The relevance of libraries to Garvey

With this week (October 26 – October 30) being celebrated as National Library and Information Week, for many, the ever recurring debate about the relevance of libraries has been rehashed. However, for us at Liberty Hall, it brings to mind the connection between Garvey and libraries. It is not by chance that there is a library at Liberty Hall, the Garvey Research/Reference Library (GRRL). Besides providing a place for persons to come and learn more about Garvey and his movement, Pan-Africanism, and Africa, among other topics, the library serves as a reminder of the role libraries played in shaping Garvey’s development and acts as a medium for the fulfilment of some of his aspirations.

A young Garvey had to leave school when he was only 14 years old so that he could work and help to provide for his family. However, this didn’t stop his desire for knowledge. In order to quench this thirst, he began reading books in his father’s collection. Garvey senior had built a room off the house where he stored his books and newspapers and this is where Garvey junior would often go so that he could read of the experiences of others and learn from what he read. After reading all the books in his father’s mini library, he then delved into his godfather’s library. Alfred Burrowes gave Garvey an apprentice position at his printer in St. Ann’s Bay. This not only provided Garvey with the opportunity to learn about printing and publishing, but it also gave him the chance to make good use of the extensive library Mr. Burrowes owned.

It was these libraries that facilitated Garvey’s learning after leaving school. This is why he was always encouraging persons to read, for example, he said, “Read history incessantly until you master it.”, “Never go to bed without doing some reading.”, and “…read at least four hours a day.” He also recognized that learning did not only take place in the classroom and stated that, “Many a man was educated outside the school room.”    

As for libraries, Garvey instructed us to, “Spend most of your spare time in your library.” He went further to say that, “If you cannot buy books outright and own them, go to your public libraries and read them or borrow them, or join some … library in your district or town so as to get the use of these books.” So, Garvey was aware that libraries played an integral role in the advancement of the Black race. So strongly was his belief and support of this, that one of the planks of his platform when he drafted the People’s Political Party manifesto was to establish a public library in and have civic improvement done for each parish capital.

The Garvey Research/Reference Library endeavours to continue Garvey’s vision by facilitating learning through the provision of material that tells the true history of the Black race, that empowers and uplifts the race and that stimulates the mind and creativity of Black people.

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