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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 30, 2024


Jan. 7, 2002 – If you're looking for something to do on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evening on St. Thomas, there's a new option: Go to the library.
Maybe to do some reading, or to choose some materials to check out and take home. Or maybe, for an hour, to practice your non-native language skills — or help others practice theirs — in Spanish or English.
You can even take in an art exhibit. A collection of black and white images of calypsonians and local jazz artists by St. Thomas photographer Ej — Eric Johnson– is hanging through the end of January.
The art show has been up since mid-December, but it's starting Tuesday that the Enid M. Baa Library in Charlotte Amalie is keeping the doors of its adult section on the second floor open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. three days of the week and offering "Bilingual Evenings" from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. those days.
Library hours on Mondays and Fridays remain 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Children's Room on the street level continues to be open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for the Children's Reading Program.
Behind the expanded hours and extended service are two librarians — something the library and its supervisory Division of Libraries office within the Planning and Natural Resources Department have not had for a while.
Sharlene Harris, who became the territory's director of libraries last fall, says one of her first concerns was that, without a librarian for several years, "Baa had been barely hanging on." But with Harris aboard and Diane Moody joining her as the new Baa librarian, things were soon to change.
Harris said then that her short-term goal, "made easier by fact that Ms. Moody is there," would be getting Baa "to a level where we can open our arms out to the public and say 'We are here. Please come.'"
The St. Thomas library now is in the process of hiring an additional part-time librarian. Meantime, professional and technical staff will cover on a rotating basis so that a librarian and a library technician will be on duty each evening, Harris says.
While each of the territory's public libraries has one full-time degreed librarian, "that is not nearly enough," she says, and all are understaffed in general. She has "concerns about staffing, books, hours, everything," but on the positive side all of the libraries have Internet service available to the public, she notes.
Despite the challenges, Harris has "high hopes for our libraries," while recognizing that "we have to be able to provide quality library service for the Virgin Islands community."
It's not about cheese
Not long ago, Harris read the 1999 bestseller "Who Moved My Cheese?" after happening upon a copy that someone had donated to the Baa library. After finishing the motivational book by a medical doctor about how to deal with change successfully, she asked her whole staff to "find time to read it." The book's bottom line, she says, is that "change is going to come; you either work to anticipate it, or fight it."
She wants to put the "service" back in "public service" — the library term for what used to be called "circulation," that is, the part of the library the public sees and uses. And she wants the community to revisit what the "public" part means, too. Some parents who send their children to the library after school see the "public" service as babysitting, she notes.
Harris came to the director's position after five years as a librarian at the University of the Virgin Islands. A graduate of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School, she holds a bachelor's degree in library science from Ohio Dominican College and a master's in the field from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
As an undergraduate, she interned with the Online Computer Library Center in Ohio. While working on her master's, she interned the summer of 1995 at the various public libraries in the Virgin Islands, then wrote her thesis on the marketing and management of the Elaine Ione Sprauve Library on St. John.
What she found unique about the St. John library was that it "was functioning with a strong 'Friends' group — it still has a strong 'Friends' group. And because of that it was able to function without the government support that was not available."
In the last year, she notes, the Friends group for the Baa Library has been revitalized. Moody was a major mover in that effort, and the group even changed its name to Friends of St. Thomas Public Libraries to emphasize its advocacy for a second, mid-island or East End public library on St. Thomas — something Harris says would be "perfect." On St. Croix, the Florence Williams Library also has a good Friends support group, she says.
Moody, who started work the day after Labor Day, speaks enthusiastically about hundreds of books newly available to library patrons under a rent-a-book system, the rental being to libraries, not individual readers. Through the newly accessed program, "We probably have 400 or 500 special fiction and non-fiction books," she says.
With degrees in library science and secondary education, Moody came to the Baa post having been librarian at Antilles School for the previous four years. Her experience includes 13 years in social services and 11 years as school librarian on the mainland.
Ingles spoken here; se habla Spanish, too
The new "Bilingual Evenings at Baa" program, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., will be offered Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the Main Reading Room.
Forget "No talking in the library!" for this initiative. Conversation is what it's all about. "Spanish speakers wishing to improve their English language skills and English speakers wanting to improve their Spanish language skills will join in conversation about language, food, culture, history and other topics," Harris says. "Working in groups of two, participants will help each other improve their pronunciation, learn new vocabulary and idioms, and foster appreciation of their native languages and cultures."
The format will be Spanish-only spoken for 30 minutes, followed by English-only for 30 minutes. Harris notes that the library "does have a small collection" of books in Spanish.
For the program, which initially has been scheduled through March, the library has a number of people signed up who want to brush up on their non-native Spanish. Native and otherwise fluent speakers of Spanish are encouraged to join in so they can be paired with those wanting to converse en espanol. Harris is hoping people who want to improve their English will take advantage of the opportunity, too.
From decades ago into the 1980s, the Baa library was open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with community members who had "day jobs" staffing it in the evenings and on weekends. So, "it's now getting back to where it used to be," one longtime library user notes. Harris says she wants people to "come in, visit us, make suggestions, requests, and volunteer to help us."
The Baa Friends group, which started the Saturday Children's Reading Program last year, is looking to expand its outreach this year through such projects as after-school programs to serve the children who come to the library, a "books for infants" program at Roy L. Schneider Hospital, and a "community empowerment" conference.
Harris says it is her hope that the Division of Libraries will "take the libraries to the community, where they belong. We plan to institute programs and activities encouraging the members of our community to visit and support the local libraries. Not just the Baa Public Library on St. Thomas but the Williams Public, Petersen Public, Sunny Isle Kiosk and Regional Library
for the Blind and Physically Handicapped on St. Croix, and the Sprauve Library on St. John.
"We have a lot to offer and are always in search of new ways to better serve the public."
For more information about Baa Library offerings, call librarian Diane Moody at 774-0630 or send her an e-mail message by clicking here.

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