PHILIPSBURG–Monique Alberts came to St. Maarten in August 2006 and three years later became director of Philipsburg Jubilee Library. Her tenure as Library Director will come to an end this Friday, as she will move to Curaçao to take up a new job as manager of Mongui Maduro Library.
The S.A.L. (Mongui) Maduro Foundation encompasses the historical plantation house Rooi Catootje, a museum, a children’s museum and a library containing a unique collection of “Antilliana” and “Judaica,” dating back to the 17th century. The library holds a treasure of scientific books and documents on the history of Jews in Curaçao, including the synagogues’ archives, and on the history of the island in general.
Alberts has been recruited to help reorganise the library and to increase public awareness. She also wants to be instrumental digitalising the collection and in making this available online.
Alberts will be bidding farewell to Philipsburg Jubilee Library as it still struggles with the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Large parts of the library can no longer be used, and part of the book collection fell victim to the wind, rain and mould.
“This is a difficult moment, but it was a good offer. I have a degree in political sciences and I would love to work in a scientific environment. I wanted to do something different, but I agree that I’m leaving the library under difficult circumstances and without a functional building,” she said.
Alberts said the library has closed an agreement with Super Plaza department store to rent one of its warehouses, “but this is not yet set in black and white.”
Government has agreed to either rent the building or to grant the library an extra subsidy, but this has not yet materialised. Alberts said the library hopes to leave its current building as per August 1, “but this probably is not going to happen.”
The library is to share the warehouse with St. Maarten Archaeological Centre Simarc, which was completely destroyed by Irma.
In conjunction with Simarc and St. Maarten Museum, the library has been lobbying since 2008 for a new multi-functional building for these three institutions at the library’s current location.
Philipsburg Jubilee Library sits on a plot of land on Voges Street adjacent to Sundial School, which in 1982 was given out in long lease for 60 years, ending in 2042.
The necessary funds for the new building have been requested from the Reconstruction Fund, which is managed by the World Bank. “It may take three years before the new building is established,” Alberts expects.
The Library lost some books in the hurricane, Alberts said. “We lost literature and poetry and also some Caribbean books, which are difficult to replace.”
The collection of St. Maarten books and documents is safe and has been transferred to the climate-controlled government archives in the new Government Administration Building.
“I am glad the Library is still being used. We had to close temporarily, but we partially reopened, albeit in an improvised environment. People appreciate that we remained open, despite the heat, the mosquitoes, and inflowing rainwater. It is not easy, but we want to remain open to the public,” Alberts said.
She looks back on her 12-year stint at the library with great satisfaction: “We have done many new projects, such as the Bibliobus and the highly-popular Medialab, thanks to good cooperation with a number of funding organisations and supporters.”
There is still a future for the library in St. Maarten, said Alberts. “Often, all seats here are occupied,” she said.
The library launched a programme for low-literate people in 2016. “Still, a volunteer is busy assisting people with reading and writing. In the Netherlands much investment is made in literacy, but there is little known about illiteracy among adults here in St. Maarten. It is necessary to remove the taboo. More needs to be done in the future,” Alberts said.
The library has become less and less dependent on librarians from the Netherlands over the years. Currently, it is working with a completely local staff of nine employees. Alberts’ position will be taken over by Interim Director Irmin Hughes, who has worked with the Library for more than 40 years. The library board will soon open the vacancy for a new director.