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by Sheree-Anita Shearer | Associate Writer
As a child who loved books, one of my favourite places in the world was (and still is), the Library. Luckily for me, there always seemed to be one relatively close to my home.
The Jamaica Library Service is more than just a place to read books though. It’s the cultural and social epicentre of many small communities. The JLS is responsible for many activities and outreach programmes especially for children to learn about their history our culture.
Established in 1948, the Jamaica Library Service is in its 74th year of continuous service to Jamaica through its public libraries and school library network. The organisation is headed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, which is quite fitting for the services the JLS provides.
What is the role of the Jamaica Library Service?
Through the various points of access across 13 of our 14 parishes, the JLS has been tasked with providing information, educational and recreational programmes and services across the island.
How many libraries are there in Jamaica?
The Jamaica Library Service currently operates through 119 public libraries, 373 mobile stops, 17 special services and 901 school libraries ranging from infant to vocational schools.
The headquarters for the JLS is located in Kingston.
These networks are then split into smaller regions which are aligned to the regional Ministry of Education.
These regions are:
In Jamaica, the coordinated library service plays an even greater role than you might think. Firstly, for school children, this is where you will get the information to complete your assignments if you don’t have access to the resources needed at home.
Before the internet was so readily available, we had to rely on books to get work done and, since not everyone had access to books at home, they would head to the library.
In the back of your mind, you would be praying that there is an available copy and that they all haven’t been loaned out to others needing to complete assignments as well.
As the use of the internet increased, the Library was one of the few places you could go to use the internet for free. They also had computers available for those without access to one so they would also be able to complete assignments.
For avid readers, it was a treasure trove of books from different genres, so when you weren’t completing assignments your time would be spent visiting different worlds chapter by chapter.
It was always an exciting time at school when “the library bus came”. This is exactly what it sounds like. The bus was converted into a mobile library with stacked shelves of books ranging in genre and difficulty. It was especially great for those children who could not always make it to the library nearest to them.
For me, this was just as exciting as watching the Olympics. Each Spring, the competition would begin at the branch library level. The winners would then compete at the parish level before the champion heads off to Kingston in the summer to represent their respective parishes at the national level.
At each level, all the competitors in each category would be given the same book(s) to read. They would then be tested on each book and the winner would advance to the next round. At the national level, there is no written test, all 14 parish champions go head to head in a televised event!
The competition started all the way back in 1988, with just the 9-11 category, but over the years they would go on to add another 4 categories. Now any person between the ages of 6-99 can enter to win. The prizes are quite impressive too! From the best restaurants to top adventure parks, it is all there on offer.
In addition to that, it is a great way to encourage persons of all ages to expand their knowledge through reading and to meet like-minded individuals in various age groups as well. Some persons have made life-long friends through the National Reading Competition.
The National Reading Competition isn’t their only programme, some others are:
These programmes and services are offered by all or some libraries within the Jamaica Library Service.
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