Butterfly shaped Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands has close to half a million people and is the biggest EU territory in North America. An “overseas region and department of France” they speak French and Antillean Creole and offer a fascinating mélange of two cultures.
We stayed near Deshaies on the western wing where spectacular beaches fringe the shore and inland, the rainforest and an active volcano define the mountainous topography.
Torturously twisted roads cling to the coast turning short distances into long drives, so luckily Guadeloupe has around six public libraries spread across the island and the bibliothèque municipal de Deshaies (BMD), was just 4 kilometers away.
A blue sign downtown on the main drag announced the library, an intriguing two story structure with three facades of floor to ceiling windows topped by setting suns. Walking passed this solemn statue and an aquamarine spiral fire escape, I admired the lush tropical trees and bushes and the radiant blooms spilling out of a wood plank flowerbed surrounding a tall palm. Big burrowing crabs scurried back into their holes as the roosters and I made our way through the parking lot to the entry in back.
A tiled tier took me into the building where I was greeted by three staffers at the circulation desk.
As you’d expect, none of them spoke English and I must confess that my college French has suffered while learning Spanish for the last eleven years. Since the dialect here is liberally spiced with Creole, my comprehension was negligible and speaking the language got me nowhere, so much of this post is speculation. I’m not even sure that all three women work at BMD, though there was one computer downstairs and two upstairs…
I can confirm they have air conditioning (a must to protect books from humidity) and a storytime twice a month. The village’s Facebook page includes invitations to BMD activities like Parents Café where you can chat with a psychologist about giving your child the tools to succeed in school.
Unfortunately other programs on FB having to do with youth and sports and games and animation are evidently too much for Google’s translator, but they sound like a lot of fun.
Along with the books arranged on spiffy red and yellow wire racks, kids’ have a selection of comics and graphic novels to choose from.
It’s a cheery space, with lots of light and everything has a French West Indies flair. Birds of paradise sprout from an upended log under a straw hat and orchid loaded branches adorn the many fuchsia and yellow posterboards honoring des femmes Caribeennes and other female role models.
Little driftwood easels and a music stand are original ways to highlight recommended titles.
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, waving fronds filled my field of vision.
I didn’t find any evidence of wifi or public computers up here, and the websites for all of the Guadeloupe public libraries are quite brief, but it’s possible that at least some residents have access to digital resources through LAMECA, which is headquartered in the capitol and has downloadable books, movies and music for its subscribers as well as Caribbean themed dossiers, articles, exhibitions and images.
A large room with a piano, stacked seating, and a screen provide a great place for town happenings. Facebook mentioned a talk by a local historian and coaching and information sessions on topics like property taxes and your health.
A cozy alcove beckons readers…
…and has a great view of the harbor, as do the porthole windows scattered about.
In the reference area, you can browse a number of volumes on the region’s history.
And vertical venetian blinds help the HVAC keep things cool.
Despite the lack of audiovisual materials at BMD, other public libraries on the island seem to carry CDs, CD Roms and DVDs as their names include the word “médiathéque” and at least one of the websites gives loan limits for AV items. Unfortunately, my initial, admittedly cursory, search led me to concentrate my efforts on a bigger institution, but I was never able to get permission to take photographs there from the top brass 😦
Back outside the front door I noticed a tent set up for an upcoming annual event. The Terra Festival is a competition in conjunction with the national park that celebrates cinema and the ecosystem – there are categories for long and short films and a “minute for the environment” as well.
Libraries and the natural world are inextricably linked in this magical land.