Old Public Library, 1901, vernelle noel, thinking insomniac

Old Public Library in Port of Spain, Trinidad

This is a sketch of the Old Public Library in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the first national library. It was established in 1851 under Lord Harris (Trinidad’s governor from 1846 to 1854) who was instrumental in creating the public library system. In 1902, the library was moved to this site on the corner of Pembroke Street and Knox Street which was in fact a former ‘Government House’ in that it was lived in by Col. Fullerton, one of the commissioners to Trinidad. Constructed of yellow sand bricks, it was built with an arcade on the second story providing shaded passageways for both the upper and lower levels of the library, not to mention allowing cool breezes. The building’s main entrance faces Woodford Square, and the library is now located in the “new” National Library across Woodford Square. Beside the Old Library is City Hall and the Hall of Justice.

Reference: The Angostura Historical Digest of Trinidad & Tobago by Gerard A. Besson

Read more on the history of the Trinidad Public Library below:

The Trinidad Public Library was inaugurated in 1851, and although it was not until the 1940s that it first began to respond formally and directly to the educational needs of children, it was not irrelevant to the development of an educated middle class. The first impact of the library on the schools was indirectly through its usefulness to the small core of studious black and coloured teachers in Port of Spain in the later nineteenth century who taught themselves various subjects beyond the level of their formal schooling. These persons were part of what the librarian in 1890 called the “young men of a most deserving class who come to the rooms upstairs for the purpose of studying and to consult works of reference”. Persons studying locally for any examination not covered by the schools, such as the solicitors’ examination, fell into this category. The public library therefore was, like QRC and CIC, part of the expanding educational facilities of the later nineteenth century.

The fragmentary nature of the library’s history has so far inhibited attempts to understand it sociologically. As an institution having its origins in the Port of Spain Borough Council it might be useful to regard it as a creole creation, despite Lord Harris’s prudent swiftness in putting the stamp of English officialdom upon it by an Ordinance. In its fledgling years Chief Justice George Knox gave it 59 volumes; Alexander Fitzjames, the first coloured lawyer, donated 105 volumes of the Journal of the House of Commons; Thomas Hinde, a coloured spokesman of Port of Spain bequeathed his entire library to the public library.This attribution of a creole character to it does not mean that Englishmen were unconnected with its management, but that the creole intelligentsia of Port of Spain, white and non-white, soon felt committed to its defence. This spirit of creole pride, married to a municipal sense of jurisdiction over and against the encroachments of the central government, appears to have been the key to its survival as an autonomous institution well into the twentieth century, even after a rival central library system was started.

The Young Colonials: A Social History of Education in Trinidad and Tobago, 1834-1939 by Carl C. Campbell

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This work by Vernelle Noel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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