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

Library Cooperation for Social and Cultural Development within the Caribbean Area

Alex Richards


The policy of cooperation has produced efficient results in terms of services, where it has been put to use: bibliographical data basis, collective regional catalog, cooperative purchasing of automation systems for libraries. The choice of cooperation for the Caribbean region and its basement is examined in this paper. It does not appear that the cooperation practice is not as natural and fluent as it is sometimes said; therefore, a thought on the very ways of cooperating is now needed as regarding the stakes, the final aims, the practice and its means, the partnerships, the professionals.


I thought, while engaging in this work, that to speak of cooperation within the Caribbean region was a perilous exercise. In the past years many local and cooperative initiatives were taken, as well as the edifying of new national architecture with the building of new libraries in the documentary landscape of some islands (i.e. Guadeloupe, Martinique, Anguilla, Antigua, Saint Martin).

Now, if indeed some form of cooperation took place among libraries that fitted within/were joined by a common political frame (CARICOM, O.E.C.S., Archipel Guadeloupéen, Région Guadeloupe), it still remains partial because it was circumscribed to similar types of libraries and to a particular island territory. To speak of regional cooperation, of its difficulties, its successes, its prospects, is delicate, indeed, when one realizes that this job consists essentially in federating professional energies and initiatives around an idea unequally shared.

At a time when balance sheets are being drawn up, to sing the praises of cooperation is no longer sufficient, and to be the devil's advocate could produce perverse effects. The cooperation of libraries and documentation centers of the region cannot be considered without a description, even brief, of the different structures (administrative or other) which finance libraries or documentation centers; structures which lead differenttraining programs, different professional behaviors and therefore different functioning procedures. Some of them address the largest public while others cater for more specific readers. Unfortunately, I cannot attempt such analysis here for a lack of time and information on the various islands. Even without conducting a detailed study on the infrastructures of the institutions, their premises, their personnel, their collections, one can easily state that only the libraries which are open to the public have some significance. As for the personnel, the service rendered to the public and the exposing of the collections depend essentially on the human resources of each institution in number but also on the number of trained staff considering their responsibilities.

If I'm attempting to write something on cooperation now when links are taken, it does not mean that never before has anyone cooperated (some examples of cooperation: Saint Maarten/ Saint Martin, Saint Martin/Guadeloupe, Guadeloupe/Martinique or even the cooperation taking place through APLA, association of libraries of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba). Neither does it mean that from now on, on e will cooperate much more. The passage to action remains difficult, because behind the converging towards a common action are significant differences. Such a project is often built on an artificial consensus, nurtured by the energy of a hand full, motivated by the ambition of some others, permitted by the opportunism of some and held back by the resistance of those who do not share the idea!

Caribbean Lands: The Making of the West Indies

The native people of the West Indies and North and South America were Indians. For hundreds of years the Indian peoples, undisturbed by outsiders, developed ways of life which by the end of the fifteenth century varied considerably through the whole continent. In the large islands of the Caribbean and in the Bahamas lived the Arawaks. The islands were not rich in animal life and the Arawaks depended chiefly on fishing. Each village had a chief or Cacique who acknowledged the authority of a greater Cacique living in Cuba.

In 1492 Europeans reached the larger islands and from there the American continent. Adventurers quickly followed to make their fortune in what they called the New World. The violent process of colonization had begun. The Arawaks took the first impact of European colonization. The small islands to the South were inhabited by Caribs. They were also seamen and took great pride in physical endurance. As the European colonists penetrated into those islands, Carib resistance was fierce, aggressive and continued for a much longer time than that of the Arawaks who were invaded first. At the end of the fifteenth century many important geographical problems were still unsolved. But in search for the mainland of Asia and the promise of riches from that area of the world, enticed Europeans to finance the voyages that would remold their map of the world and settle the boundaries of empires they would make respectively theirs.

The Spanish empire quickly grew and stretched from Texas in North America to Patagonia in South America and included the islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica and Trinidad. Other European nations, especially the Netherlands, France, and England, seized their chance to challenge the Spanish claim to the monopoly of the New World . They traded wherever they could, they allowed and even encouraged their seamen to plunder the Spaniards wherever they could. Colonization began in the small islands farthest from the Spanish center of interest. The first settlers in the British West Indian islands established farms on which they grew tobacco, ginger, indigo and cotton for export. For a time tobacco was the most profitable export, but sugar soon became very demanded in Europe and Nort h Arnerica. So it became the chief export and soon the only product of importance in the lesser Antilles.

It was to supply the growing demand for field workers that slavery grew to such a volume. It is not known how many African slaves were brought to the Caribbean and to North, Central and South America from the time the traffic began in the early sixteenth century to the time when it was stopped in the nineteenth century, but it must have been several million. By emancipation the blacks outnumbered the whites by seven to one . Today their descendants form the majority of the people in nearly every Commonwealth Caribbean countrly. Just at the time when the British West Indies were beginning to export sugar and becoming commercially important, the settlers enacted a number of laws designed to link the colonies more securely to the colonist country.

This is still the case for some islands. The refined sugar made in the Commonwealth Caribbean territories today is sold mainly in the territories themselves, it cannot easily compete with sugar produced by refineries built near to the market. As the result the West Indies have not been able to develop what could be a valuable sugar refining industry. However, producing sugar in most Caribbean cou ntries remains costly. Sugar is no longer looked upon as a potential market. Though the lack of an expanding market for agricultural products has proved to be a big handicap to the economic progress of the West Indies, an even bigger one has been the rapid rise of population in recent years.

If the standard of living of a country is to rise, its econonomic development must proceed faster than the rise of population. It is clear that in the West Indies considerable development is necessary even to maintain standards . This is very difficult to do where resources are so meager. The West Indies have little capital to invest and the local market in each island territory is small. It was the need to enlarge local markets that led to the creation of the Caribbean Free trade Association (C.A.R.I.F.T.A.) in 1968, which became the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in 1973 made up of some 12 countries. As a result, trade within the community has grown considerably and brought benefits to all the members, particularly to the more developed ones. However, this growth has not found markets for manufactured products in all parts of the world and the CARICOM does not permit people to move freely between one West Indian territory and another as some similar Commonwealths in the rest of the world have.

But the community has provided facilities for a growing number of tourists. Tourism has become important in almost every West Indian island and its benefits are considerable. Until recently the people of the Caribbean Community had little opportunity to take part in the decisions that shaped their lives. This is no longer the case. Now that the West Indies have undertaken the responsibility for s haping their own destinies, great changes have been taking place in their social, economic and cultural affairs, and in regional cooperation, foreign trade and international relations.

Fragments of thought on cooperation

Little alphabet to cooperate:

A like Action, Autonomy:

It is action that validates the passing from thoughts to the actual making. Very often in this profession more emphasis is placed on what is said than on what is done. Therefore the hurdle of action, even though it is the foundation of all cooperation, might be a difficult one to leap over. During many sessions of ACURIL (Association of Caribbean University Research and Institutional Libraries) projects determining the objectives to reach were shared. They tended to enrich the professional speech but did not really surmount the challenges of reality (i.e.: cooperation in the making of a Children's Books in Print in Caribbean).

Cooperation calls for action and requires from all share holders an engagement on objectives determined before hand which must go further than the agreement. It must mobilize resources and energies and a persistence in spite of the resistance caused by an idea or an act which is not natural. (i.e.: I.L.L. between Public Library of Saint Martin and the Bibliothèque départementale in Guadeloupe in spite of the non existence of specifically allocated budgets or preferential postal rates, etc..)

When one considers the high cost of postal services and telecommunications between the islands or even the length of time for the delivery of the mail, or the high export or import taxes ... then you understand that only perseverance gets the job done, by multiple means and ideas from one or the other. Unfortunately if the expressing of the needs for cooperation rallies a great number, when comes to passing to action, only the inconditionals are left. According to Martine Mollet who works for a Cooperation Agency in the Rhône Alpes, France, "autonomy is not ordained by decree, it is taken." Tradition and tutella, or even the tradition of tutella are contrary to the concept of autonomy and therefore to that of cooperation.

Now, this is fine when the cooperation is to take place between institutions governed by rules equal in content or institutions within a same territory with its own government or when this cooperation takes place within a legal structure (Association, Foundation, etc..) which provides it with a judicial base. This base must be fortified by a possibility of partial financial autonomy which provide s it with a relative freedom from the various island governments. "Cooperation must be financed by cooperation", Martin Molest would go on to say. In the Caribbean area the situation gets slightly more complicated because some islands are independent, some are enjoying political autonomy, some are federated, others are still under higher supervision. And so this unit, this agency, in order to foster the idea of cooperation among the libraries of the Caribbean region would have to have recognition by all the various governmental forms, withi n the region, or have active representatives in each country. Every island should be able to enjoy the benefits of cooperation.

B like Bibliographic Data Base.
This is doubtless the domain in which most cooperation efforts got started. A necessity to set up bibliographic data bases which were to permit the making of regional collective catalogs. Some efforts can be mentioned: Catalogue collectif des périodiques Bibliothèques francophones, Catalogues des oeuvrages en Créole Guadeloupe, Martinique, Catalogue des livres sur l'histoir e de la Guadeloupe, etc. But which is to be privileged in this day of automation?

But, technically it is possible from one access point and with any software to recuperate by telecommunication bibliographical information. This should be the answer to the Caribbean situation where efforts of automation are not necessarily done in concertation and systems are often incompatible, but for a few exceptions where the source of financing was the same or the initiative was decided in conjunction with a larger project. (i.e. O.E.C.S./ D.S.ISIS).

But the cost of telecommunication and the reality of the telecommunication systems make it almost impossible to concretize. Another problem, is the mere fact that some institutions, eventhough they belong to the region physically and are an integral part of the Caribbean, would not be granted funds to participate in such data base. Their allegiance is still expected to go to local initiative. But the concept of a data base would be a real solution to the isolation from which most libraries of the area suffer.

C like Culture, Cooperation, Corporatism:

Paul Langevin says that "Culture is what links men within space and time".

A social link, a factor of integration, of subversion, of emancipation, of blooming, all the above definitions of culture can be applied to cooperation. Cooperation serves to link, to network. It is needless to say that this is what each unit within its own geographical limits longs for; to be linked with other libraries or documentation centers within the Caribbean region, which work along the s ame line, serve the same type of public and/or produces a measure of information which could profit many. Cooperation undoubtedly is an emancipation factor since it allows one to benefit from the acquired knowledge of other experiences, to access new circles of information and to perfect, thus, one's own reality.

The diversity of the Caribbean, the diversity of the cultures and inheritances conjugated should give birth to sound projects. Culture and Cooperation are inseparable concepts. Furthernore, one of the most significant evaluations of the last decades, in ways of life, is certainly the irruption of "the culture of leisure". The public library, no doubt is necessarily partaker of such initiative. But, society and communication changing, the library cannot be satisfied with distributing books to a restricted public. It must make the book known, show its collections, organiz e around them, exhibits, conferences, debates with writers, illustrators in other words it must become a center pole in the community. Cooperation is the method of action by which persons having common interests constitute an enterprise where the rights to each to the management are equal and in which the profit is shared among the associates to the ratio of their contributions.

Which are the common interests of the librarians of the Caribbean?

And if the librarians of the Caribbean have common interests, are these librarians ready to transfer some of their sovereignty to a structure which they would control by taking part in its functioning? If they are, do they wish to evaluate their interests and withdraw the benefit of a collective action? If not, why?

Cooperation can also be in the form of a bulletin or periodical edited by librarians of the Caribbean (i.e.: APLA News, journal of the Association of the Libraries of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba) which will have an opinion on all issues which passionately interest librarians.

As for corporatism, it can be positive and give an identity and a social definition to the librarian by giving the sense of belonging to a corp, an organized body. In the negative, it would mean the retiring on oneself, the defence of particular interests, the cult of difference, the fear of competitors, the refusal of change. This seems to be the attitude we cultivate as librarians, or in some c ases, for some reason, we never jump those hurdles. But corporatism is at the same time the leaven and the antidote of cooperation.

And in spite of the differences we have inherited from the various colonial systems, the different trends of thought, the different perception of the world and of the Caribbean region, the different languages, the sense of belonging or not, of being an integral part or not of the Caribbean, it is only the unity of that rosary of islands that will finally bring it some recognition and allow it som e considerable developments within the fields of information and documentation, among others.

D like Decentralization
This could be understood as an agreement between the various local governments of the Caribbean to recognize the right to autonomy to the libraries within their territories. This autonomy would naturally have boundaries, but would have the advantage of allowing federated efforts of libraries of same kind. Outside of the legal frame, there could be an association or an agency which could set up co operation missions which would be supra local in origin and in purpose. Autonomy here must be considered as the privilege given to a community to administer itself freely, by its own laws, within a larger organization governed by a central power or according to particular rules. The libraries would not be bodies or groups which are not affiliated to a central body or which have total independence.
E like Evaluation
The fact is that what is being said is ahead of the reality. How to explain that at a time when professional journals are filled with evaluation measures, the libraries who generate more than 80% of structural charges are still skeptical about the need for and means of cooperation...!
G like gratuity...

H like Hierarchy, Horizontal...

I like Identity

N like Norm (standardization), Network...

P like Partnership...

Q like Quality and Quantity

T like Time...

U like Unity...

I'll put an end to this tiring list. Cooperation has many years ahead of it. It is still babbling. When it will reach maturity, known cooperators will complete and update it. When one thinks of cooperation among the islands, the questions which come to mind are: How is the general organization of the cooperation to be established, how to share its missions, its competencies and the various problems of power and responsibility...

These problems are posed in the absence of projects but they are posed also when projects which come to pass become struggles. Should one then admit that what is needed is an agency which would help in developing cooperation.

Prospects of Development

It is amazing how much the expression "library cooperation" has been misunderstood or has entertained social, cultural developments of the ways of life of the Caribbean peoples compel the libraries to adapt themselves and to seek other modes of functioning. What is important here, is not the spiritual concept of cooperation but how to set up within the Caribbean context a policy with methods of i ts own, for libraries.

What is needed for cooperation to start taking place really is a person in charge with sufficient competencies and tools, the logistic and necessary margin to function. That will help anchoring this idea of cooperation among the libraries of the Caribbean.

Should it function as an association? If so the association for cooperation of the Caribbean must be nothing less than a managing structure of projects. It must not be a coordination. For communication purposes, it could be called an agency. This term seeks to give to the political, economical decision makers, a more modern and institutionalized image of the association. The agency for cooperatio n, in spite of the variety of settings in the Caribbean, must precise the domain of its intervention in tight dependence with books availability in the region. It will have to consider the new deal of the community of the year 2000 and the important transformations of the librarian's work itself. The initial qualification of the librarian in itself is insufficient. The agency will have to provide for the constant upgrading of the librarian's professional quality.

It could also seek to set up a body of partners who acquired through various experiences in the field, the savoir faire which could be reused in future undertakings. The field of cooperation binds closely a geographical and cultural dimension to an administrative framework. Sometimes, the local cultural identity fits difficultly in the local administrative framework. The agency for cooperation will have to become the articulation between the local level and a wider cultural space, the inter regional space and be the one to integrate the written patrimony, the local memory dispersed within the various libraries of the region, into the architectural, archeological ... patrimony. This would put an end to the tendency to single out the patrimony of libraries and of their islands to the extreme and begin to present them as one unit, one entity, with one identity. Its difference in traits of character and physical appearance is its richness but the Caribbe an would develop more and better if given the means to link and be one family.


Administration et bibliothèques / Marie Thérèse Jamge

Caribbean lands / John Macpherson

La coopération entre bibliothèques de la Guadeloupe / Alex Richards.