Cayman’s Public Library system started in George Town in 1920 when the government included an annual grant of 40 pounds sterling in the budget for the establishment of a subscription library. The library was located in a room above the old jail next to the old court house. At the end of 1937, plans were made for building a larger library at George Town to include reading and reference rooms.
The new building was designed by Captain Rayal Bodden, an accomplished shipwright, and completed in 1939. The distinctive timbered ceiling shows the evidence of a shipbuilder’s skill, as it is fashioned after a ship’s hull turned upside down. The ends of the hammer beams are decorated with the shields of prominent British Institutions of learning. These are thought to be original, as is the fan over the entrance door. The ceiling beams are original, but the boards have been replaced to reduce leaks.
The front façade of the building was originally flat, with the entrance foyer being added more recently, when the original keystone and fan were reinstalled.
The new library opened its doors to the public in 1940, and for a long time the main source of printed matter was the Ranfurly Library in England. Lady Ranfurly, wife of a colonial governor, started the project of collecting used books for shipment to British territories where books were in short supply. In 1980, the first trained librarian took over the running of the public library.
The library is now used for various community and group club displays and exhibitions.
The Maples wing of the George Town Library opened in July 2009 with a Chamber After Hours Event.
In addition to a larger selection of books and reference materials, the modern new wing features computers with Internet, a children’s section and a conference room.
The public library service in the Cayman Islands is provided by the Government. There are public libraries in each of the five district of Grand Cayman, as well as in Cayman Brac.
There is no public library in Little Cayman. A tremendous amount of damage was done to Grand Cayman’s libraries by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. Over 10,000 books were ruined by the storm. However, the Government used the opportunity to embark on a program of redevelopment and improvement for the library service.