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A library for the next 50 years

When Willamae Johnson graduated from library school in 1981 from Atlanta University (which has now merged with Clark Atlanta University) she never dreamed she’d one day oversee an edifice as grand as the Harry C. Moore Library, knowing of course, the library facilities her country had to offer.

One year after graduation she joined College of The Bahamas, which at the time had a library that encompassed a mere two small spaces — one housed the offices and had three rooms, and the other was the library proper which encompassed all of the services the library offered from circulation to reference media.

Today, she’s the head librarian of a 60,000 square-foot facility that is able to seat 575 users at any one time.  She’s in charge of a library that has a 24-hour Internet café (the information commons as they call it) where students can have access to the library’s computers and electronic resources. The facility offers electronic books, a licensed database that students can access remotely from home that allows them access to a variety of resources, anytime of day, wherever they are.  The new library houses an audiovisual department and is home to a constantly evolving digital collection. There is also a section dedicated to Bahamiana.

The head librarian describes the transition from the old to the new library  as “tremendous.” The project itself, fully built and furnished, was $28 million, with $22 million allocated towards the construction, and the balance in furniture and furnishings, and fees to organizations the library needed to join.

It’s a facility Johnson is proud to head up.

“This facility really is for the nation,” said the head librarian.  “When I went to library school, I never dreamed that I would have such an opportunity to serve in this role, and so I think this has really been for me a proud moment, one that’s humbling to see what we’ve really been able to achieve with God’s help.”

Johnson took up a College of The

Bahamas post on August 30, 1982, but has been serving in the head librarian’s position since 1990.

The new facility allows the college to bring all of its departments under one roof. Prior to opening its doors to college users on February 28, 2011 and officially to the general public on April 8, 2011, the library’s resources had been spread out because they simply did not have enough space under one roof to encompass everyone and everything. The college’s business and technology programs were offered out of a space at the Soldier Road campus at the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute.  An education program and a small education library were located on Moss Road

With a grant from the World Bank in 1984, the college was able to expand its old library to a little over 10,000 square feet, which allowed them to collapse their off-site libraries and bring them under one roof.  But right away, after moving in, they realized they were out of space once they got all departments together.  Johnson said the librarian at the time, Vanria Thomas-Rolle noticed that they didn’t have any space for growth of collections, and barely had space for staff. As a result, Johnson said the talks began immediately about what a new College of The Bahamas  library would look like.  That was in the late 1980s.  Those talks led to designs being drawn up and what they saw the function of the new library being, encompassing thoughts of how librarianship was changing, and meeting the demands of users. Johnson said they talked about integrating technology, because at the time, the then library didn’t have any technology other than the physical hands on kinds of things.

Ground-breaking for what was to be the Harry C. Moore facility took place on April 21, 2005.  Six years later, the college had its new three-story facility with Johnson proudly at the helm.

On the ground floor is the 24-hour information commons as well as the public services center for persons who want to check materials out or return materials to the library. On the exterior of the library, they have a book return that can be used if the library itself is closed and users want to return materials. They also dispense from there at the media counter, audio-visual resources like DVDs and CDs.  The ground floor also houses two instructional classrooms that seats 20 people each.  In one of those classrooms they can also do distance education with the Family Islands. A small auditorium that seats 117 people is also on the first level.

It is on this level where they also have their special collections housed, including their Bahamiana resources.  “We specifically put that on the ground floor because we know that’s a resource that many Bahamians come to use, not only college students, but high school students, primary school students, members of the public, scholars from around the world looking for Bahamiania, so we wanted to make that easily accessible.”

Lockers are also installed on the first level.  It is there that they encourage library users to store their belongings so they don’t have to lug them through the facility.

“We encourage students to use the lockers, especially when they go into the special collections area which we would like to make an area where they only take the paper they need, or their laptop, so that we can preserve our Bahamiana resources,” said Johnson.  “And, because we have a number of potential donors right now firming up, and we want to assure those donors that when their resources come to us, they’re going to be taken care of.”  There is a nominal fee for the use of the lockers.

The first/second floor is where all of the library’s resources that students can borrow are found.  On the west side is the general stuff and on the east side, is where they have West Indian teaching practice and bound periodicals. They also have current periodicals — general newspapers, magazines and journals at this level.  The main reference desk is on this floor as well.  It is also at this level where they have a small room there with computers where librarians can do special training or use databases. Also on this floor are spaces where they do special exhibits — one of those being the permanent exhibit of the first Bahamian Prime Minister, Sir Lynden Pindling.

The second floor/third floor houses the administrative offices and the prized law collections, which they’ve kept separate, because Johnson said the resource is so valuable they cannot afford to lose it.

What you see in the Harry C. Moore building is the merging of three libraries into one facility — COB’s existing main library and the libraries culinary and hospitality library and the law library.

The Harry C. Moore Library also has both free-standing and compact shelving which allows them to be able to have more titles available for their users.

“Since this library is built for the next 50 years and for the general public, we have provided resources in that way to make those available,” she said.

As they continue to build the library’s resources, Johnson says their next real challenge will be to upgrade and continue to add research resources to the facility, so that the Harry C. Moore Library can continue to have the vast store of information that scholars need to do their research.

Three months after being made available to students, Johnson says the library facility has been amazing for the college students as it is completely wireless which gives them choices as to how and where they can use their laptops in comfortable seating, as opposed to being static.

The building is named in memory of Harry C. Moore, one of the founding presidents of the Lyford Cay Foundation who served as a member of College of The Bahamas Council.  It was during Moore’s tenure on the college council, that he developed a desire to see the college have a university-level library and worked along with then president,  the late Dr. Keva Bethel to help the college get a library that would facilitate the transition of the college to university.

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