Library requests parliament’s assistance on transformation to national institution

POSTED: 10/27/11 12:55 PM

St. Maarten – The Board and management of the Philipsburg Jubilee Library, which is vested in a private foundation, has asked parliament’s permanent committee on education, culture, youth and sport to assist them with the effort to become the national library of St. Maarten and with solving some of their financial challenges. In reply the committee chair Silvia Meyers Olivaccee has pledged to support the library and that the Members of Parliament will work to make something happen.
“We won’t make any promises, but you have our support,” Meyers-Olivaccee said at the close of the meeting.
The process to develop the law for the Philipburg Jubilee Library to become the national library, as stated in the framework document for the Integrated Culture Policy, has already begun. A delegation from the library raised the matter with education minister Rhoda Arrindell shortly after she took office in 2010 and then discussed it further when she paid a site visit to the library. In order to fulfill the role of national library the current building has to be upgraded so that storage of publications can be improved, people can have greater access to technology and things like newspapers can be digitized and stored for research purposes. To this end a building committee, installed by the board, has developed an improvement plan for the current building, which was constructed in 1983.
“We have so far sought to keep the green and the accessibility and we are trying to better utilize the space we have. However, the library is no longer a place where people simply borrow books. It’s also a place where they can access resource material and it needs to have work spaces for the students to do their projects. This is important because we’ve noticed that students use the library for even the regular homework and research. We also need to have documentation and digitization, because the way important documents related to St. Maarten are stored now – in the director’s office – is not the best way to ensure preservation,” Chairman of the Board of library Chantal Schaminee-Ringeling said.
Library Director Monique Alberts preempted that by saying, “New technology will not totally replace actual books, but yes libraries are becoming less about rows and rows of books and more about the research and giving people access to computers and the internet and that is a direction we are moving in.”
In order to facilitate the vision of turning the current public library into a national library the building committee has indicated a need to expand the library to 3, 000 square meters of operational space on multiple levels. The very rough estimate of the cost for this expansion is $6 million. The additional space will include a paid parking lot on the first level, which will act as a revenue generating mechanism for the library. The board and management also wants to get more computers so it can create workstations and offer language courses in at least English and Dutch, because these are in demand. Some of the specific rooms they want to create are the St. Maarten room, which will have local publications and information, an ICT learning lab, an area for young adults, a room for the children’s media collection, a meeting room and an auditorium that can seat at least 100 people. The latter could also serve as revenue generating measures.
This physical transformation is difficult to make because the library does not have the funding to make the changes. They hope the concrete support from the committee is that they will knock on doors and tap on shoulders to help raise the money.
“We’ve already tried with AMFO (Antillean Co-Financing Agency) but they don’t finance building projects. Usona has said they can’t finance and we’ve tried getting a loan, but it is difficult to get the extra subsidy to cover the cost of the loan,” Alberts said.
Finding external funding is necessary because the library is in a “challenging financial position” because the current 1.2 million guilder subsidy is not enough for the operational expenses like salaries. The fact that government releases 90 percent of the yearly subsidy up front and then delivers the remaining 10 percent when the body delivers its audited financial accounts also creates “definite cash flow issues.” The library is up to date though, having already submitted their annual accounts for 2010 already.
While the library is looking at expanding the main office they are also looking at offering more services in the community by working with community organizations to establish branches. The stations they want to create will be run by secondary school students who will volunteer as part of their school’s community service requirement. The library is exploring this model because it is also challenged in finding sufficient staff to work as librarians in the building in Philispburg. Efforts to recruit from the Netherlands have not been very successful and it will be some time yet before a vision from library managers throughout the Dutch Caribbean sub-region to establish a joint training facility can be realized as this too also costs money. Schaminee-Ringeling also stressed the fact that young people here should consider studying to be a librarian because it is one of the professions that is on the priority list for people who desire study financing.

All MPs at Wednesday’s meeting were supportive of the library and its efforts, with some pressing them to go further with the services for key target groups.
Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin said he’s conscious of the importance of having a national library having had access to Aruba’s national library. He also pressed the library to do more to get teenagers to read.
“Let’s be honest our young people don’t read and that is creating a serious problem with literacy in this country,” Marlin said.
Librarian Karia Arnold replied that they’re trying to address that issue through the Readers are Leaders program, which targets teenagers specifically. The program confirms the MP’s sentiments on literacy because the library has observed that some students at vocational schools have the reading level of students in Cycle 1 (the earliest levels) in primary school.
While he supports the expansion of the current building National Alliance MP Louie Laveist believes the library’s board and management need to do more with their current space.
“In my opinion there is a lot of dead space and in the future the space should be maximized. I also think that while your ideas are visionary and much needed, they are also costly,” Laveist said.
United People’s (UP) Party Faction leader Romain Laville also supports the library’s efforts but was curious about the future role of the library considering the march of technology, including e-readers and e-books.

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