Sun | Dec 16, 2018

EU Sugar Transformation | Monymusk Branch Library: crossroads to history and the future

Published:Monday | July 30, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Monymusk Branch Library.

From outside, the Monymusk Branch Library in Alley, Clarendon, makes an engaging postcard picture.

The old-style architecture highlighted by oven-baked bricks with a pitched timber roof harks back to an era when sugar was king. Now this remnant of a mill that was once integral to the operations of the Monymusk Sugar Estate has been given a new lease on life.

The digital platform which now powers the Internet, Wi-Fi and other information technology activities on the first floor where the part-time library operates is a stark contrast to the technology which fuelled operations when the sugar factory started milling operations in 1901. In fact, the transition from a 20th-century sugar mill to a library makes it unique.

 

MAINTENANCE DIFFICULTIES

 

Over the years, the condition of the building deteriorated and maintenance became difficult, according to Audrey Minott, senior librarian for the Clarendon Network of Parish Libraries, which operates under the auspices of the Jamaica Library Service.

"The sugar company and the Jamaica Library Service tried to maintain it, but with the decline of sugar, the interest of the sugar company waned, and then the library service struggled with the maintenance until the library was closed. It really became dilapidated and so the library was closed in 2008," Minott told The Gleaner.

The library would remain closed until March 2015 when the Sugar Transformation Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture provided a $9-million injection courtesy of the European Union.

With the historical value of the building lending to its appeal as a tourist attraction, the Jamaica National Heritage Trust supported its renovation.

While infant- and primary-school students from Alley were affected by the absence of the reading and reference services usually offered, it was high-school students who were most inconvenienced, as they had to visit other libraries to complete the school-based assessment component of their Caribbean Examinations Council work.

 

HOURS OF OPERATION

 

Now the library, which is open part-time to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, is in demand once again.

Adults tend to access the reading and reference services, but it is after 2 p.m. when the schools dismiss and all the services are in demand that things get busy.

Having recognised the vast potential of this historic building, the Jamaica Library Service is looking to tap into its rich history, well beyond the library space.

Plans are under way to make the temporary exhibition about the history of the Monymusk Sugar Factory, which is housed on the second floor into a permanent one, while the privacy afforded on the third floor makes it ideally suited as a meeting room, and Minott says there is more in store.

"This building has always been a tourist attraction, even in its dilapidated state. So you find that the demand is there for tours, so we are contemplating maybe opening the library for two Saturdays per month to facilitate tours," said Minott.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com