Final works approved for Old Public Library

The Heritage Library located at the corner of Knox and Pembroke Streets, im Port of Spain. - SUREASH CHOLAI
The Heritage Library located at the corner of Knox and Pembroke Streets, im Port of Spain. - SUREASH CHOLAI

NATIONAL Library and Information System Authority (Nalis) chairman Neil Parsanlal said Phases I and II of the renovation of the Heritage Library – Eric Williams Memorial Library have been completed.

He said work on Phase III has not yet begun.

The building, formerly the Old Public Library, is on the corner of Knox and Pembroke Streets, Port of Spain.

Parsanlal said “Cabinet approved for Nalis to operationalise Phase III. Commencement is pending. Only the Eric Williams Collection, which is currently housed at the UWI, St Augustine campus, will be housed at the Dr Eric Williams Memorial Library.”

He said Phase I included restoration of the base building, involving replacing the roof and flooring of the ground and first floors, structural retrofitting to earthquake and library standards, balustrading, restoring outdoor brick and stonework and external doors and windows, and electrical installations, while Phase II involved  completing the floor, wall and ceiling finishes to the main building, mechanical plumbing and electrical finishes, construction of an ancillary building (annex) and external works.

Parsanlal said Phase III will involve fit-out, including finishing fixtures, special space planning and outfitting for the museum and library, and housing of the collection.

In March 2011, Dr Rowley, then Opposition Leader, urged the government to convert the building into a museum to house Williams' collection.

He said, “That building across the street where Dr Williams conducted those famous lectures the lines – while architecturally superb, it is being left to rot unattended. It should be made available to UWI to house the Eric Williams collection.”

He said that the location could not be more fitting, as it was next to Woodford Square.

“It would marry the library with Williams’ history and we’d have an academic shrine in the centre of Port of Spain for persons who want to walk into the life of Eric Williams.”

Work on the building began in August 2013, when education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh said funds would be allocated to restore and refurbish the building as a library and museum.

Restoration work continued in 2016 under the PNM government.

The Public Library was constructed on the site of the house of Trinidad’s first British Governor Sir Thomas Picton and was opened to the public in April 1902 by Governor Sir Alfred Moloney. It was the first purpose-built library building in the English-speaking Caribbean.

In 1994, the West Indian collections of the Public and Central Libraries were merged to form the Heritage Library, which was housed in the Public Library.

The building also continued to house the Port of Spain Public Library until the newly-built National Library, on Abercromby Street, was opened in 2003.

By then, the deterioration of the building necessitated the relocation of the Heritage Library to the second floor of the new National Library, where it remains. The old library building deteriorated further over the ensuing years.

Parsanlal said Nalis is working on the housing of other presidential and prime ministerial collections.

“Nalis is cognisant of the concerns regarding housing Heritage Library Division’s past and present presidential and prime ministerial collections at locations specific to where the individuals reside.”

He said the Carnegie Free Library in San Fernando would acquire, curate and house the President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona Collection, the President George Maxwell Richards Collection, and the Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar Collection, as well as curate and house the President Noor Hassanali Collection deposited at Presentation College, San Fernando, the Prime Minister Patrick Manning Collection currently deposited at UTT, and the Prime Minister Basdeo Panday Papers currently at Nalis.

He said the Carnegie Free Library would also source, curate and house historical collections about the city of San Fernando.

He said other collections housed at other libraries nationwide will be made available in digital format and for exhibition purposes as required at the Carnegie Free Library.

Parsanlal said the National Library Building in Port of Spain would acquire, curate, and house the President Paula-Mae Weekes Collection, as well as curation and housing of the President Ellis Clarke Collection, deposited at Corpus Christi College, and the Prime Minister George Chambers Collection, currently at Nalis.

He said the Scarborough Public Library will acquire, curate, and house the Prime Minister Keith Christopher Rowley Collection, as well as the Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Robinson Collection, currently at Nalis.


"Final works approved for Old Public Library"

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