When speaking about her troubled childhood, the great African-American poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “Each time I went to the library, I felt safe. No bad thing can happen to you in the library. You can’t be talked down to, belittled, or humiliated in a library. When it looked like the sun wasn’t gonna shine any more, God put a rainbow in the clouds. A library is a rainbow in the cloud.”
Today, in the Virgin Islands, our public education system finds itself in one of the most challenging times in recent memory. After suffering through the punishment of the 2017 hurricanes, the move to temporary classrooms, the years of Covid quarantine and remote learning, our educational outcomes have suffered mightily. Add to that a loss of professional educational staff and deteriorating classrooms, and we have all of the ingredients for a failed educational system.
The public libraries of the USVI could and should be at the top of every priority list for the recovery efforts relating to education. As Maya Angelou recounted, the libraries of her youth were a safe haven from the turmoil of her childhood. Our public libraries must be open, staffed, and welcoming for readers of all ages. And we are failing miserably to achieve this simple goal.
Here on St John the Elaine Sprauve Library has been shuttered since September 2019 and despite many promises of reopening dates, including a photo-op “ribbon cutting ceremony” in June 2023, the library remains closed. Imagine going through your entire elementary school years without once being able to experience the encompassing warmth of a public library. It is beyond sad, and a tragic testimony to the misplaced priorities of our elected officials.
We can build horse racing tracks faster than we can reopen a library. We can organize large-scale week long carnivals faster than we can reopen a library. Something is amiss.
This week we learned that the Charles W. Turnbull Library in St Thomas will be closing until sometime in 2024 for repairs. The Enid M. Baa public library in St Thomas has been closed since 2012. There are literally no public libraries open in the St Thomas-St John District.
As Maya Angelou so perfectly said, “a library is a rainbow in the cloud.” Like the rainbow, the library is a promise for a brighter tomorrow, filled with learning, discovery, safety, comfort, privacy, and endless opportunity.
We can do better, and we must, for the sake of the children of the Virgin Islands.
— David Silverman, Coral Bay, St John