The library on the move: from Center for books to focus on visitors

The Netherlands’ first public library opened around 1915. The growth of libraries started around 1920 and continued until the 1990. In this year, The Netherlands has 1165 public libraries, as can be read in the article of bibliotheekmonitor about the pub-lic libraries’ short history. After this year, a decline starts happening. Budget cuts are a main cause to this but technical developments and digitalization are part of it as well. The reason for going to a library changed in two decades, as well as the role of a library as an institution.

“The role of libraries in society has changed and evolved in recent years, with the increasing importance of online sources. Modern libraries must strike a balance between housing significant amounts of printed material, providing access to digital material, and serving as a hub of activities within the community.”
– Carles Broto

As the above quote states, the role of the library changed tremendously. In his book “Libraries. Innovation and Design” (2015), Broto describes the challenges that this change brings. He focuses on the architectural design of the building and claims that books and activities should be equally important in a community. Not just reading, but learning. Not just on paper, but digitally.

Libraries vs smartphones!

The change in the role of the library has a direct connection to the changing needs of the people, in which digitalization plays a big part. In the ‘olden days’, the library would be a place where knowledge was found in books, which nowadays we can find just as easily online. The need for knowledge however still exists, but we carry this knowledge with us in the form of a smartphone. The library needs to change, but how?

A library doesn’t just exist by the virtue of books.

That libraries have more to offer than just books, is also highlighted by Arthur Schellekens, director of the Public Library Association. Libraries are increasingly focussed on knowledge exchange for self-education, self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Although the number of physical visits decreases, a wider audience returns. Schellekens: “Libraries play an active role when it comes to making knowledge and information accessible, but also in the fields of culture, education and debate libraries play an important role. The-se topics are part of the local infrastructure and are therefore intertwined. I think it is very important that they move along with social trends and respond to current devel-opments. Therein lies a great social added value, ” states Schellekens following his appointment as Director of the Public Library Association. Approachability plays an important role in making knowledge accessible. Architecture plays a key role in this as well: it takes the new visitor’s wishes into consideration and represents the ‘home of community’. Even though the function has changed and the librarian has been replaced with online tools, a new role for the library is evident. According to Broto, this role is embedded in society, by finding the balance between books, digital media and being a central meeting spot. Research, encounters and entrepreneurship should be the main focus of the new and improved library 2.0.

The Boekenberg as a third place

The Boekenberg works hard to keep to this new role. The new building is a big part of this. Mid 2016, few changes have been made to make specific places in the building for meeting and individual work. That this is an ongoing development, we also read in the Boekenberg policy plan 2017-2020, entitled ‘Building the broad public library for Nissewaard.’ That title is both a promise and a challenge. “For decades, the library was a firm institution, a given. Those times are behind us. The question is whether that is a bad thing,” is written in the introduction of the policy plan. More than ever, library the Boekenberg wants to show its social returns. Not only by offering knowledge, but by being a so called third place. A place, besides home and workplace, where you can relax. Like in a park or café. In a flash forward to 2020 the Boekenberg library sees its own role as follows: “A library that triggers curiosity, in a building that invites people in. With a staff that is welcoming and knowledgeable. Where people go to discover, relax, meet each other and educate themselves. Where people go to both share and retrieve knowledge. A house for knowledge and information that aims at contributing to the in informal reading and learning culture in the city (…). That is the broad public library that we want to be.”