Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Editors' Forum | Foreigners travelling thousands of miles to use local libraries - More persons logging on to online services as technology boosts access

Published:Monday | October 21, 2019 | 12:00 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
Nicholas Graham, president of the Library and Information Association of Jamaica and deputy director of the National Library of Jamaica, speaking at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week.
Claudette Thomas, director of the Jamaica Archives and Records Department, makes a point during the forum.

Even while librarians are seeing reduced foot traffic at physical locations, they remain upbeat about the future with a boom in online engagement and an increase in the number of foreigners visiting the island to access local archives.

“Of sorts, there has been a decrease in on-site usage, but online usage has always been on the increase,” Nicholas Graham, president of the Library and Information Association of Jamaica and deputy director of the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week.

“Right now, we have persons from as far from Australia who are utilising information, getting information from our website in terms of the resources we have available through that portal. So I think we have to understand that while the library serves persons on site, we also have an online audience that is ever increasing so that cannot be discounted.”

Global reach

He emphasised that local libraries are now able to reach far more persons globally with the push to make more resources available online as opposed to “in the past, [when] persons literally had to walk in in order to access the facilities”.

Graham said that the NLJ’s rich archives are a great pull factor for foreigners seeking to do research on the country.

“Just to give a little synopsis of NLJ. The NLJ is Jamaica’s library really, so anything at all that has been published in Jamaica, once it’s published in Jamaica, the NLJ would have that resource,” he said.

The Jamaica Archives and Records Department, which also facilitates the archiving of unpublished information, is also highly sought after by foreign nationals.

Its director, Claudette Thomas, said: “Individuals need to get access to information, which is primary information or research, and we have the researchers coming. They come in seeking all information as it relates to the history or enslavement.”

Providing a service

She said that a number of persons, including the current International Association of Athletics Federations president, have also travelled to Jamaica to shoot films inside the archives.

“We had Sebastian Coe visiting and they did a filming right inside the archives,” she said. “So we provide a service. You can come use it as a location to do shoots and also we have historical information the world needs.”

Thomas said the offshore visitors are mainly from Australia, Africa, Canada, and the United States.

“They visit because that’s the only location you can get historical information, so they will look at information on the Panama Canal. We have individuals who come and research ... indentureship within Jamaica and how they (slaves and indentured labourers) came. The information is nowhere else, but we have it. Plantation records, we give that type of research support at the archives because it is unique,” she boasted.

David Drysdale, the university librarian at the University of Technology, Jamaica, also sought to put to rest what they deem fallacies that local library services and archives will soon become extinct.

He emphasised that the modern library is no longer just a building bound by walls as it was in the past.

Next week, October 27-November 2, will be celebrated as Library and Information Week, under the theme ‘Celebrating the Past and Influencing the Future’.