Sunday 23rd October, 2005


Making an indelible mark

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By Laura Dowrich-Phillips

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Margaret Rouse-Jones didn’t set out to be a librarian. But after 24 years in the profession, the devout Christian believes this is the career God had intended for her.

Rouse-Jones is the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Librarian, responsible for co-ordinating activities among the libraries in all three campuses of UWI. The other two campuses are at Mona, Jamaica and Cave Hill, Barbados.

She has also been the Campus Librarian since 1997, responsible for planning and managing the affairs of the libraries at St Augustine.

It was at the main library of the St Augustine campus Rouse-Jones worked as a library assistant, while pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in French, Spanish and Sociology from 1966 to 1971. At the time, she didn’t know that one day she would return to make an indelible mark on the institution.

“After graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to be so I decided to teach. I never considered librarianship as a career,” she said in an interview at her office on the ground floor of the University’s main library.

At the time, Rouse-Jones was living at home and her father, seeing his daughter unemployed, advised her to go wherever the Ministry of Education had a vacancy. Rouse-Jones, who lived in Belmont, took his advice, surprising him when she took up a post at the Palo Seco Government Secondary School.

She stayed there for one year, teaching music culled from her experiences in the University choir and introducing her young charges to life in Port-of-Spain. To this day, said Rouse-Jones, many of those students hold reunions at her house.

After a year, Rouse-Jones applied for a transfer and was refused. So, on hearing from a student at Cave Hill, Barbados, that the Johns Hopkins University in the United States was giving scholarships, she applied for and received one to read for a doctorate in History.

“I said, ‘What? I don’t like History’. I never studied history and I didn’t even want to do a PhD,” she recalled.

Following her graduation, Rouse-Jones lectured briefly in the Department of History at Cave Hill, then migrated to England with her husband, Rupert Jones.

“Every door in History was shut to me. Then all of a sudden I decided I wanted to be a librarian. I told my father I wanted to study librarianship and I went to library school. Within a week after getting my diploma, UWI cabled me a job in Trinidad,” she said.

Rouse-Jones said that because of her History background, she was appointed head of the West Indiana section, a portion of the library dedicated to material of West Indian origin.

She spent a lot of her career building the special collections, which includes the Eric Williams Memorial Collection.

“In 1989, on the anniversary of Eric Williams’ death, the Head Librarian called a meeting to announce her retirement. She told me the library was getting Eric Williams’ papers and deposits and she wanted me to work on them. I said clearly God has a plan,” said Rouse-Jones of the synergy between her History and Library studies.

“You have to live long enough to see how what you thought was a negative turns out to be a positive,” she said in retrospect.

The 59-year-old said she felt honoured to work on the Eric Williams collection and that the permanent exhibition was a result of one of her first decisions when she was appointed head of the library.

Among Rouse-Jones’ other accomplishments is the creation of a guide entitled, Guide to Manuscripts, Special Collections and Other Research Resources for Caribbean Studies.

Compiled by Rouse -Jones during a year of special sabbatical leave, the much-needed guide gives users details on the materials contained in the West Indiana division.

Last year, the guide brought Rouse-Jones some acclaim when she won an award for Excellence in Research and Publications in the Information Field in the Caribbean from the Association of Caribbean University, Research and Institutional Libraries.

Soft-spoken with a very sophisticated demeanour, Rouse-Jones has a very impressive 17-page resumé that details the numerous papers, articles and book reviews she has written, the international conferences at which she has presented, the distinguished academic meetings to which she has been invited to give presentations, the funding she has attracted for research and study and the over 20 professional development courses she has attended during her career.

Yet her life is not as cushy as observers might believe. At home, Rouse-Jones has to cope with the demands of a disabled daughter.

“At seven months she got meningitis. It was such a terrible thing. She is severely disabled. She does not walk, talk, does not see normally,” explained Rouse-Jones.

Although doctors told Rouse-Jones and her husband that their daughter would live to the age of five, she’s still persevering at the age of 26.

The challenge of dealing with the tragedy and taking care of their daughter, said Rouse-Jones, has pushed them closer to God.

It was that faith, the support of her husband and her parents, now deceased, that enabled Rouse-Jones to not get bogged down in bitter feelings. With a helper that visits six days a week, Rouse-Jones is still able lead a fulfilling life.

As if to compensate for the loss of a normally-functioning child in the home, fate has, over the years, brought other people into Rouse-Jones’ life, people who today consider her their mother.

“We have accepted a lot of young people in our lives,” she said, referencing a daughter of a deceased friend, whom she unofficially adopted and a Sierra Leonese student, whom she considers a son.

With retirement looming at 65, Rouse-Jones has no intentions of slowing down. She plans to write a book on George James Christian, a Dominican man who became a prominent lawyer on the Gold Coast and to publish a guide to Eric Williams’ papers.

Looking back, Rouse-Jones, who was the first chairman of NALIS, is satisfied with her contribution to UWI. “I’ve brought the library to a good position, where it is highly respected and could compare favourably to libraries on other campuses throughout the world,” she said.

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