lament the state our facilities in the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) have been allowed to deteriorate.

The JLS plays a critical role in educational pursuits of Jamaicans of all ages and social demographics. However, as in most cases we as a country have failed to maintain this service to even a fraction of the standard to which it should be kept. A recent visit by the JCSA to several of these facilities across the island has shown us the underbelly of the beast and it is not pretty.

The JLS network consists of 116 locations islandwide with over 700 members of staff serving the needs of schools and communities. Most, if not all, of these locations are in a serious state of disrepair due to lack of adequate budgetary provision to maintain the facilities, the material, and equipment under the stewardship of the JLS management and staff.

The $169 million is inadequate to fix the issues we have so far unearthed. The JCSA's own estimate is that it will take at least $100 million to treat with the issues at the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Library alone, which requires extensive repairs to roofing, electrical, flooring, mould remediation, cooling and ventilation, furniture, etc. Westmoreland Parish Library is in need of similar work and our further estimate puts the total cost to deal with the immediate repair needs of the JLS to around $500 million in the upcoming year alone.

We are in the budget season, and we have seen the wasted resources of the Ministry of Education (MOE) as alleged in the ongoing MOE/Caribbean Maritime University saga as an indictment that must be addressed post-haste. To run our library network properly the JLS needs a budget of around $3 billion spread across recurrent and capital expenditure.

The current structure of the JLS is not in keeping with a modern library service and organisation needs to be placed within the purview of the Public Sector Transformation Implementation Unit to reorganise it to make it more efficient and effective and to review its governance structure to make it an executive-type agency with the appropriate funding and government support to be the learning, research and information hub for all citizens across the island.

Finally, we the JCSA salute the men and women of the JLS who have been doing quite a lot with very little. The conditions under which they work are, quite frankly, horrible and to further compound the issue they are the lowest-paid grouping in the public sector, so much so that they have a very high rate of staff leaving the library service for better-paying jobs in the public sector.

Whilst we look at improving our educational institutions by building and improving on schools at the primary and secondary levels, let us not forget the JLS and its ability to contribute to the citizenry of this country and beyond.

O'Neil W Grant
Jamaica Civil Service Association

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