photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “Imagine, a piece of the ceiling crashes down, or there’s a short somewhere because of exposed cables, we can’t risk that”, says Paul Martens, President of the Board of Philipsburg Jubilee Library. He is talking about the emergency closure of the library that was instated on December 10th.

“The decision to close was not an easy one but when both the labor inspectorate and the fire department informed us at the beginning of December that the building was unsafe, we didn’t have a choice.”

No more free Wi-Fi
On any given weekday people gather outside of the building to make use of the free Wi-Fi. Martens: “We actually wanted to turn it off, because it’s not safe under the awning either.”
Cruise ship tourist Sarah from Canada is stunned and asks if there’s another library. She’s not that tech-savvy and could have used some help from the library employees to email some pictures.

Nowhere to work on homework
The sixteen year old Gerome, a student at the Sundialschool next door, says that he would always come here to work on his school projects. Now that it’s no longer an option, he comes here to ‘chill’ and go through his social media. He sits on the ground and leaves the stone benches for the elderly.

Franceska, who is 29 and a studies nursing at the NIPA, also used to library as a place to study. Now she meets her classmates under the awning and they go to the Quiznos. Is that a good alternative? “No, not really because we have to order something at Quiznos to get the Wi-Fi code.”

This affects all ages
Who does this affect the most? Martens: “Everyone will immediately think of the students but we also had the elderly who came in for pc trainings, kindergartners who came for story time, and of course school children; everyone suffers because of this.”

Future insecure
On the 20th of October 2017, one and a half months after Irma, the main hall had been transformed into an all-in-one room for computers, tables, and around 200 books. The desks of the employees and the management team had also been moved in there. At this point, six weeks after the library’s closing, no one knows what will happen. There’s a meeting planned with the Minister of Culture as soon as the new design plans are ready. Only then can the paid out insurance money be utilized for temporary accommodations.

‘It’s becoming frustrating’ – Paul Martens, President of the Board of Philipsburg Jubilee Library

Martens hopes that in the future he can request funds from the Recovery Fund (Wederopbouwfonds), but he’s had no assurances. A request was put in months ago but the government only wants to dispense funds when there’s a plan and vision in place. Culture is not a priority for them. Other public institutions and buildings have still not been repaired one and a half years after Irma. All the money seems to go towards tourism.

About his feelings and that of his coworkers Martens had the following to say: “There’s plenty of team spirit and we’ve shown initiative, but it’s becoming frustrating. Everyone has good intentions, but nothing is happening. Even the minister is powerless.”