US Ambassador opens American Centre in new National Library building

United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Patricia Butenis, opened the new American Centre in the National Library Building on October 28.

The centre had previously been called the American Corner and was located in the National Library since May 2004, serving as a resource centre for the public on all things American.

In her speech, Ambassador Butenis highlighted the services offered at the new American Centre, explaining that when when the national library moved in July, “we felt the time was right to rename our facility in order to more accurately represent our growing ties with the people and the government of Maldives.”

The upgraded American Center appears part of a wider effort by the American government to engage with the Maldives. The United States marked its Fourth of July independence day for the first time in the Maldives with a function at Holiday Inn.

Butenis said it had been her desire to enhance and enlarge the role of the American Corner ever since she took on her role as Ambassador for Maldives and Sri Lanka over a year ago.

“We had some dispute with Washington over what to call it, since this is not a consulate,” she said.

Shafeea Shakir, who was worked in the National Library for the past 10 years, has been appointed the coordinator of American Center taking over from Thifla Umar. “We would like to encourage more people to use the resources at the center, as there is so much on offer like audio and videos,” she said.

The center offers free internet access, information about United States via a large collection of DVDs, and an online research database. The center also offers students the chance to participate in ‘Dyn Ed’, a computer based English learning programme. The center further offers events like public readings, films, lectures by various speakers and workshops and exhibits.

Among the speakers who visited Maldives earlier in the year was Imam Khalid Lathif, chaplin of the New York Police Department. Lathif gave talks on ‘Human rights under Islam’ and ‘Women’s rights in Islam’ in the American corner during August.

Ambassador Butenis said a number of Americans would visit Maldives in the coming months and hold discussions at the center. Imam Khalid Lathif is among them, and will return to the Maldives in December along with Dr Richard Navarro, an expert on higher education, who will stay in the Maldives for nine months on a Fulbright fellowship.

“We are also increasing the number of Digital Video Conferences (DVC) with individuals from United States. Experts from Harvard and Yale will present lectures sharing their expertise across nine time zones with American center participants in Male.’ Ambassador Butenis added the lectures would be interactive, as participants will get a chance to ask questions.

DVC had been used recently to conduct a professional development-training programme for National library employees with the Director of the American Centre in Colombo.

Ambassador Butenis said she hoped the technology would prove a useful resource for Maldivian civil society to collaborate with their counterparts in the United States.

An inter library loan programme with the American Center in Male and American Corners in Sri Lanka is also in the pipeline.

“This will increase the selection of books and journals available to Maldivian patrons by over 4,000 titles- a collection that continues to grow each year,” said Ambassador Butenis

Ambassador Butenis ended her speech highlighting the similarities between the two countries.

“Our two countries, half a world apart in distance share much in common. In many ways, your own path to democracy mirrors ours. We have a lot to learn from each other, and the American Center will facilitate further communication and collaboration between the people of the Maldives and the United States.”