Searching the Caribbean for History and Culture and Uncovering More than Just Tourism

Library Resources | Kathleen McEvoy| April 28, 2015

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Those of you who follow EBSCO Information Services on Instagram will notice that we get around. Recently we took a trip to Jamaica and Trinidad, where EBSCO’s Vice President of Communications Kathleen McEvoy was reminded that the Caribbean is more than sand, sun and surf.

Make no mistake, the Caribbean is full of beautiful islands and scenery, lush landscapes and fabulous amenities, but dig a little deeper and you will uncover a rich tapestry of history and culture and some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. We travelled to Jamaica and Trinidad recently to shoot some video of our customers and to participate in the Jamaica Library Summit that EBSCO held at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus. More than 80 librarians from all over the country came together at the Summit to meet with their EBSCO sales team, to be introduced to other EBSCO team members and to hear about what the company is doing.

While we were there, EBSCO’s Director of Sales for the Caribbean and Latin America, Eric Block, let librarians know that the Caribbean eBook Subscription Collection was being released. That announcement had quite an impact — much more of a reaction than I would have anticipated — and I soon learned why. Eric has worked in the Caribbean for the past 11 years, and the e-book collection is a follow up to the Caribbean Search™ database that was released a few years ago. In asking about librarianship in the Caribbean, I learned that the Caribbean is more than sand, sun and surf. It has a rich history and culture, and understanding the Caribbean has implications for anyone studying the history of colonial powers, music, art and much more.

I asked the librarians we were filming about the impact Caribbean Search had on them and on their students and faculty. I was amazed at how important this content, from Caribbean writers and researchers about their history and culture, was to each of them.

Judy Rao, a now-retired librarian from the UWI-Mona, had been instrumental in helping EBSCO identify the book and journal publishers and the content required for this database. She said, “This is our content…we in the West Indies have something to contribute.”

When Caribbean Search came along, we had already recognized the need, so it was a godsend. 
— Francis Salmon, the head of the West Indies and Special Collections at UWI-Mona

Francis Salmon, the head of the West Indies and Special Collections at UWI-Mona said because they are the largest university in Jamaica, they are the library of last resort for researchers so they respond to a lot of requests for information. They are also mandated to collect West Indian content and to anticipate research requirements. She said they collect rare West Indiana, personal papers, maps, estate records and slave records as part of their preservation function. She said students would use the library’s electronic databases and say, “this is fine but where is our stuff?” She said before Caribbean Search was a reality, they started an in-house database at UWI-Mona to try and capture this content and serve their users in the Caribbean and to respond to the queries that were coming from around the world. However, there were limitations including no access to full text and multiple steps to get to the actual material. “When Caribbean Search came along, we had already recognized the need, so it was a godsend.” Beyond that, for Francis herself, the database was something more. “I just have this relationship, me personally, with the database. I was the person who was trying to do the database in-house, and having seen my dream come true without actually having to do the work was quite good because we always wanted to do more but we didn’t have the resources.”

Jollette Foster, the library director at the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports, said their college has a unique mission that extends to the library. They get queries from around the world, and the college is expected to be a repository for everything related to Jamaican sports and Caribbean sports. Jollette says EBSCO databases help them answer those queries but, even more than that, Caribbean Search has changed the way students see themselves. “You have people start to think about publishing now…they are actually seeing Caribbean content…so people are now thinking about going into research — having their research published so it is a bit of an encouragement.”

In Jamaica, I also spoke to Christine Randall from Ian Randall Publishers. Their goal is to “bring the best of Caribbean books to the rest of the world.” She said it was never their intent only to serve the Caribbean, and the topics they cover are universal and have been broadening, such as migration studies, diaspora studies and Caribbean studies. She said those topics underscore the important part the Caribbean has played in history. “We are part of world history — the Caribbean was an early site of globalization…so in that context, we have always been a part of the worldwide conversation and discussion.” When asked about the importance of this content for students, she responded, “You can’t plan your future if you don’t know your history.”

In Trinidad, I spoke with librarians and students and began to understand how seriously education is taken and how the ability to search content that speaks to their history and culture is helping them see themselves in the context of the world of research and to understand the impact of their region. I spoke with Debbie Jacob, a librarian from Ohio who has made Trinidad her home for the last 31 years. She is the head librarian at the International School of Port of Spain and is starting a library at the Royal Jail in the Trinidad capital (which I am absolutely going to ask her to write about for this blog). She is also a writer whose book Wishing for Wings is in the new Caribbean eBook Subscription Collection. Debbie reiterated what I had been hearing from other librarians. “For any serious history student anyplace in the world, your historical knowledge is incomplete if you don’t have a sense of Caribbean history because this is the place where the whole world came and mingled. A lot of the problems we see today in the world, if you look at the Caribbean, you can see the manifestations of some of those problems that came out of things like colonialism.”

The Caribbean has always played a major role in world affairs starting with colonization, but I am not sure the world is aware or knows about the Caribbean, about the intellectual content we produce...Caribbean Search is a good forum to distribute this content globally. 
— Karen Eckels, West Indian and Special Collections Librarian at UWI-St. Augustine, Trinidad

Also in Trinidad, I met with Petra Pierre-Robertson, the library director at the University of the Southern Caribbean. The school received its charter and became a university in 2006, so it is still building its program. Pierre-Robertson said research is central to the university, and Caribbean content, which used to be difficult to find, is very important. “What I found with Caribbean Search is that it is constantly being added to because in a lot of instances, you find that Caribbean material is put in more or less as tokenism — ‘we have some Caribbean material for you because you are from the Caribbean’ — so you have a fixed collection that doesn’t grow or that doesn’t reflect the growth that you have in the Caribbean. It is interesting to me to see that a lot of new Caribbean titles are immediately in EBSCO. I don’t know how they do it!”

Karen Eckels, the West Indian and Special Collections Librarian at UWI-St. Augustine in Trinidad, said Caribbean Search is more than a database. “The Caribbean has always played a major role in world affairs starting with colonization, but I am not sure the world is aware or knows about the Caribbean, about the intellectual content we produce. I am very passionate about creating a forum where the world knows that we produce intellectual content, we are not just a consumer, but we product intellectual content, which would make them more aware of what we are doing in the Caribbean, about the culture, the social dynamics, the history, the politics or the flora and fauna. Caribbean Search is a good forum to distribute this content globally.”

One of the students I spoke with says the courses she is taking require a lot of research. Laura Ramogan is a second-year student at UWI-St. Augustine. She is working on a bachelor’s in Spanish with a minor in Portuguese. She said, “A language is not just something you study, a language is something you live.” She said many of her general studies classes do not have textbooks, so databases are essential and Caribbean Search provides perspective. For example, she is currently taking a course about men and masculinity in the Caribbean. “It is all about the research, so the students have to find scholarly articles and compare and contrast what different scholars say and then we can form our own opinions…all of the same issues exist in different societies — in the U.S. or France or Britain or in the Caribbean — but these are different cultures so these issues exist within a different context and in a different way. It is really important to find an issue and how it affects Caribbean people, which may not be specifically how it affects the American society or the British society.”

This was a great trip for me, seeing for myself the value EBSCO databases and EBSCO relationships can bring to librarians and students alike. I spoke with so many wonderful people — too many to list here. Stay tuned for the video series we are putting together from our trip as we celebrate our customers and how they use their EBSCO resources to make a difference for their end users.

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Kathleen McEvoy
Vice President of Communications

Kathleen McEvoy is the Vice President of Communications at EBSCO Information Services. Kathleen has been working at EBSCO for 12 years after a career as a broadcast journalist. Kathleen is a Board Member of ALA’s United for Libraries Division and represents EBSCO on the Corporate Committee for Library Investment.

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