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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Latt’s Response to the National Library Issue in Trinidad and Tobago

Jennifer Joseph


This paper describes a situation in which the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) mobilized itself to spearhead a national campaign to ensure that the Government resumed construction of the National Library which had been stopped without warning. It includes a brief history of the Library Association and outlines the direct and indirect initiatives which were taken to achieve the aim. Concludes with a brief discussion of the results of the campaign.


“Libraries and the Library Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) are the best-kept secret in Trinidad and Tobago”.

If you know anything about our islands, NOTHING is ever a secret! Therefore, to be described in those terms was a serious indictment against the way in which our Association conducted its affairs and on the level of awareness of the national community about the services offered by libraries and information centres in the country. ‘The best-kept secret in Trinidad and Tobago is the way the Association was described by a politician cum academic in 1993 at an all-day retreat held to address the future direction of the body. At the time, a new executive committee had recently assumed office and held the view that the Association, which had been founded in 1960, was a moribund organization. With a membership of two hundred persons, the body had been going placidly about its business, holding annual general meetings and quarterly meetings which would be attended by an average of fifty persons (who may not be the same fifty attending the next meeting!). These meetings generally focused on some type of continuing education activity or simply a business meeting which planned for other activities. Libraries and information centres were quietly providing service to their individual clientele.

After the embarrassment of being described as ‘the best-kept secret ’ in a country such as ours, members set about the task of serious self-examination for the rest of the day. Members freely expressed their views and conceptualized a vision for the Association. A working committee was set up and after a series of long meetings, a Strategic Plan for the Association was completed. The Mission Statement and Strategic Plan exhorted the Association and its members to raise the level of national awareness on the work of libraries and the crucial role of information personnel in facilitating national development.

In January of 1996, the Library Association was well into the process of implementing the Strategic Plan when we were galvanized into action. On Sunday 14th January 1996, a daily newspaper's front-page story stated that the newly-elected government (December 1995) had taken a decision to place a 'hold' on the construction of the National Library. The foundation had already been laid for the building. Libraries were catapulted into the national news! The “new” Library Association quickly mobilized itself to spearhead a national campaign to influence the Government to reverse its decision.

LATT's Initiatives

A public meeting of the Library Association was held at the City Hall in the capital on Tuesday 16th January 1996. The meeting was attended by over one hundred concerned and angry members as well as interested members of the public, all of whom vociferously expressed their views. Some LATT members who are sometimes considered as ‘genteel’ ladies were actually ready to make placards and march around the site immediately after the meeting or at a time so designated! The executive committee was given the mandate to proceed with a plan of action which was developed at the meeting.

Information Sheets on the role and function of the national library were prepared by a team which included a group of retired librarians who were so fired up that they put away their gardening tools and their various retirement pastimes to assist the executive committee. Other contributors were the architects who had been assigned to the project.

Media Blitz -- The Association sought to highlight the issue through extensive media coverage. The public meeting was televised and reported in the three daily newspapers. The information sheets on the national library were published by the three daily newspapers. The vice-president was featured on a popular morning television talk-show. Members of the Association wrote letters to the Editor on the issue.

Interface with High Government Officials -- The Association sought an audience with the Honourable Prime Minister, the highest political official in the land. A five-member delegation from the Association met with him to discuss the issue. The Prime Minister was presented with an executive summary of the information sheets which had been prepared. When there was no feedback following the first meeting, another request was made in writing to the Prime Minister for further dialogue.

After being bombarded with LATT’s early initiatives, the Government was pressured into issuing a statement that the construction was not stopped, but was rather 'under review'. The Association then requested a meeting with the Minister of Works with a view to arriving at a compromise on the construction of the building. This meeting was held in May 1996 and the delegation was given the assurance that the project would proceed with some modifications. The delegation insisted that the Library Association should be consulted before any modifications to the design were made.

Other Indirect Initiatives

As a result of the Association's efforts at highlighting the issue, the national community became heavily involved in the discussion:


The members of LATT are convinced that the initiatives and strategies used during the impasse on the National Library had a direct influence on the government’s decision of December 1996 to resume construction of the building. The Association was consulted on the proposed modifications and the National Director of Library Services has been included in the team to oversee the planning and construction of the National Library Building.

LATT’s efforts have not stopped with the announcement. The crisis of 1996 has made members of the Association realize that we need to be more pro-active and aggressive in promoting the libraries and the work of information professionals in Trinidad and Tobago. Continuous efforts are being made to keep libraries at the forefront of the national consciousness and it is anticipated that the national community will no longer have to unearth the secrets about libraries and the Library Association.