Caribbean archives under threat: Grenada
Unbeknownst to almost any Grenadian a submission was put to Unesco for funding towards the further “Digitizing and Preservation of Grenada’s National Archives” and in July of 2014 Unesco approved a tiny sum of US$22,000.
Back in June 2012, a year after Grenada’s National Archive official closure (though it hadn’t functioned since 2004), a group in Reading (UK) known as the “Diasporic Literary Archives Network” (diasporicarchives.com), headed by Alison Donnell (Professor at the University of Reading), held a two-day opening Workshop on the “Questions of Location, Ownership and Interpretation“. At this workshop a presentation was given by Merle Collins and Alison Donnell which bought a good deal of attention to the situation of archives caught up in problems of a material and political nature, such as Grenada’s not having at the moment an accessible building for its archive.
The group continued discussions about how best to work with and support local initiatives to improve library and archival facilities in Grenada. On behalf of the Network, David Sutton sent an expression of support that was warmly received by Minister Franka Alexis-Bernardine.
At the same time Merle Collins announced the establishment of a not-for-profit organization called Grenada Libraries, Archives and other Heritage Support Group (GrenLib), that could raise awareness and funds in the diaspora. Articles have been drawn up with signatories in Grenada, New York and Washington. An inaugural fundraising event, Grenada Cultural Extravaganza, was held in New York in November 2013.
A “Grenada Library and Archives Committee”, organized from within Grenada, was purportedly established with both Merle Collins and Alison Donnell as members with one meeting to date. Ms Collins talked to her international Grenada diaspora organization which has members from Canada, the U.K. and various parts of the U.S.A, and Grenada’s Diaspora Office.
Follow-up work took place at the Caribbean Studies Association 38th Annual Conference in Grenada in June 2013, were Lillian Sylvester (Director of Libraries, Grenada Library Services), Collins and Donnell presented a panel on “Valuing the past: libraries, archives and the ‘development’ of literary culture in the Anglophone Caribbean” which focused special attention on Grenada.
Two years later, in 2014, Glenlib held their first annual “Diaspora Give-Back Fundraising Event” at the University of Maryland with the Friends of Grenada Library, Archives and other Heritage Committees.
In September that year another Workshop was held in which Cheryl Sylvester (Faculty Librarian at St George’s University) highlighted the situation in Grenada:
“…it is not just a shortage of professional expertise that prevents full exploitation of archival material, but the fundamental absence of a building suitable for housing a national library and archives since the damage caused by the hurricane of 2004. A transnational campaign to replace the former Public Library, supported by the Friends of Grenada Library, Archives and other Heritage Committee (GRENLIB), is attempting to fundraise for a new building, but for Sylvester, a higher level of government commitment is required if the building is ever to become a reality.”
“Whilst there remains no national archive building in Grenada important holdings remain at risk of being lost, stored in inadequate conditions and liable to environmental degradation.”
Further, at the Society of American Archivists’ August 2014 Issues & Advocacy Roundtable (IART), Ms Sylvester discussed the “Threat to national archives and library in Grenada” and reported:
- Since 2011, the library/archives building has been closed, with the collection stuck inside, and the collection (including records of the 1983 American invasion) is at risk
- Library building was already in a state of disrepair when Hurricane Ivan did further damage in 2004; archives on top floor was damaged (shelves are being eaten away by termites)
- In the meantime, political supporters of the library lost power
- The previous Minister of Education sought several alternative locations, didn’t work out because of internal wranglings
- There’s been a change in government, but the situation remains the same
- Director of Libraries role is uncertain – unclear whether the government still considers the role to be active
- A request to the SAA that they consider joining other international information
professional organizations (ICA, Association of Caribbean Academic Libraries, etc.) in writing to the Minister of Education, who has responsibility for libraries and archives
- Other advocacy efforts related to this issue:
- last year, a paper was presented at the CARBICA conference about archives that need attention
- In March 2014 a paper was written on the state of archives in Grenada
- Next steps: Sarah Quigley said I&A would be glad to draft a letter and send it to our SAA Council Rep (and the appropriate SAA committees), remembering the SAA had already donated through CARBICA US$1,000 back in March 2005 to the Grenada Archives Mission.
In its 2015 mandate on “Caribbean archives in the Caribbean: a new future” Alison Donnell (DLAN), said the group is committed to finding ways of sustaining and supporting this work into the future. The Network expects also to continue its solidarity work with archivists in Grenada in 2015 and beyond.
In January 2015 at the “Politics of Location” workshop held at Yale, Helena Leonce (Trinidad Archivist) gave an update in which she stated “The Caribbean region has embarked on a number of digital initiatives, in an attempt to keep abreast with the technological advances that are taking place in the world. Plans to digitize literary archival material have also been given great consideration.”
The DLAN’s principal investigator (and Director of Research Projects in the University of Reading Library since 1982), David Sutton, reiterated what Cheryl Sylvester had told him about the situation of Grenada’s National Archives:
“A digitization project has been started which is on-going. This project was initiated by the UNESCO Secretariat through IFAP. The aim is to digitize old records at the library.
- Government gazettes from 1880’s to 1920 are completed;
- West indian chronicle 1880’s to 1890’s with gaps;
- Blue books 1900’s & colonial letter registers from 1800’s begun.
Also an attempt was made with the Alister Hughes newsletters and the revolutionary documents at the fort were nominated for Unesco ‘Memory of the World’ registers but this clearly failed because the newsletter had already been digitized on DLOC (Library of Congress website) and so is therefore no longer under threat.
The Revolutionary documents have to be cleaned and inventoried so that proper documentation can be carried out to enable their digitization.“
However Cheryl Sylvester completely overlooked the US$60,000 work that Dr Laurence Brown team from University of Manchester had initiated in 2010 with the help of “Endangered Archives Project” of The British Library and completed in February 2014 which had 2500 pages of twelve volumes digitized material at the Supreme Court Registry (from 132 identified).