The book through the ages

Libraries have focussed on books since the very beginning. This reason can be related back to the Greek words ‘biblion’, meaning book, and ‘thèkè’, meaning repository. These words together make up the Dutch word for Library: bibliotheek. The Boekenberg is built as a big mountain of books. This design did get some backlash after its realisation; especially because of how the Library honours the book. Some critics thought the Library should have been more contemporary, with a stronger connection to the twenty-first century: the age of smartphones and e-readers. Architect Winy Maas disagrees. “No,” he states. “The Boekenberg isn’t just a mountain and display of books, it is also a sarcophagus.” In addition, a book is far more than just letters on paper. It stands for knowledge, documentation, art, culture, heritage and relaxation. The book has had many different functions over the years. Even though the printing press we know now didn’t start until the fifteenth century, its developments can be traced back to the Romans.

The history of the book
The Romans were some of the first we know of to scratch messages into beeswax tablets. If the message was outdated, it would be smoothened out for the next messages to be made. Multiple of these wax messages made up a longer message: hinged together, they were turned into a codex. The codex is the ancestor of the book we know today and was very popular because of its user-friendliness. Therefore, it dominated from the early days onwards. In the Middle Ages, books were being handwritten. The monks and scribes played a big part in this phenomenon. The fifteenth century marks the start of the printing press, firstly using separate letters but later using complete texts. This sped up the process and more books were made and sold. Type writers, copiers, computers and printers boosted the process even more in the twentieth century. Now, even e-books are available for rent at the Boekenberg, for all your devices. Read more about that here.

The Boekenberg: a stage and a sarcophagus for books
A lot has been said on the ‘book vs. e-book’ debate. And new technologies like Storytel (audiobooks) are rampant. Despite all that, we do owe a lot to the original paper book. Regardless of the future form of stories, our past was built on mountains of books. Besides being a stage for books, the Boekenberg is also a sarcophagus in honour of all these books. The ‘climb’ will lead you past many books, but also past so much more than just that!

Director’s top 3
One would expect a Library’s director to read a lot of books, is this assumption correct? We asked Victor Thissen, director of the Boekenberg.

How often do you read? Is that as much as you would like?
“I read all day, almost everything and both conscious and unconscious. I read boring reports, articles published on innovative websites, traffic jam messages and the always interesting apps of my children. My day starts with the Volkskrant newspaper and ends late at night with an e-book in bed. I usually only read a few pages before I fall asleep, so it sometimes takes a while to finish a book. However, I get to 25 to 30 books per year, holidays included. And always a bit of everything. I can enjoy Gijp or Ik, Zlatan, but also the latest book by A.F.Th. van der Heijden.”

Which books were the most impressive to you and why?
“Wow, how do I determine this… Ok. I know. The most impressive where children’s books, the books I read when I was just a boy. And the only books I at least read three times and probably more often. To know: Kruistocht in spijkerbroek (Crusade in jeans) by Thea Beckman and Oorlogswinter (War winter) by Jan Terlouw. Exciting, books that invite you into a different world and at the same time tell you about former times. I’m a historian, maybe my interest in history begun with these books.”

Which book you would not even give your worst enemy as a present?
“Another difficult question. Earlier I just wanted to read everything. Today I’m pickier and won’t continue reading a book I don’t like. But I’ll give a diplomatic answer, because maybe my colleagues want to invite that same author for a reading, you’ll never know. I don’t like books that are quickly conceived and composed, often with dollar signs in the eyes. I would never give those as a gift. That is the case, for example, with short stories by popular columnists bundled together. Or the booklets of politicians, just before the elections.”

Finally, what is your all time favourite top 3?

  1. De Correcties by Jonathan Franzen
    “Post-modern family novel about an average American family. Beautifully constructed, hilarious at times. It gives a look into Western society.”
  2. De Welwillenden by Jonathan Littel
    “Stunning book in which the horrors of the Second World War are described from the perspective of the perpetrators.”
  3. All books by F. Springer, pseudonym of Carel Jan Schneider
    “A diplomat who writes in a lucid style, with subdued humor and, at the same time, gives a good idea of the couleur locale of regions and countries in which he resides.”