Spotlight

[Interview] Caribbean Children's Literature: A Library Perspective With Michelle Warren





Our special series of interviews with librarians continues today. Join our editor-in-chief, Summer Edward, as she investigates forward-thinking children's library projects across the Caribbean and the crucial role librarians everywhere play in broadening awareness of Caribbean children's and young adult literature.


Michelle Warren grew up in Windsor Forest, St. David, Grenada and is the Operations Manager at the Grenada Community Library and Resource Centre, previously called the Mt. Zion Public Library. She is an alum of St. Joseph's Convent St. George and holds an Associate Degree in Technology from the T.A Marryshow Community College, and a BSc in e-business from Ashworth College. She formerly worked for CARICOM's Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network and has fifteen years of experience in the field of education and technology. She lives in St. George's, Grenada.


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Summer Edward: First of all, how, why and by whom was the Grenada Community Library conceived?

Michelle Warren: The library was established in 2013 through the efforts of Caribbean and internationally-published author Oonya Kempadoo, the faith-based organization Mt. Zion Full Gospel Revival, and the social-action collective Groundation Grenada. They recognized the urgent need for a public library, as the Grenada National Public Library had been closed since 2011.

The Grenada Community Library building at 7 Lucas Street in St. George's, Grenada. The library's opening hours
are Mon-Fri 10am-6pm and Sat 10am-1pm.

SE: By the end of the first month, the library had 25 members. In 2016, it had over 1,000 members. As of today, where does the membership count stand and has membership been stable?

MW: We now have 2841 members, and yes membership is stable.

SE: You've struggled with securing volunteer participation. Why do you think it's so hard to get people to volunteer at libraries? Also, what are some of the things library volunteers do?

MW: Library volunteering is still new to Grenadians and many don’t understand the benefits. A library volunteer will be trained to carry out some of the duties of a librarian: cataloging; greeting members; assisting members to locate books of interest and/or recommending books to them; returning and loaning books to members; assisting children with reading; and ensuring the library environment remains user-friendly.

SE: In 2013, the library started a new after-school programme for children. What is the goal of the programme and what do children gain from it? Also, what types of creative programmes for children does the library offer?

MW: The goal of the programme is to expose children to learning by using a variety of creative methods that may not be used in a classroom. The classes are structured to reinforce creativity in language, math, reading, critical thinking, science and arts and crafts. The children are able to master various lessons and skills that may be challenging them in school. We offer creative programs that utilize internet research, group games, video documentaries and discussions. We offer chess club, story time, a boys' Kindle book club, arts and crafts activities, and science activities to demonstrate concepts like gravity, evaporation etc.

SE: What is the Grenada Community Library's Children's Library doing to build children's and teens' awareness of the range of literature for young people written by Caribbean authors?

MW: The library keeps an active Facebook page and noticeboard which updates members of our growing collection of books. Recently the library was fortunate to add 1,200 books all written by Caribbean and Caribbean-American authors. This collection was officially launched on March 27th of this year. To further bring awareness to this collection and other literature, the library celebrated World Book Day on April 23 under the theme, “Reading should not be presented to a child as a duty, a chore. It should be a gift.” All of the nation's secondary and primary schools were invited to the library. Some of the Grenadian children's authors who have done events at the library include Richardo Keens Douglas, Sheldon Charles, Fidelia Fisher, Sue Brathwaite, Jemilla Francis, Reena Andrews and Verna Wilkins.

Children busy reading in the Children's Library.

Young patrons hold copies of The Grenada Chocolate Family, The Grenada Community Library’s first publication, a children’s story/coloring book written by library co-founder Ooyna Kempadoo. The book was named BEST IN THE WORLD at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (considered the “Oscars” of Cookbooks).

SE: How are children and teens responding to books by Caribbean children's/YA authors/illustrators or to the authors/illustrators themselves?

MW: They are usually fascinated to see someone ordinary, someone resembling their big sister or mother, someone real who can achieve something creative. I believe they are inspired on the spot, and are motivated to create something equally unique and creative that will represent their own experiences and environment. The books are usually easier to relate to compared to books written by an author of another nationality/race because they can see their own culture/heritage reflected within.

SE: How does one go about building a community of child readers?

MW: First create a space that is safe and child-friendly. Create book clubs for both adults and children, and have parents and community members participate in programmes that encourage reading and creative writing. Collaborate with similar outreach initiatives and schools to continue to motivate children to read, and parents to read with and to their children. It is the reading culture we really need to develop since children mimic parents and elders in society. Children should be encouraged to view reading as both entertaining and educational, and as an adventure.

SE: In 2014, the library employed its first youth librarians. What is the role of a youth librarian and why is it an important role?

MW: The children’s librarian's main role is to administer the Children's Library’s functions which include registering new members, entering and cataloging new books, training volunteers, supervising after-school activities for children and teens, and assisting them with homework and research. This role is important because the children's librarian guides and supports children who are still creating opinions of the world, and creates a space where the child feels equal and comfortable enough to express herself or himself.

SE: In 2015, the library began to digitize its services, becoming the first digitized Grenadian library free and open to the public. What does the digitization of library materials entail and why is it so important?

MW: The digitization of library materials entails the migration of members' information, books and other materials into a centralized computer database system. This significantly decreases the need to have records on paper. This was an important achievement as it signalled the library moving forward and keeping up with other libraries around the world.

SE: How has the library gone about securing patronage? Has that been a struggle?

MW: In an effort to secure patronage, the library has been inviting the private and public sectors to become Partners for Literacy. A Partner usually pledges $1000 for 3 years. This donation goes towards the salary of the children’s librarian. More recently, we have implemented partnership categories: a Bronze Partner EC$1000, a Silver Partner EC$5000 and a Gold Partner EC$10,000. All pledges are for a 3-year period. It is our hope that persons realize the importance of a library in our community. The library, so far, has one patron, Mr. James Bristol, who has given the library its current home.

SE: Why is taking children to the library so important? What role do libraries play in childhood?

MW: Taking a child to the library is an opportunity for their youthful imagination to be fueled by fantasies and dreams, and enriched with knowledge about the real world. The interplay of imagination and knowledge involved in reading makes a direct positive impact on how children will use their minds, skills and talents as they evolve into more independent learners. A library can be seen as an enchanted palace of books and knowledge. To a child, the atmosphere is comforting, quiet, and relaxed. It introduces learning to a child in a way that is very unique.

SE: What needs and challenges does the library currently have? What would you say to someone who might be considering supporting the Grenada Community Library?

MW: There is an urgent need for the library to become sustainable.We are challenged monthly to meet basic operational expenses such as remuneration and utility payments. There is no investment more fulfilling than that of investing in a child’s future. Very often, we see children flourish once given the opportunity to explore the natural talents and skills that they have. The Grenada Community Library provides a haven for them to nourish their minds and travel the world through the pages of a book.

Watch the Grenada's Community Library's fundraising video and head on over to their Go Fund Me page to make a donation.

SE: In terms of working with child and youth readers, what has been one of the most special or rewarding moments you've had so far?

MW: The moment when a child has a “Ah!” moment, when the light enters their eyes, curiosity is developed, and questions are asked. This is the most rewarding thing to witness, and can be repeated every time a child visits the library or reads a book. Children need to know that movies like Harry Potter began with a story, that all of the magic in the world can be found in the books that sit on a library shelf somewhere.


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Next week, the series continues with an interview with Janice Ferdinand, school librarian at the Juanita Gardine Elementary School in St. Croix. Links to all of the interviews in this series will be archived on our website on this page.




About the Interviewer

Summer Edward is the Editor-in-Chief here at Anansesem. Her writing and art have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her home on the web is www.summeredward.com.




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About Anansesem

Anansesem is an online magazine of Caribbean children's and young adult literature by adults and children. We strive to bring you the best in news, reviews and creative content from the world of Caribbean children's publishing.
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