Caribbean Libraries in the 21st Century: Changes, Challenges and Choices, edited by Cheryl Peltier-Davis and Shamin Renwick (Information Today, 2007) – reviewed by John Pateman

A book on Caribbean libraries is rare and so this is a most welcome addition to the field of international and comparative librarianship. The editors set out ‘to document the state of Caribbean libraries in the 21 st century by examining the responses of these institutions to the changes, challenges and choices in an increasingly electronic and virtual information environment.’

More than 40 practitioners joined in the effort, contributing 25 chapters that address the myriad obstacles and opportunities facing Caribbean libraries.

The book begins by providing essential historical perspective followed by coverage of trends, projects and issues in library management, innovative services, integration and impact of information technology, cooperation and resource sharing, training library users, distance education, and the changing roles and attitudes of librarians.

The Caribbean is a vast, dispersed and diverse region. The contributors to this book come from St Maarten, the Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, St Croix, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the US.

One notable exception is Cuba, which is more often linked to Latin America than the Caribbean, although it is a close neighbour of Jamaica and Haiti.

Cuba, unlike any other country in the Caribbean, or any other ‘developing country’, has built a library service which is the envy of many ‘ First World’ countries, with stock, staffing levels and opening hours which exceed Public Library Standards in the UK, one of the world’s richest nations.

Cuba has given its libraries both political priority and resources, and libraries have been a key tool to achieve and maintain Cuba’s free education system and high levels of literacy. From the moment that Cuba was declared ‘Free of Illiteracy’ in 1961, libraries (in conjunction with a flourishing indigenous publishing industry) have played a vital role in the cultural life of the nation.

Other Caribbean libraries, which suffer from ‘crippling resource constraints’, have much to learn from Cuba. Another issue of common concern to Caribbean libraries are the ‘expensive fast paced technological developments.’

For many Caribbean countries it is just a case of not being able to afford the high costs associated with internet access; for Cuba this issue is compounded by the US blockade which makes accessing the information super highway even more difficult and expensive.

Caribbean libraries in the 21 st Century is an informative and inspiring work that will appeal to any information professional, student or scholar seeking to understand how librarianship can and is flourishing in challenging circumstances.

John Pateman, Head of Libraries, Lincolnshire, UK