WHAT is happening with the old Public Library in Port of Spain? This was the question posed Friday by historian Dr Brinsley Samaroo.
Restoration of the library, at the corner of Knox and Pembroke Streets, started in 2013 under the People’s Partnership government, and appears to be almost complete.
In August 2013, education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said funds would be allocated to restore and refurbish the building as a library and museum. At the time, Samaroo said, the intention was for the library to house historical artefacts from past presidents and prime ministers of TT.
Samaroo chaired the restoration committee at the time, and said considerable work had been done to collect these artefacts.
After the September 7, 2015 general election, Samaroo said, the new People’s National Movement administration said the library would only house the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Collection, which is currently housed at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Library in St Augustine.
In 2016 Maxie Cuffie, who was then Communications Minister, toured the building, and it was said the restoration would be completed in one to two years.
Since then, Samaroo said, there has been no word on the status of the project. Expressing his disappointment, he said the artefacts collected by his committee are now in the basement of the National Library, Port of Spain, and it is unfortunate that these items cannot be displayed in the way they should be.
Samaroo also questioned the rationale for moving the Eric Williams Memorial Collection from UWI. This collection is “priceless,” he said, and all of the artefacts which belonged to Williams are very properly curated and cared for by UWI’s librarians.
He hoped there would a definitive statement about the future of the library, as well as the collection, in the near future.
The library was first opened in April 1902 by Governor Sir Alfred Moloney.
In 1994, the West Indian collections of both the Public Library and the Central Library Services were merged to become the Heritage Library in the Knox Street Library.
However, in 2003, owing to lack of maintenance, the building was extremely dilapidated and the Heritage section was moved to the new National Library building on Abercromby Street.