March 14, 2002 – Anyone who is interested in learning about plans to build a second public library on the eastern half of St. Thomas needs only to drop by Tillett Gardens Saturday between 3 and 5 p.m. to find out all there is to know about the topic — and perhaps be enlisted into the cause.
The Friends of the St. Thomas Public Libraries is setting up shop in the arts complex to try to rally support for getting plans for a Tutu area library that have been around for decades off the drawing board and onto a construction site.
In the 1980s, the government laid preliminary plans to build a second St. Thomas library on the site of historic ruins behind Tillett Gardens and the V.I. Telephone Corp. facility across from Four Winds Plaza. In the early '90s, when Tutu Park Ltd. sought Industrial Development Commission tax benefits to develop Tutu Park Mall, it pledged to provide library space in its plans. Last year, 10 years after being approved as an IDC beneficiary, it applied for a renewal of benefits, pledging to build a library across from the Plaza Extra supermarket. The application is pending before the Economic Development Commission.
St. Thomas architect John Woods will be on hand Saturday with his preliminary plans for the library. Nadine Marchena, assistant executive director of the Economic Development Authority, will "tell us what needs to be done to get it started," Friends activist Carol Lotz said.
The overall objective of the afternoon, Lotz said, is to "find out what needs to be done to get the project moving — and what's holding it up."
And because "libraries are the information centers for the community," she said, the group has invited representatives of numerous community organizations to set up their own displays in the arts complex to promote their programs and activities, too.
Founded as The Friends of the Enid M. Baa Library, the not-for-profit organization has been around for many years. But during the last year and a half it has become increasingly active, changing its name to The Friends of the St. Thomas Public Libraries to reflect its commitment to the building of a second facility.
One of its first high-profile projects was the Saturday morning Children's Reading Program inaugurated at Baa Library last spring, when the library didn't have regular Saturday hours. (It is open Saturdays now; see the story "Books are just the beginning at the Baa".)
In June, the Friends hosted an open house for the Baa to show off renovations allowing access to more archival materials in the closed stacks of the Von Scholten Collection. Friends members have spoken to civic and teacher groups. Recently, the group received a grant from the V.I. Community Foundation for a "Speak Up-Speak Out" program of outreach for language development that will serve youngsters in Health Department pediatric clinics.
"This is one of our outreach programs trying to take the library out to the community that can't get into Baa," Lotz said. "It's the idea of Candace Grant, a speech teacher. The money will provide for activity kits containing books, games, crafts and so on with different themes, to be packaged in sturdy containers and taken to the pediatric clinics." Essentially, she said, the kits will provide something positive for "children who are bored waiting" to do.
Assisting with the program, Lotz said, will be volunteers, "seniors for the most part, trained by Candace. The whole idea is to develop language skills with the children under the watchful parents."
Meanwhile, Friends volunteers continue to help with the Saturday children's program and are serving as trainers in a program called "Mother Goose Asks Why?" that is for parents and grandparents of youngsters 3 to 7 years old "who want to have fun reading with their children and teaching them some science concepts."
All of this outreach, combined with the hiring last September of Baa librarian Diane Moody, has had a positive payback, according to Lotz. From January to May of last year, there were 156 applications for new library cards, she said. And from last June to this January, there were 575 — 96 of them in January alone.


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