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Government of Jamaica


Special Libraries in Jamaica: Anchors of Knowledge and Research

Special Libraries in Jamaica: Anchors of Knowledge and Research

May 17, 2024

An unheralded category of professional whose physical presence was required to step into the workplace every day, right through the pandemic lockdowns of 2020–2022, was the librarian. Technical Information Manager of the PIOJ Wesley Hughes Documentation Centre, Odean Cole Phoenix said that, “Through our online public portal called Ask The Librarian, a consortium called the Special Libraries responded to users by retrieving the digital document and providing the content to the user by email. We saw an increased demand for information through our online portal and this has continued even though we are no longer in a pandemic.”

Special Libraries are crucial to researchers across the board as they house published and unpublished documents. Mrs Cole Phoenix says, “Unpublished documents also referred to as grey literature help the researcher to understand the decision-making processes of the past so that they can recreate scenarios and data trends that can assist in forecasting. Examples of these are grey literature which are unpublished research articles, policy documents, staff newsletters, invitations and programmes, feasibility studies and case studies, market research analyses, recipes and manufacturing processes, and training manuals. Collections in libraries are not limited to text documents, so there will also be maps and charts, audio visual materials, and even statues, paintings and relics of a notable person such as a diary.”

The public sector has the majority of the Special Libraries in the country, but there are a few in the private sector as well. Those of note in the public sector are Jamaica Tourist Board, Bank of Jamaica, Bureau of Standards Jamaica, Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, Ministry of Health and Wellness, Supreme Court, Ministry of Agriculture, National Environment and Planning Agency, the Office of Utilities Regulation, Jamaica Information Service, The best known in the private sector is the news library at the Gleaner Company, but there is also the music library at Radio Jamaica, and the corporate library at GraceKennedy.

The primary purpose of a Special Library is to satisfy the demands of the technical staff in an organisation, but members of the public may request its services, Mrs Cole Phoenix explained by providing a little history.  “The Government Libraries Information Network of Jamaica (GLINJA) formerly the Socio-Economic Information Network (SECIN) was created as the result of the 1984/85 national plan of the National Council on Libraries, Archives and Documentation Services (NACOLADS). NACOLADS integrated Jamaica’s libraries into five main networks so that librarians who work in these environments can discuss their particular needs, challenges and futures. The focal point of the Government Special Library group is the Wesley Hughes Documentation Centre (WHDC) at the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The selection of the PIOJ for this role was bolstered by the PIOJ Act which determines that the agency must maintain a national socio-economic reference library. The PIOJ has invested in its library over time, keeping its processes in step with developments in cataloguing, retrieving and digitising materials,” she said.

Today, the PIOJ collection contains more than 10 000 documents and retrieves resources that satisfy between 15–20 requests per week from researchers including academics, policy makers and journalists in Jamaica and around the world. Mrs Cole Phoenix notes some notable items in the PIOJ collection as the Jamaica Five-year Development Plans, Jamaica Handicap Handbook, Highway 2000 Development Plan, every publication of the annual Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (1973–2022) and its precursor the Economic Survey Jamaica (1957–1972).

Mrs Cole Phoenix noted that the demand for librarian services by organisations has changed over time and are in demand as organisations take stock of their documents and how they should be handled. “At the invitation of agencies, information professionals who work in Special Libraries are assessing collections to determine how best to place these valuable materials where researchers can have access to them. They are champions of information access and realise that these resources are valuable assets for national development. At this time, collections being assessed include business processes and Jamaica’s international marketing history, large scale and historically significant land developments, policies and White Papers. The librarian has to be mindful that not only documents that mark successful endeavours or that are complete should be collected, as even the mistakes and misadventures of villains, are important parts to understand a whole enterprise,” she stated.  

The result of these efforts has led to Special Libraries absorbing collections of key projects or other government agencies that are not in a position to maintain a Special Library. An example is the Jamaica Social Investment Foundation (JSIF) collection which is housed in the Special Library at the PIOJ.

For its impact on sustaining the advancement of knowledge in Jamaica, the Governor-General has proclaimed the third week in April as Special Libraries week on several occasions, the most recent being 2016. Mrs Cole Phoenix says of the future of Special Libraries, “We are taking steps to enhance our service delivery by expanding our journal subscriptions and databases, as well as improving our integrated library systems. Collaboration among libraries is becoming increasingly important, particularly through the use of the virtual reference service.”

She explained that the PIOJ coordinates the virtual service of a consortium of Special Libraries called, “Ask the Librarian”. The portal is placed on the agency’s website and the request is available to all librarians in the group to see and the library with the required resource will respond. This is a boon to researchers who may not know which library to tap for a particular resource.

Documents housed in Special Libraries will continue to be an asset to support all aspects of national development as outlined in Vision 2030 Jamaica –National Development Plan which is aligned to the UN Global Agenda and its 16 Sustainable Development Goals.

For your research of information needs from a Special Library: