There's a library in Grenada that's quite out of the ordinary. Founded by a writer, a church group and a grassroots, social action collective called Groundation Grenada, Mt. Zion is like the little library that could — promoting a culture of volunteerism that is not common in the Caribbean and encouraging youth to not only get involved, but to learn to love reading.
The project's focus on young people is especially pertinent in light of a 2009 United Nations Development Programme Human Development report that found Grenada has the highest poverty rate in the English Caribbean countries. Youth are the most adversely affected, with the economic situation having an effect on their schooling and eventual employability. The country's unemployment rate currently stands at around 40 percent.
Mt. Zion, though, is pushing library services as a viable career option, and the bonus is that a whole new generation is becoming passionate about reading.
Groundation Grenada shares one such example: 20-year-old Alesia Aird, a musician and artist who looks nothing like the conventional librarian. She listens to the conscious music of Jamaican reggae icon Peter Tosh, and she looks more Lauryn Hill than Nancy Pearl. Yet, she spends most of her free time volunteering at Mt. Zion and has come to be passionate about West Indian literature and works of science fiction.
Alesia wasn’t always a reader. In fact she recollects that reading had always felt like punishment; something that she was forced to do. She describes her experience in school as being analogous to teaching a fish how to climb a tree, as the school system failed to recognize and apply different styles and paces of learning.
So how exactly did a non-reader sign up for a gig as a volunteer librarian? Bit by bit, as it turns out. A friend asked her for some help with sorting books. She obliged, was taken in by the “good vibes” of the people involved says that what made her stay were “the smiles of converted non-readers coming upon a book that they loved.”
Aird is convinced that Mt. Zion is special, not simply because of the passion of its volunteers, but because of “its location [in the heart of St. George's] and origins which all give the library its unique characteristic and unorthodox feel.”
Mt. Zion's popularity continues to grow — reportedly by as much as two new members a day — especially with the younger demographic, who find it a supportive space where they can exchange ideas and be themselves.