Saturday, February 24, 2018

Library or court: let Chaguanas decide

express editorial8

Donstan Bonn

 Chaguanas, now on the frontier of development into city status, also finds itself the setting for a rhetorical shoot-out between those championing the cause of a public library and others, including local and national officials, citing the higher urgency of a courthouse facility. It is a conflict that, with suitable planning and projection, should never have had cause to happen.

Unhappily, however, in today’s context of runaway crime and foot-dragging judicial processes, it goes without saying that all aspects of law enforcement assume a higher profile in public reckoning. Chaguanas, burgeoning into a city, and a T&T, far from starved of financial resources, should not need to choose between having adequate library facilities and an upgraded judicial complex.

But such are the stakes in the battle being waged in letters to the editor and other public fora over dedication of the same property. Earmarked for a library, and purpose-designed to that end, the building nearing completion answers a need going back over 17 years, the Library Association of T&T argued. The association cites 60 years of “community activism” on behalf of readers and learners, present and potential, in and around Chaguanas, and the establishment in T&T of public libraries going back to 1851.

Chaguanas has made do with a less-than-desirable public library facility at a local shopping mall.  The disappointment is keen among library supporters, now that the national government, supported by the local government,  committed to the repurposing of the building for a judicial facility, have shown little sign of budging. 

Identified with academics, library professionals, and others engaged with education and learning, a revolt is underway. “The Library Association does not support the view that one social service should be compromised to accommodate another,” it said last month.

It seems that the issue must be decided on the basis of which need—for law enforcement or for learning—is the more urgent. Even so, that does not make for an open-and-shut case. Ordinary Chaguanas citizens, readers and others, should be engaged in the debate of library versus courthouse.

The Chaguanas Borough Corporation and business supporters are keen to convert the new facilities into courthouse accommodation. For this, of course, in crime-ridden and courthouse-deficient T&T today, a case can persuasively be made.

Meanwhile, library backers argue, optimistically, that “if more people were making use of libraries, there would be a reduced demand for courthouses.”  They cite a Partnership Government rationale from 2011 that “libraries level the playing field by making access to information resources and technology available to all, regardless of income, class and background.”

The Chaguanas city-in-the-making can do with both advanced library and suitable court facilities. Since both are no doubt within the realm of affordability, all concerned in Chaguanas and in T&T must weigh in on which facility must come first, and which soonest thereafter.