The Library of Congress and the government of the Virgin Islands have announced the creation of the Virgin Islands Center for the Book, the first Center for the Book affiliate in the U.S. territories.
A preliminary announcement was made on April 16 by Virgin Islands Gov. John P. deJongh Jr. during a National Library Week reception honoring Center for the Book Director John Y. Cole at Government House in St. Croix.
“This exciting development presents the Center for the Book with new reading-promotion opportunities and perspectives,” said Cole. “The Virgin Islands has a rich historical tradition that includes French, Dutch, Danish and—since 1917—U.S. influences. The center will become part of a national network that includes affiliates in every state and the District of Columbia.”
The Virgin Islands Center for the Book brings to 52 the number of affiliated Centers for the Book. Members work with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, as well as independently, to promote the literary heritage of their region and the importance of reading.
Ingrid Bough, the principal organizer of the new center and territorial director of Libraries, Archives and Museums, said that one of the first projects to be presented to the planning committee for the Virgin Islands Center for the Book will be the launch of a Virgin Islands Book Festival. The stimulus for the local festival is the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., where for the past four years she has coordinated the representation of the U.S. territories in the Pavilion of the States. In response to a question about the projected festival, she said she hoped it would “become an annual event hosted by the center in rotating years on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John.”
Bough elaborated on the governor’s statement that the Virgin Islands center would someday have its own building, one located in the historic area in Frederiksted, St. Croix. “It will be built on the site of the Farrelly Family House, the birthplace of Alexander A. Farrelly, the fourth elected governor of the Virgin Islands (1987-1995) and a revered figure in the history of our territory. However, until the construction is completed, the Florence Williams Public Library in Christiansted will serve as its host institution.”
Two days before the announcement, on April 14 at Government House in St. Thomas, Cole and Center for the Book Program Specialist Anne Boni met with Bough, deJongh and Robert S. Mathese, the commissioner of planning and natural resources, to discuss the new center for the book initiative.
On April 15, Cole and Boni joined Bough and deJongh at the Bureau of Corrections Golden Grove facility in the middle of St. Croix to launch the new “Beyond the Walls Thru a Bookmobile” pilot program. The bookmobile program, administered by the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, introduces inmate participants to library resources to promote reading, literacy, self-help and lifelong learning. Inmates received library cards and a bookmobile orientation, and they were able to check out books. Bough and Cole joined Gov. deJongh and Bureau of Corrections officials in introducing the program.
Accompanied by Donald G. Cole, assistant director of the division, and library consultant Claudette Lewis, Cole and Boni took the ferry to St. John to visit the Elaine L. Sprauve Public Library, which is undergoing renovation. There they met with branch librarian Carol McGuiness, who had been one of the representatives at the Virgin Islands table in the Pavilion of the States at the 2008 National Book Festival. On their return to St. Thomas, they visited the construction site of the new public library and records center, a $15 million project expected to be completed by July 2010. The day ended with a seaplane flight to St. Croix and a visit to the Florence Williams Public Library in Christiansted.
On April 16, Bough, Cole and Boni drove to Frederiksted to visit the site of the Farrelly Family House, the future home of the Virgin Islands Center for the Book, and the Athalie McFarlane Peterson Public Library. On the way back to Christiansted, they met with staff members at the Virgin Islands Regional Library for the Blind and Handicapped, an affiliate of the Library of Congress’s National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Prior to the concluding reception at Government House, they visited Point Udall, the easternmost point in the United States. Named for Stuart Udall, former U.S. representative (1955-1961) and secretary of the interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (1961-1969), that site was an appropriate reminder of the strong ties between the Virgin Islands and the United States that will be enhanced by the Virgin Islands Center for the Book.