Walking into the Lefferts Library is like walking into a community center. One man sat in a comfy chair reading the Kaieteur Newspaper while three other men sat around eachother on laptops. A worried mother and daughter on the other end of the library watched anxiously as they looked up sickly looking scabs on Google images. A young girl was being tutored by a college student. The daily activities of the library were all happening amidst a new addition to the community center. Right through the library’s window pane were two new columns of Indo-Caribbean books just waiting there silently as a new part of the library’s daily affairs.
It was an inspiring landmark to have a few letters spelling, “Indo-Caribbean,” an identifiable name, on the top of the wooden book shelves that I grew up checking out books from. Richard S. David, the executive director of Indo Caribbean Alliance a non-profit organization in charge of instituting the Indo-Caribbean collection at Lefferts Library (located at 103-34 Lefferts Blvd), explained to me that the idea for an Indo-Caribbean book collection spawned from a larger identity building project arising from the Census 2010 campaign. For many without an ethnicity box to check, the idea of an Indo-Caribbean book collection would help build a history that could be shared with others.
Underlying the need for Indo-Caribbean recognition and acknowledgment, the Indo-Caribbean collection was also built on an aspect of the community that signified the need for a written history portraying the Indo-Caribbean people’s struggle. David stated,
In our community there’s a lot of space given to cultural performances and a lot of space given to religious, especially Hindu religious activities… A lot of outsiders looking in see Indo-Caribbean culture as a song and dance on stage.
David was careful to note that this is what has built the Indo-Caribbean community to where it is now but that there is a need to develop a different, comprehensive understanding of Indo-Caribbean culture. He hopes the collection will be used not just by Indo-Caribbeans but by everyone.
The process to develop a new section in the library is relatively easy depending on the popularity of the genre and number of attainable books. According to Leslie A. Dann, the Lefferts Library Community Manager, “For some books it is easy, for example romance and urban fiction, to build a collection easily. But for an Indo-Caribbean collection a lot of the books are not readily available and easily located.”
In an interview, David explained the indispensable role of Anita Baksh, an adjunct professor at St. Johns University, who helped compile a list of Indo-Caribbean books and located the literature which was often a hard task because many of the books were not from American publishers. Using websites like Peepal Tree Press and the Indo-Caribbean Studies Association at the University of Warwick in London, the project was able to come into full fruition. However, what proved to be one of the most difficult tasks during the project was funding. Finding donors for each book took the most time according to David and thankfully the Queens Library is matching the donations for the Indo-Caribbean collection until January 31st under a project called “Buy-A-Book” which puts more books on the shelves of local libraries and enables donors to honor the name of yourself or a loved one on a special book plate.
But what proves to be just as interesting as the new Indo-Caribbean book collection is where it is located. As a child I remember being a regular at my neighborhood library. It was always a place to see immigrants, minorities, and young students reading. Although the dynamic of the Lefferts library is a little different. According to Michael Katwaroo, an Activities Assistant at the Lefferts Library for three years, and student at Queens College, “It’s a good thing it’s not quiet.” He explained to me the library has become not just a place to read anymore but to get information. He also stated
A lot of people in this community just came from different countries like Guyana and Trinidad and they’re trying to work as much as they can and provide a stable life for their kids and they [kids] don’t have anything to do once they get out of school because their parents are always at work so they can come to the library.
Leslie A. Dann stated, “A lot of kids and teens feel comfortable here” as she compared her work experience to the Hillcrest Library where she worked for three years and “Teens would get books and leave.”She noted maybe the difference was, “Perhaps because this library has a laptop computer section.”
It is certainly a hope that many Indo-Caribbean teens will checkout some books from the new section to share a piece of their written history but Leslie A. Dann, the Lefferts Library Community Manager stated, “I’d say mostly what I’ve noticed is adults because a lot of the materials are more at that level.” Rightly mentioned, the Indo-Caribbean books are in the adult section of the library.
According to Joanne King, Director of Communications for the Queens Library, the Indo-Caribbean collection is “circulating very well.” She explained to me in libraries such as the Bellerose Library there are sections of nursing books in Malayalam for nurses who work at the nearby Long Island Jewish Hospital and that the new Indo-Caribbean collection will also be “one of the ethnic collections to serve our niche populations.” She also stated there will possibly be another Indo-Caribbean collection at the Richmond Hill library at a later date. According to King, so far this is the only Queens library housing Indo-Caribbean books as a group.
One thing is for sure, the Indo-Caribbean collection has placed a major stepping stone in the formation of a twice-removed history. It will shape the mindsets of first-generation and generations to come of Indo-Caribbeans in NYC. Katwaroo, Lefferts Library Activities Assistant, who is also a first generation Indo-Caribbean youth, couldn’t have said it better. “The new Indo-Caribbean collection is inspirational and inspires people that they can obtain any goal and that nothing is out of reach.”
To donate to the Indo-Caribbean Collection and have your contribution matched until January 31st, click here and you will be directed to Indo-Caribbean Alliance. Be sure to indicate your donation is for the Indo-Caribbean collection.