The heroic, historic role of the National Library

Monday, June 18, 2018

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Most Jamaicans can be forgiven for knowing next to nothing about the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ).

Yet the National Library, formally established in 1979, has the critical task of preserving, conserving and making accessible the nation's heritage in properly documented and recorded formats. It is, in effect, a critical defender of Jamaica's intellectual and cultural lifeblood.

Since migration is central to Jamaican history and culture, the National Library, if it is to be true to its mandate, can't only look inwards; it must also explore and seek to preserve for posterity those overseas ingredients which have added to the Jamaican nation.

Lest we forget, overseas Jamaicans contribute significantly to the local economy through remittances and investments — the latter more especially from older folk who have returned home for the final years of their lives.

It's with all that in mind that this newspaper applauds the move by the NLJ to reach out to the British-based Jamaican community in recognition of their rich contribution to this country and, in this specific case, to its musical heritage.

We are told that a four-member NLJ team comprising Chairman Ms Joyce Douglas; Ms Beverley Lashley, CEO and national librarian; Ms Bernadete Worrell-Johnson, manager, research and information; and librarian Ms Keisha Myers recently met with pioneers of Jamaican music in Britain.

Older Jamaicans with long memories know of the long-running connection between Britain and reggae/rocksteady/ska dating back to the early 1960s. Ms Millie Small's monster hit My Boy Lollipop, which was cut in London back in 1964 comes readily to mind.

We hear that, in the recent meeting in England, singers Ms Liz Mitchell, members of The Cimarrons and The Chosen Few, and musician Mr Lascelles James were among the better known personalities who listened to presentations from the NLJ group.

Artistes, producers and promoters reportedly took with them to the meeting memorabilia including albums, 45 RPMs, dance posters, and books for an exhibition to be mounted by the NLJ in Jamaica and the UK.

Presumably, the links made here will grow and get stronger with time. Obviously, the initiative is long overdue, but it is also true that it is better to be late than never.

We note the pledge by Ms Lashley that “this is just the beginning” and her recognition that, “They (Jamaican musicians and entertainers in England) have worked so hard …and many people (Jamaicans) don't know them. It's important we show what they've done in England and what they continue to do…”

The forward-looking team at the National Library will also be well aware that music is only a part of the picture. That generation of Jamaicans who helped to rebuild Britain following the ravages of World War II made a huge mark in many areas. Their children and grandchildren are continuing that grand design.

We are certain the National Library will not confine itself to Britain, though limited resources will obviously be a major constraint. As much as it's possible the stories of Jamaicans in North America and elsewhere, as well as those (descendants included) who built the Panama Canal and travelled for work to Honduras, Costa Rica, Cuba, et al, dating back to the 19th century, deserve to also be captured.

The glorious reality is that Jamaica extends way beyond its natural geographic boundaries.

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