COMMENTARY: The New Library: an alternative approach

The Roseau Public Library, originally called the Carnegie Library, was opened somewhere in 1906/1907  

Plans for a new library have changed radically since the SHAPE press release three weeks ago. The MMC design now appears to have been put on hold, together with the idea of incorporating a dance floor and recording studio within a new library building. There is nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board. Indeed, it’s a commendable step towards getting it right. However, what we are now faced with is a hastily conceived design competition.

All of the discussions to date have put the cart before the horse. As I have previously stated, there are two separate and distinct issues involved: the preservation of an important historical building and the pressing need for a new purpose-built library. The restoration of the Carnegie Library should not be compromised by planting a new library within its grounds. A more suitable location for the new library can be found within Roseau’s city center.

If you walk the streets of Roseau, you will realize that many areas of the city are in urgent need of sympathetic development. For Dominicans overseas, a glance at the google satellite image of Roseau will confirm what I say. Furthermore, there exists a building that could be readily converted into a modern library. But first and foremost, we urgently need a comprehensive development plan for the city. Such a plan would protect buildings of historical worth, encourage regeneration and guard against the piecemeal development that is blighting Roseau’s townscape. Such a plan is surely one of the fundamental functions of Physical Planning.

When the option of an alternative site for a new library has been explored, the idea of a design competition can be revisited. However, a competition is not the best way of arriving at a good design, either for the commissioners or the competitors. All but one of the competitors has to work for free; only the winner gets the prize money. And even that is not guaranteed, for the commissioners may decide that none of the submissions meet their approval. To better their chances, competitors tend to play safe and produce what they perceive the commissioners want. Ultimately, design competitions stifle creativity.

Having said that, a revised concept brief should take into account Dominican architects practicing with distinction overseas and Dominican students presently at university studying for a degree in architecture. Also, the qualifications required for entry should also be reconsidered. Many of the world’s most talented architects, had they been born here and lived here, would not be eligible as they have had no formal training. Frank Lloyd Wright, the esteemed American architect, is a prime example. At its best, architecture is 75% art and 25% structural engineering.

As with museums and art galleries, the design of libraries calls for expert knowledge that goes beyond building four walls. Specialists need to be consulted and their recommendations taken on board.

It is unfortunate that the structure of the historic Carnegie Library was left unprotected after the hurricane and that the building has never been granted protected status. I hope that a restored Carnegie Library – in its original setting – and an exemplary new library in the city center, will be our legacy for future generations.

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  1. Keep the original roof design
    April 6, 2022

    Thank you for this original picture by Masterville. The roof of the library at the time of Hurricane Maria appears to have already been altered to a more simplified design. I hope that the original roof design as shown in this photo can be kept or incorporated in the new design.

    • Roger Burnett
      April 7, 2022

      I totally agree.

      Also, the old photograph speaks volumes about the contribution the grounds made to the ambience of the building. The restoration of the grounds is as important as the restoration of the building. If the new library is squeezed into the site, this key relationship would be lost.

  2. My two cents
    April 6, 2022

    Just a few points. First, most Dominicans, when visiting countries overseas, stand in front of the most iconic and historic buildings to take photographs which they subsequently send back to family and friends. They recognize that these landmarks have a story and want to be part of the landscape that includes them. We want the same for Dominica. Secondly, we cannot talk about entrepreneurship in Dominica and continue to place our local architects at a disadvantage. Our local architects are the ones who best understand our history and culture. Third, art takes time. Trying to correct the problem in a hurry is not reasonable. Let us give our architects the time to truly apply their talents and education to this endeavour. Finally, the compensation sadly shows the lack of value placed on an architect in Dominica.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
    • What what
      April 8, 2022

      Most Dominicans go shopping and eating when they visit foreign countries. Lol.

  3. Michael Norris
    April 5, 2022

    Government can build the new library at the old Dominica Club on High Street which it purchased some years ago to build a Hall of Justice. Since the government is not going to build the Hall of Justice, it can use the space to construct a modern national library with a parking lot. The old library building can be renovated or re-built (incorporating the exterior facade) to host public lectures, display works of art, and serve as a centre where writers (poets, short story writers ,etc.) can read their works.

  4. April 5, 2022

    To me there is no comparison between the breezy, green, seaview site of the old library and sweltering downtown Roseau where parking is impossible. Why can’t we restore the Carnegie building as a museam/bookshop for local and wider Caribbean writers to attract tourists, including an artisan friendly cafe, while using the larger space for a modern functional library building to service Dominica’s citizens?

  5. Please Save our Library
    April 5, 2022

    You have put together very strong points for our National Library. I hope the government will listen.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2
  6. April 4, 2022

    Before suffering damage from Hurricane Maria, the library was a fine example of traditional architecture, a familiar landmark and a well used facility. I favour simply restoring it to its former glory and purpose.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3
  7. Follow the Money
    April 4, 2022

    We can’t build another thing like this or even similar, that’s a relic of old miserable colonial days.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 16
    • Toto
      April 5, 2022

      Boy, if anybody is miserable it is you. Not everything colonial must automatically be bad. Our post office was colonial and legal system up to this day. You just want to throw away the baby with the Bath water. The old library is part of our heritage and we should e reminded of that.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4
      • Follow the Money
        April 5, 2022

        On the contrary, everything colonial is automatically bad by virtue of being colonial. We need to be free from their grip, including their legal system. They took a whole continent from you, enslaved and displaced you to build up theirs, yet you’re miseducated to like it, not to find anything wrong with it. This design is a reminder of the misery of an old Plantation house.
        I hope the new design winner includes a grand patio overlooking the tranquil Caribbean sea from whence ‘the intruders’ came.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 7
      • Shoodoop
        April 8, 2022

        Yes yes it is. Everything colonial is oppressive and ridiculous.

  8. April 4, 2022

    Building the new library at the same old library location is the perfect place for a library. It is nice and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Roseau. To build the new library somewhere downtown Roseau would be a monumental mistake. I am hoping that the Skerrit Government does not go along with that crazy idea of building the library downtown noisy Roseau.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2
    • Roger Burnett
      April 5, 2022

      “No Idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered with a searching but at the same time steady eye.” (Winston Churchill)

      I doubt that there is a difference in noise levels between the site of the Carnegie Library and anywhere within Roseau’s city center. Most of the world’s great libraries, art galleries and museums are located in the very center of cities.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0
      • April 5, 2022

        You should also take into consideration parking for those who drive. There would be comfortable parking uptown Roseau as opposed to downtown Roseau. Maybe also I can find me an uptown girl living in an uptown neighborhood. lol

        • Roger Burnett
          April 5, 2022

          Thank you ds for ending your response with a touch of humor. It goes a long way towards fostering goodwill and understanding.

          Alas, I cannot help you in finding uptown girls. The models for my paintings and sculptures tend to be from downtown.

      • Nettie
        April 8, 2022

        Trust me the noise levels are different. The view is also different. Imagine sitting in a window seat in AC comfort, sipping on some coffee in the library’s cafe looking at the sea while you work. We need to move on and keep up with the market. I’m young and really looking forward to a library structure that’s for me. After visiting libraries overseas I’ve always been disappointed in ours. I’ve probably been there once.

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