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State of Libraries Appraised at Senate Committee Meeting

June 6, 2006 – Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone declared, "The territory's libraries are back on track," after receiving testimony from library officials at an Education, Youth and Culture Committee meeting held Tuesday on St. Croix.
During the hearing, Claudette Lewis, executive assistant commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, impressed senators by outlining exactly how the $7 million appropriated last year by the Legislature had been spent, giving an update on the status of the new library at Tutu Park and discussing many new initiatives for students that will come online within the next year.
Lewis explained that a large chunk of the funding was spent on computers for libraries across the territory, along with new microfilm equipment, scanners and archive materials for the Enid Baa Library on St. Thomas. Such equipment, she said, would allow various public records and newspapers to be digitally entered into the library's database, and put on CDs or DVDs for the public.
Bookmobiles for St. Thomas and St. Croix were also purchased, she said. Lewis explained that the bookmobiles have space for 2,000 books, are computer ready, and have various other facilities like a bathroom and sink. She said both bookmobiles would arrive in the territory by late October or early November.
Additionally, she said $250,000 has been set aside for purchasing new technology for the libraries, with about $116,000 of that amount earmarked for computers and other equipment at the new library facility on St. Thomas.
Lewis said that an announcement should be forthcoming from Government House about when the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new library would take place.
Wallace Williams, territorial director of libraries, added to Lewis' remarks by outlining various initiatives the Division of Libraries would be undertaking during the coming year – including multiple reading, group and tutorial programs for students.
Among the new programs listed by Williams was a live tutorial service, where students could come to the library after school, log on to the library's Web site and receive direct assistance with their class assignments from a live online tutor.
Williams anticipated this service, offered seven days a week and in Spanish, would be available in the fall.
Rochelle Shells, a librarian at the Baa Library, said a pilot program would be developed over the summer for students interested in joining a gaming club.
"We get a lot of students who like to come in and play card games like 'Yu-Gi-Oh!,'" she said. "And the club would explore the possibility of turning that interest into a career, and would also teach the students how to do things like set up a Web site and prepare a power-point presentation."
A drama club for elementary school students is also in the works, she said.
While senators had few questions for Lewis and other library representatives, they were concerned by testimony given by Patricia Oliver, a librarian with the Education Department, who said that the school libraries on St. Croix have security and structural problems, receive no technical support and are lacking librarians.
"We actually have schools with no librarians," she said. "So we have a room full of books that aren't being utilized."
Oliver said that "99 percent" of the funding given to school libraries comes from federal grant money, which was budgeted at $0 for the 2005-06 school year. However, Oliver would not say whether the library money is tied to the funds currently being withheld by U.S. Education Department.
She did say, however, that the structure of the library system needed to be reorganized. "Right now, if I have a complaint about anything, or have a request, I report to the principal of the school, who, in turn reports to a territorial coordinator. After that, I don't know what happens," Oliver said.
She said that an annual report about the status of the school libraries has been generated for the past 20 years. "But I don't know who reads it, or where it goes after we put it out," she said. "And if someone does read it, what do they do about what's going on? We just don't know."
No representative from the Education Department was present during Tuesday's meeting to respond to Oliver's questions. However, Education Commissioner Noreen Michael submitted correspondence to Malone, the committee's chairman, explaining that she would be available to answer questions at another committee meeting scheduled for June 19.
"We're happy that the territory's libraries are doing so well," Malone said at the end of the meeting. "But of course the missing link here is always the schools."
During the meeting, senators also received testimony from Lena Schulterbrandt, chair of the Board of Career and Technical Education (formerly the Board of Vocational Education), who gave a brief update on the status of vocational education in the territory.
Schulterbrandt also gave testimony on the matter at a similar committee meeting held last month (See "Senators Hear Testimony on Vocational Education Program").
Present at Tuesday's meeting were Sens. Roosevelt C. David, Liston Davis, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Malone, Ronald E. Russell and Usie R. Richards.
Sens. Louis P. Hill and Neville A. James were absent.

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