Letter of the Day | Allocate more to fix nation’s libraries
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA) welcomes the news that the Government of Jamaica will be allocating $169 million for the repairs of libraries across several parishes, to include the Kingston & St Andrew (KSA) and Westmoreland parish libraries. Whilst this is great news, we lament the state to which our facilities in the Jamaica Library Service (JLS) have been allowed to deteriorate.
The JLS plays a critical role in educational pursuits of Jamaicans of all ages and social demographics. However, like in most cases, we as a country have failed to maintain this service to even a fraction of the standard to which it should be kept. A recent visit by the JCSA to several of these facilities across the island has shown us the underbelly of the beast – and it is not pretty.
The JLS network consists of 116 locations islandwide, with over 700 members of staff serving the needs of schools and communities across the island. Most, if not all, of these locations are in a serious state of disrepair due to lack of adequate budgetary provision to maintain the facilities, the material and equipment under the stewardship of the JLS management and staff.
The $169 million is inadequate to fix the issues we have so far unearthed. The JCSA’s own estimate is that it will take at least $100 million to treat with the issues at the KSA Parish Library alone, which requires extensive repairs to roofing, electrical system, flooring, mould remediation, cooling and ventilation, furniture, etc.
The Westmoreland Parish Library is in need of similar works, and our further estimate puts the total cost to deal with the immediate repair needs of the JLS to around $500 million in this upcoming year alone.
We are in the budget season and we have seen the wasted resources of the Ministry of Education, as alleged in the ongoing MOE/CMU saga, as an indictment that must be addressed post-haste. To run our library network properly, the JLS needs a budget of around $3 billion spread across recurrent and capital expenditure.
The current structure of the JLS is not in keeping with a modern library service. There needs to be an organisation needs to be placed within the purview of the Public Sector Transformation Implementation Unit to reorganise our library services to make it more efficient and effective, and to review its governance structure to make it an executive-type agency, with the appropriate funding and government support to be the learning, research and information hub for all citizens across the island.
Finally, we the JCSA salute the men and women of the Jamaica Library Service who have been doing quite a lot with very little. The conditions under which they work is, quite frankly, horrible; and to further compound the issue, they are the lowest-paid grouping in the public sector, so much so that they have a very high rate of staff leaving the library service for better-paying jobs in the public sector.
Whilst we look at improving our educational institutions by building and improving on schools at the primary and secondary levels, let us not forget the Jamaica Library Service and its ability to contribute to the citizenry of this country and beyond.
O’Neil W. Grant, MBA
Jamaica Civil Service Association