Mr Basil Ferguson's inspiring gift in this digital age

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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At 90 years of age, Mr Basil Ferguson is among the dwindling number of Jamaicans who would really appreciate sitting in a library and reading printed books.

That's why we are not surprised by his appeal to residents in his Stewart Town, Trelawny, community to read. For Mr Ferguson grew up in a Jamaica where reading was essential to academic performance and to equipping individuals with the ability to engage in conversation at almost any level.

We are especially moved by Mr Ferguson's donation of 578.22 square hectares of land in Stewart Town to the Jamaica Library Service for the construction of a library. Mr Ferguson told this newspaper on Monday that he was driven by the need to do something to develop his community as he remembered starting an association in 1960 that got a mobile library into Stewart Town with the help of volunteers.

It's a wonderful gesture for which Mr Ferguson, a retired educator and businessman, should be highly commended, but which also brings into sharp focus the generational divide in the use of printed and digital material.

No one can dispute the value of libraries, especially those that are public, as they give people access to vast volumes of literary material and offer the kind of noiseless atmosphere necessary for serious research or which is relished by people who just love to read.

However, we would not be surprised to learn that, with the dawn of the digital age, fewer and fewer people are trekking to libraries to actually sit and read whatever it is they wish to, or need to read.

When youngsters today are faced with a question, their first thought is to check Google for the answer. And while that may not be a bad strategy, it robs them of the diligence of research because information is now available at a keystroke and the click of a mouse.

There is, though, an opportunity in Mr Ferguson's gift for the Jamaica Library Service to blend both services. The 578.22 square hectares lot of land, if wisely utilised, can accommodate a modern state-of-the-art research complex that could satisfy the needs of people across various information platforms.

It will, though, require substantial funding which the Jamaica Library Service could seek to acquire by using the property as collateral or by engaging international donor agencies and enterprising private sector entities interested in breathing life into a community that appears to have been neglected.

Think of the good that such a facility could do for people in Stewart Town and neighbouring communities — people who should also heed Mr Ferguson's advice to avoid depending on the Government to do things for them and to begin the renewal of their communities themselves.

At the heart of Mr Ferguson's inspiring gesture is Sir Francis Bacon's old truism: “Reading maketh a full man; and writing an exact man. And, therefore, if a man write little, he need have a present wit; and if he read little, he need have much cunning to seem to know which he doth not.”




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