History comes alive at Rare Books room

This was such a joy to this article. The folks at the library told me I was very easy to talk to and they enjoyed it very much. Their passion and excitement for their work was contagious. As I walked to my car on St. Vincent Street after the interview, the world started to feel a little nicer! My energy levels raised from a 4 to a 9! Live your passion, love what you do.

History comes alive at Nalis’ Rare Books room
Monday, May 2 2016Published in Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday – Read it here  http://www.newsday.co.tt/features/0,227263.html

I WAS recently introduced to a captivating insight into our twin-island’s history, seen through the eyes of the staff at Nalis, Port-of-Spain. This place is known as the Rare Books Room nestled on the second floor of the Heritage Library on Abercromby Street.

The room was established in 2003 and apart from rare books, the very passionate librarians also house books that are published by TT authors along with memorabilia, artefacts, maps, coins, stamps, documents, letters, postcards, original manuscripts and more.
African artefacts of the Ulric Cross collection - Rare Books Room, Heritage Library NALIS
The collections include work from the band Wildfire (Oliver Chapman), Lord Learie Constantine, the Roaring Lion, WWII veteran and statesman Ulric Cross, Poet Laureate of Port-of- Spain Anson Gonzalez, West Indian cricketer Jeffrey Stollmeyer, mas man Wayne Berkeley and even correspondence between like minds of a particular era.

Acting director of the Heritage Library Grace Achoy emphasizes that Nalis collects the information in order to share. “We want people to come in and access the information and be proud of their heritage.” She says they are working on a digital portal where they will collaborate with universities to make all the heritage material accessible online through this portal.


As Librarian IV Jasmine Simmons shared through a guided tour, I could sense her energy and passion evident from her eyes and raised pores.

“Sometimes people don’t have enough space in their homes and the Rare Books room is the perfect home for their precious historical items. We have photos from the turn of the 19th century, some duplicates, some originals that even date back to the 14th century and it keeps changing as we get new collections,” she explains holding up a slave register.

Corporate communications manager Debbie Goodman explains that the Heritage Library is responsible for reference and research for all things Trinidad and Tobago and even the wider Caribbean. “We collect and preserve the material so that people are able to learn more about TT whether it is culture, education or literature. The aim is to promote a greater sense of self and identity.”

Wayne Berkley Collection

There is also a preservation and conservation lab in the basement of the building, reference and research opportunities, Caribbean and research workshops intended to inform students about the contents as well as tours of the Rare Books room, public workshops based on request, exhibitions on various cultures for Heritage Day held in October, as well as lectures and panel discussions.

I learnt that researchers of different levels come to this library to find out more about TT. Charmaine Glasgow, Librarian IV Operations and Client Services, shared that some people even come to the Heritage Library to trace their ancestry as in the case of one Australian couple who was able to identify their grandparents in photos.

Learie Constantine Collection

“It was also a thrilling experience as a student also saw their grandfather in the stamp collection while on a tour of the Rare Books room,” she beamed.

Donna Hall-Commissiong who is directly in charge of the Rare Books room explains with delight the discovery made by one researcher from Leeds England who was writing a book about Lord Learie Constantine, George Padmore and CLR James.

“Sometimes they are familiar with the person they are researching and able to make the connections with the information sitting right here in our Rare Books collection!”

Space doesn’t permit me to share the glee of this particular gentleman who located for the first time the actual script of the first version of a play written in 1934 by CLR James – all 101 pages of handwritten and typed script with delicate paper and iron gall ink intact, complete with notes between himself and James! But let’s just say his excitement upon this discovery was contagious.

antique music grame

Simmons spoke about Nalis’ new campaign – Think Heritage. “We want people to understand that their heritage is all around you, even within your own homes. So before you throw out your old documents, letters and artefacts, think about how this will benefit those that come after you. You may be throwing out generations of history,” she says.

The Seventh Annual First Time Authors’ Appreciation ceremony which took place last month was part of the library’s efforts to preserve history through the importance of writing. Simmons says that no matter where you come from in TT , Nalis wants people to be proud of our heritage.

Library staff

What is the aim of the Rare Books room? Simmons ends with the same fire and passion as she began,

“We don’t want this to be the best kept secret – we want people to know that TT is rich in a vibrant heritage that spans centuries, from the First People’s straight up to the present day.”

For more info contact: jsimmons@nalis.gov.tt or visit Nalis’ Heritage Library.



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