George Town Library’s (GTL) front is designated a “building of historic interest” and is bordered by towering palms and foliage. Across from a peace memorial and plaza with tropical trees, a fountain and a bronze sculpture of a dinghy, it’s set in a verdant locale near the law courts and Truman Bodden Law School. The white stucco and timber edifice has been closed since 2009 when the sleek three story steel structure attached to its rear opened, but it’s scheduled to reopen quite soon.
A cobbled walk leads to the entry where the elevator whisked me up to Director Ramona Melody’s spiffy third floor office.
We chatted for a while and I was surprised to learn she’s a Nebraskan by birth but has lived in Grand Cayman for 20 years. At GTL since 2013, she’s in charge of the six locations (one even has a boat in the middle of it!) that comprise the Cayman Islands Public Libraries Service (CIPLS). Five branches benefit Grand Cayman’s 53,000 or so citizens, but the sixth is about 90 miles away on Cayman Brac which has, along with its close neighbor, Little Cayman, some 3000 residents (the latter just has a book exchange not managed by them). All have been renovated fairly recently and their collections updated to make them more appealing to patrons.
Ramona showed me around this level where a conference room seats 35.
She told me the eighteen employees are wonderful – very easy to work with and such nice people. Five of them are having the tuition at Cayman Islands Civil Service College paid for by the government and will get associate’s degrees in public administration specializing in libraries. Some schools have no librarians on staff so, in addition to their in-house tasks, CIPLS personnel help them out.
They’re switching things around a bit. A stunning curved desk has already been installed in anticipation of reference coming up here and many of the titles can be checked out.
It’s very attractive with veneer planks and a lovely arched meeting spot where light streams in from high windows and a lamp dangles from a burnished oak crossbeam.
So we could get into some of the locked zones, Ramona called up Mr. Stanley, the security guard. From sultry Goa in India, he ensures customers have cards (minors don’t need them if unaccompanied by a guardian). Membership is $5 per year and under 18’s get cards for free. You can take out ten items at once and the courier between premises means things can be returned anywhere.
The juvenile sector closes at five so workers have a chance to make sure no children are left behind at the six o’clock closing time – a very good idea as I remember staying late on several nights with forgotten tots anxiously expecting parents.
While the place is beautiful, I’d love to see the old section when it’s finished. Construction crews were putting in carpet tiles, but we got a chance to poke around. The ceiling is just marvelous! Shipwright Captain Rayal Bodden was the architect and he designed the roof so you’re looking up at a ship’s hull instead of walking on it. The ends of the hammer beams are adorned by shields of important United Kingdom learning institutions. It’s really sturdy and they’ve had no problems since it was finished in 1939, though boards have been replaced occasionally.
Service started here in 1920 with an annual government funded budget of 40 pounds for a subscription library. Originally it was in a room above the old jail, but by 1937 work started on a larger facility. When the doors opened in 1940, it was heavily stocked with materials from England’s Ranfurly Library. Lady Ranfurly, the colonial governor’s spouse, also sought out used volumes from far and wide to send to the literature starved British Overseas Territory. In 1980 CIPLS got its first trained librarian manager.
Ramona’s mission is to have a solid succession plan and open the new (old) room which in her vision will turn the establishment into even more of a cultural center with local authors, exhibits on the Caymans, tourist information and histories where visitors can find out about the island’s fascinating past. It’s amazing how many wordsmiths have called the Caymans home – nearly 100 authors live here now and Ramona sets aside money to promote local history and writing. She’s received some one of a kind donations of older books from natives, but ideally CIPLS will carry six copies of each title.
The public was solicited for suggestions and opinions about what they wanted for the space and to fill in details and tell stories about the old library. Once done, it’ll be perfect for adults who want to read or study quietly.
I met more of the team downstairs by this polished granite counter. Mikhail, who has a bachelor’s in English, started in 2013 and showed me the rest of the place. He informed me that many expatriates live here and that they have DVDs, CDs, audiobooks and a wide assortment of items on the Caymans. I saw spaces for new books, biographies and oversize titles as well as appealing lavender carts, a bulletin board with CIPLS notices and business flyers, and a wire rack holding brochures about safety and legal rights.
Huge portholes allow views onto the street outside.
Ramona mentioned the Friends of the Library group is helping with the renovation and she’s hoping to be able to do some great stuff with a teen area.
The government supports them well and CIPLS recently acquired a smart computer table for juniors. Kids can compete in a poster contest where winners get a Kindle as a prize in an awards ceremony. The entries will be exhibited throughout the first two floors of GTL.
Hardy blond furniture in Children’s can take a lot of wear and tear. A colorful strip featuring flags of the world is under cutout multi-hued hearts and a little map surrounded by nationally costumed ethnic figures. Short rows contain easy and picture books.
There’s a small selection of Spanish titles for all ages plus YA materials and juvenile reference. Youngsters participate in the summer reading program and a spring fair where you can share your favorite read through a storyboard and dress up like one of the character while presenting.
Weekdays between three and five, adults are encouraged to go upstairs to leave their eight internet stations free for students, as there are only four more in youth. Plus people can still plug into the ether via laptop or wifi.
Shiny cable and chrome railings are on the steps leading up to Adult’s on the second story where cushy pale green chairs and couches and well lit shelves invite you to escape the sun and relax with a good read. Books with green crosses indicate religious content.
Helpful Deanna sits with the blue volumes full of island gazettes and local magazines from the seventies behind the information services desk.
So the individual facilities each have their own page, Ramona is redoing the website. The system offers Ebsco ebooks and articles, Libratech online technology training for skill sets ranging from newbies to advanced, SIRS Discover database for K-12 and SIRS Issues Researcher for older learners.
Just two blocks from the rocky harbor GTL is easily accessible from the quaint downtown.
What a blessing to the affable inhabitants of this exquisite region!