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The National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), has established the country’s first National Online Album titled ‘Picture Dis: The National Online Album, of Jamaica’, with pictures from as early as the 1800s.
“Picture Dis is the first national album of Jamaica. It is a digital image collection of outstanding people, memorable places and unique products that come from each parish in Jamaica,” says Public Relations Officer at the NLJ, Denise Harvey, in an interview with JIS News.
“It contains pictures of people who have made significant contributions to Jamaica’s development, places of interest or significance in the history and/or development of a parish and primary products of each parish,” she adds, while informing that the pictures give a unique multifaceted snapshot of Jamaica’s history with detailed text for contextualisation.
“You will see photographs featuring the various products produced in Jamaica – yam, banana, sugar – but not just the products – the photos will feature men digging yams, or bananas being loaded. Also included are biographies and information about each parish, product and place,” she states.
The album also has pictures of trains that were a part of the Jamaica Railway Corporation, Tom Cringle’s Cotton Tree, Devon House in the Nineteenth Century and a number of other notable historical places and events. There are also photos of persons such as Sir Alexander Bustamante, Amy Beckford Bailey, Claude McKay, Oliver Samuels, and Mallica (Kapo) Reynolds, among others.
Ms. Harvey is encouraging Jamaicans to utilise ‘Picture Dis’ as an opportunity to learn more about Jamaica’s history, which is embraced and celebrated by many non-Jamaicans.
“It cannot be that persons outside of Jamaica know more about our history in whatever format, and this is precisely what is happening,” she observes. “Many persons from abroad come to the Library to research the history and culture of this country, simply because it fascinates them and they see the potential for greatness in that history, in the information to be found,” she adds.
“We want persons who are Jamaicans to learn as much as they possibly can about Jamaica because when they go on the world stage, or wherever they go, people are going to ask them about Jamaica and they should be well informed. That is why I would encourage everybody to visit ‘Picture Dis’ and to leave their comments about the photographs,” Ms. Harvey enthuses.
This, she believes, is all the more important “especially with the Beijing Olympics just completed and people are Jamaica crazy,” she says.
The project is in keeping with the NLJ’s aim to preserve and facilitate access to Jamaica’s cultural heritage, thereby keeping it relevant to current and future generations.
“Developing this album is a part of our mandate as a National Library, to collect, preserve and make available to Jamaica, information about our cultural heritage,” the Public Relations Officer points out.
“What this means is that most of the pictures you will see are some of the older images that we have in our photograph collection and these are things that we want the public to be aware of, not just that the NLJ has these images in our possession but also that these things exist about Jamaica, [and] can be used to gain better understanding about who we are as a people and what we represent,” she adds.
The NLJ, believes that the use of digital images, is a creative way to tell the story of Jamaica’s history, especially as it gives persons an opportunity to put a visual – whether it is a person, place or event – to historical information they might have read in a book or heard from someone.
“Often, when we think of history, we think of large dusty books full of finely printed words. Here is a chance to explore the history of our country using a different medium – photographs and the Internet – and unlike much of what is presented on the web, our information is guaranteed to be accurate,” she asserts.
With more young people having access to the Internet as well as the proliferation of internet cafes, ‘Picture Dis’, as a communication strategy, is in some sense a reinvention of the NLJ, based on insights into how young people want to be spoken to as individuals in this age of the computer and Internet.
“One of the reasons why the NLJ decided to do this project is to awaken the interest of the “next generation”, in the history and culture of Jamaica recognising that much of the information being accessed by this generation is gotten from the web and if the Library wishes to be seen as relevant, it needs to be accessible in the new Web 2.0 environment. We want them to access it in a format that is familiar to them,” the Public Relations Officer informs.
The NLJ hopes that this medium will also enable it to reach a wide cross-section of people and more importantly, interact with Jamaicans, about their thoughts on the album.
“We want to have a presence there (on the Internet) so that more persons will be able to access it, benefit from it and learn about Jamaica. We hope to showcase Jamaica’s history through the use of a visual medium – photographs and to increase interest in the Library’s photograph [collection], as a resource for research and study,” she says.
Ms. Harvey further informs that, “the Library is particularly interested in how people will react to these images and the implicit potential in soliciting comments, for example, ‘Why this photograph’, ‘Who are these persons’, ‘Why that particular focus’, ‘Why not that product.'”
The NLJ hopes that this interaction will satisfy one of its objectives, to have ‘Picture Dis’ as a forum for information, education and debate. This will also help with the expansion of the album, as the NLJ moves toward collaborative ventures with entities or citizens who want to donate historical photos.
“Absolutely,” she confirms, “there are plans for the expansion of the album. We have many more images that we want to make available to the public and we are hoping that we could get partnerships from persons, because I’m sure there are many Jamaicans in Jamaica and overseas, who may have very interesting pictures that they would like to donate to the Library. We could use these in our collection and put it on ‘Picture Dis’.”
The NLJ offers one of the region’s most extensive collections of Jamaican and West Indian reference materials including photographic, print and digitised images. In 2008, a partnership with the Power Broker International Placement strand of the Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP), Arts Council England, enabled the NLJ to make some of its contents more accessible with the creation of ‘Picture Dis’, which can be accessed at www.nlj.org.jm or http://www.nlj.org.jm/pd/picturedis.htm.