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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

Caribbean Books in print project

Samuel B. Bandara
Library, University of the West Indies, Mona, Kingston, Jamaica


This paper describes a project attempting to produce a Caribbean Books in Print (CBIP). The way the "Caribbean" and the category of Caribbean books that will form the content of CBIP are to be defined for this project is discussed. An attempt is made within these definitions to estimate the size of the population of Caribbean books currently in print. The need for a tool in the form of CBIP is ex amined, commenting on the need to strengthen the regional book industry.



This paper presents an account of a project to produce a Caribbean Books in Print (CBIP), on which work is in progress, albeit at a slow pace. It has already produced a specimen/sample issue in the form of a Jamaican Books in Print, May 1993. Its aims are to develop a data collection on Caribbean books in print and generating printed current editions of CBIP. I begin by defining the terms `Caribb ean' and `Caribbean books' as used for the CBIP and discuss the need for a CBIP. An attempt is made to estimate the size of the population of Caribbean books to be covered in CBIP. The current status of the project is noted.

Defining the Caribbean and Caribbean Books for CBIP

The Caribbean is defined in several different ways. The one we have selected for CBIP covers all the island territories of the Caribbean sea including the Bahamas and Bermuda, and the mainland territories of Central and South America associated with Britain (Belize and Guyana), Holland (Suriname) and France (French Guiana). This brings together a wide geographical spread, and several separate an d distinct political and linguistic units1. Within this diversity there is a desire towards working as a community, a desire apparent at varying degrees of intensity among individual units, with some already acting as communities structured (or integrated) in different ways2. Generally the level of community consciousness seems to be higher in matters cultural and intellectual compared with what obtains politically and economically. An attempt to forge links in the production, distribution and use of books as well as in the gathering and sharing of information on books on a regional basis is likely to receive support within the region, while leading also to further stimulating the desire to come closer together.

The content of CBIP, `Caribbean books' will be the same as it is now for Caribbean Review of Books3, consisting of the following

  1. books published within the Caribbean. (Caribbean origin)
  2. books on the Caribbean regardless of their origin. (Caribbean focus)
  3. literary works by Caribbean authors published outside the region. (Caribbean literary authorship)
The last category may well be widened to include all works of Caribbean authorship, (as some national bibliographies attempt to do) but while there is wide recognition of the creative literature of the region (consider terms like Caribbean literature, Cuban literature, Haitian novels, West Indian poetry etc.), there is no similar recognition for Caribbean authorship in other fields. While Caribbe an authors of literary works are already identifiable by the scholarly interest in their works as a field of study it is not that easy to identify authors of Caribbean origin for all subject areas, There are also books on some subjects that are of great significance to the Caribbean that may present a claim to be included in CBIP. Titles on Sugar, Bananas, Bauxite etc. may perhaps be more qualif ied for inclusion than some titles in the three categories listed above. For the time being, however, these are excluded from CBIP's content but a discussion of their relevance is likely to be of more than academic interest.

The aim to fashion a practical tool to provide for (1) the need for information on books on the region, and, (2) the movement of books in and out of the region through access to information on their availability, should be apparent in these definitions. The difference in the idea of the CBIP from many of the currently available "Books in Print" (BIP) catalogues in stressing the "Caribbean-ness" of books it will list with no exclusive geographical or language boundaries for their origin must be noted. Such a mix of origins reflects the reality of how books of relevance to the region come into being.

The Need for a Caribbean Books In Print

In spite of the existence of several national bibliographies within the region,4 there is an unfortunate lack of data on books produced in the Caribbean. Not only is it difficult to identify specific titles and to obtain details about them, but there is also no reliable information on the total production of books within the region. Seven issues (for 1985-91) of UNESCO's Statistical Yearbook, - the basic source for data on world book production - examined for production data for the years 1981-9 for the Caribbean yielded information on ten countries only, and even for these ten, out of a possible total of 90 country/years of data only 26 country/years were available. A check on the availability of nine national bibliographies at the University of the West Indies library at Mona, Jamaica showed that of the eight titles received there latest available were one for 1992, one for 1991, two for 1990, one for 1988/89, two for 1987 and one for 1973/745. National bibliographies in general have not been as successful as they could be in providing for an adequate and current level of bibliographic control for the region. Neither librarians nor book dealers within or outside the Caribbean can obtain or provide data on current Caribbean titles at a reasonable level of accuracy or comprehensiveness.

This lack of information is both a cause and a symptom of a weak book industry in the region. Sensing this weakness of the Caribbean book industry our promising authors look for publishing avenues outside of the region. Considering the number of Caribbean authors published outside of the region, and the reputation already achieved and enjoyed by "Caribbean literature", one cannot but wonder if this is not a form of brain drain endured by the region. The main ingredient of a published book is its intellectual content, and the successful publishing of Caribbean authors produces profits for well organized publishing houses outside the Caribbean. Can it not then be said that weaknesses in the Caribbean book industry allows the region to be drained of one of its most precious possessions, the intellectual and creative and ability of their best writers whose work become the raw material for a better organized book industry outside of the region? This is a basic reason why the Caribbean, (just as much as other regions of the developing world) should focus attention on ways and means to add strength, order, and efficiency to their publishing industry. A base of information on the pub lishing units producing books of relevance to the region, the titles produced and the details of their sizes and prices, all within the legitimate content of a "BIP", is one of the most useful and basic tools in such an effort. This is why there is need for a Caribbean Books in Print.

Because of the geographical spread of the Caribbean region with many small communities with great distances between them, there is need for such information to flow across boundaries freely and swiftly if the region's efforts to know itself and to act as a community are to be meaningful. Books produced by members of their communities published at home and abroad, as well as those that outsiders w rite about the region and life within it must be made known so that critics and students, writers and publishers, booksellers and teachers and most of all ordinary people in the Caribbean can have access to them. At present no tool is available to provide this service. There is evidence that the need has been seen on occasion and efforts made to fashion one but none of these have been successful . Current Caribbean Bibliography published between 1951 and 1976 by the Caribbean Regional Library (San Juan, Puerto Rico, and The CARICOM Bibliography, 1977-1986 by the CARICOM Secretariat (Georgetown, Guyana) are two examples.

The Experience of Caribbean Review of Books 1991-1993 To provide an organ to disseminate news and reviews of Caribbean books the University of the West Indies Publishers Association (UWIPA) founded the CRB in August 1991. So far ten issues (including one double issue) have been produced and the number of titles about which news or reviews have been carried in these ten issues, together with the provenance of the imprints are presented in table 1. < P> CRB's coverage so far does not exceed a modest 30% of the total production of Caribbean books. The proportion covered in it is best for titles in English, but very little in Dutch, French, Spanish and the Creoles get cited in its pages. The numbers in the table are significant not so much for the total coverage they achieve but as rough indicators of the proportion of Caribbean titles published w ithin and outside the region. The figures indicate a ratio of 23:73 which could be used with results of other studies carried out to survey the same field. The results of an examination of the citations in three issues of the World Bibliography Series (Clio Press)6, and the analysis of citations in two recently published books7 together with the CRB experience above are summarised in table 2.

The selection of samples analysed in table 2 is such that the results can be presented as a rough guide to regional and extra regional production figures of Caribbean books at the present time. A valid criticism of the samples used here would be the lack of representation of the Spanish, French and Dutch portions of the Caribbean book population, and although I believe that these characteristics remain the same for the entire region, this is an area that remains to be further investigated.

From the UNESCO figures referred to above we can calculate a nine year average figure of 2,300 titles for ten countries8. Cuba, one of the largest producers, is fully covered every year in the UNESCO data series, and it seems safe to take the figure 2,300 titles as representing half of the annual Caribbean total. Assuming on this basis an annual total of 4,600 titles, using the ratio from table 2 , 32:68 (adjusted for the 2.1% recorded as joint imprints) for the local: overseas portions of this total of Caribbean books we get an estimate of 14,400. Taking 50% of the total to have an in-print life of three years contributing 7,200 titles to the in print total and reducing it by an equivalent number, for our planning purposes we can arrive at a rough approximation of 21,600 titles as the to tal likely content of a current issue of CBIP listing titles selected by the criteria as defined.

So far, apart from the sample issue9 listing just below 550 titles from 119 Jamaican imprints, one fully committed worker, a few Caribbean librarians indicating a willingness to participate, and a publicly announced undertaking of The Press, University of the West Indies to publish the first issue of CBIP when the text is ready, there is little more achieved by the the Project. The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Research and Publications Fund provided initial funding enabling the collection of about 10% of the estimated 21,000 citations, and the production of the sample issue. Jamaican imprints and citations from selected presses are being be recorded, but, apart from what the spare time of one working librarian can accomplish personally, there is little progress due to the absence of financial resources to support the work. CRB continues to be produced and the Project is seeking comment on and support for its work, especially for covering the Spanish, French, Dutch and Creole language portions of the population of Caribbean books it needs to cover.


  1. The countries included are,
    1. Anguilla,
    2. Antigua and Barbuda,
    3. The Bahamas,
    4. Barbados,
    5. Belize,
    6. Bermuda,
    7. British Virgin Islands,
    8. Cayman Islands,
    9. Cuba,
    10. Dominica,
    11. Dominican Republic,
    12. French Guyana,
    13. Grenada,
    14. Guadaloupe,
    15. Guyana,
    16. Haiti,
    17. Jamaica,
    18. Martinique,
    19. Montserrat,
    20. Netherlands Antilles,
    21. Puerto Rico, < LI> St. Kitts and Nevis,
    22. St. Lucia,
    23. St. Vincent and the Grenadines,
    24. Suriname,
    25. Turks and Caicos Islands, and,
    26. U.S.Virgin Islands.

  2. Consider OECS, CARICOM, and ACS politically, and entities such as ACURIL, CBU, CARIFESTA, UNICA culturally. There is also the UN regional grouping of Latin American and the Caribbean within which the Caribbean sub-region is sufficiently recognized to be provided with separate lines of programmes and administrative units.

  3. Quarterly devoted entirely to reviews and news of Caribbean books. JBIP is being developed to as a complement to CRB, the two together to provide a complete book information service.

  4. For a full account of the National Bibliographies of the region see: Guide to Current National Bibliographies in the Third World by G.E. Gorman and J.J. Mills. London: Hans Zell, 1987.

  5. Caribbean national and regional bibliographies are examined in the unpublished paper "Caribbean Books in Print Project" paper presented to the 21st Anniversary Conference of the Department of Library Studies, University of the West Indies, July, 1993.

  6. Clio Press (Oxford and Santa Barbara) Series World Bibliographical Series, volumes: 45, Jamaica. by K.E.Ingram, 1984.; 85, Dominica by Robert A. Myers, 1987. and 108 The Bahamas. by Paul G. Boultbee, 1989. selected for their careful choice of published works to cover all aspects of the countries. see: Bandara, S.B. "Towards a Quantitative Analysis of Caribbean Books." CRB, 1 (Aug.,1991) 10-1 2,27 and 31.

  7. Caribbean in the Wider World, 1492-1992: A Regional Geography. by Bonham A. Richardson. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. selected for its wide coverage of the Region to support which there is a selective bibliography, and, "Select Bibliography; Books by, or with substantial contributions by CAM People" in The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966-1972: A Literary & Cultural History by Anne W almsley. London and Port of Spain: New Beacon Books, 1992., selected for the representative nature of the bibliography of works by writers of the Movement, almost all the Caribbean. Bandara, S.B. "Caribbean Books in Print Project" paper presented to the 21st Anniversary Conference of the Department of Library Studies, University of the West Indies, July, 1993. (unpublished)

  8. The ten countries represented are Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, St. Kitts/ Nevis and St Lucia. While including Cuba producing perhaps the largest number of titles in the entire region, this series excludes other large production figures for example from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

  9. See note on the "Caribbean Books in Print Project" (by S. B. Bandara) CRB nos. 8/9 (May/August 1993) p.19 for a comment on the sample issue Jamaican Books in Print, May 1993.