Are St. Martin’s children reading St. Martin’s books?


A reading program for children, ages 0-4 at the Jubilee Library. Senior librarian Alex Richards back at the Public Library in Marigot.

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St. Martin Book Fair stepping up promotions for its June 3-5 festival. A new autobiography by first-time author Felecita Williams in bookstores last week and set to launch this week.

And that’s just some of the reading and book-related news and media discussions for the month of May alone.

But are the people, and especially the children of the island reading books published in St. Martin? How do we get concrete information, objective figures, about the performance of books published by St. Martin authors?

"Over a year ago we got hard facts from Van Dorp bookstore. This year we turned to the Philipsburg Jubilee library," said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

So what are the facts? In 2009, four St. Martin books topped the chart for being taken out of the Jubilee Library (PJL), according to Ans Koolen, system administrator and assistant director of PJL.

Outrunning the top four was Love Songs Make You Cry, taken home 300 times in 2009, mostly by young readers. "This is an amazing comeback story for us at House of Nehesi because we published that book exactly 20 years ago as St. Martin’s first short stories collection," said Sample.

Part of what drove the hits on Love Songs? "This book is on the reading list of secondary schools, which gave a boost to circulation," said Koolen.

Next in line for being taken home, 274 times, was An Introduction to Government – Island territory St. Maarten by Louis Duzanson, followed by Know Your Political History, 2nd edition, by the Lynch brothers, with 241 "visits" home. The third book borrowed from PJL with a high frequency in 2009, was National Symbols of St. Martin, 236 times.

The second set of popularly borrowed HNP books, with 147 and 100 hits respectively at PJL, were St. Martin Massive! and another short stories book Brother of the Spurs by Lasana M. Sekou.

Koolen pointed out that Introduction to Government, Know Your Political History, and the long-time library favorite National Symbols of St. Martin "were also used a lot in the library, so not checked out, and the stats don’t reflect this."

Guess which poetry books were taken out from PJL the most in 2009? Golden Voices of S’Maatin by Ruby Bute (62x); Songs and Images of St. Martin by the late Charles Borromeo Hodge (52x); and Drisana Jack’s The Rainy Season (50x). Cul-de-Sac People by Mathias Voges was borrowed 50 times.

There were other titles showing activity too but taken home less than 50 times last year, said Sample.

Koolen emphasized that a number of St. Martin books and books from the rest of the Caribbean and around the world—a number in various languages—are read regularly by library visitors but are not recorded as borrowed books since they are used in the reading areas of the library.

The junior scholastic booklets of non-traditional nation builders are examples of book used in the library but not checked out for home use. "These pamphlets were mainly used in-house, especially during Black History Month. Local achievers Chester York (pan man) and Gassy (cyclist) were the most popular" in 2009, said Koolen.

"What else can we say at House of Nehesi but, thank you, St. Martin. We hope to continue publishing books of dynamic quality that we all can take home or wherever else we well please," said Sample.