Saturday, February 17, 2018

Rotterdam's lively library: a lesson in how to keep libraries alive!

As you might expect (me being bookish and all) I am a member of Rotterdam's central library. There are many branch libraries in the city, but the main branch is my local simply because my barge lies just a couple of hundred metres from its entrance. But you know what? even if I didn't like reading, I would go to the library just to be there. It is possibly the most invigorating place in the whole city, and I mean that.

Founded in 1604,  Rotterdam Biblioteek is a community hub like no other. According to Wikipedia, it's one of the largest libraries in the country and it's the most visited cultural institution in Rotterdam boasting around 2.5 million visitors every year. That's really something, isn't it? But it doesn't surprise me at all.

Courtesy of the library's website

This last week, I had a moment when it really struck me what a special place it is.

You see, far from being a quiet and restful, Rotterdam library is a lively, busy, noisy and intensely active place. Not what you'd expect, is it? It's also quite huge, so if you really want to find a peaceful corner to pore over books or do some research, you have to make your way up to the top floors (there are seven) and find a desk or table where all is still and hushed. But even there, it's normally pretty packed with students and quite difficult to find space. It's a favourite place for the young and learned to go and work, so empty spots are at a premium.

This aside, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the library and whenever I go through its revolving door, I feel an energy that you wouldn't normally expect from a place full of books.

On the ground floor, apart from a busy information desk, there's always an exhibition of some kind on display. Last week, it was on photos from Aruba and Kazakhstan. There was also a big screen where the olympic skating was being shown and benches were arranged for anyone who wanted to sit and watch. There were plenty of takers.

On a more permanent basis, there is a huge walk through chess game, also with benches around it. This is where you can usually find a number of elderly gents parked while they watch the game in progress. It's played with giant chess pieces that are shuffled across the floor from square to square. The 'board' is made up of black and white floor tiles and it's always in use. Always, yes. Next to it, there's a café, which is where I often meet prospective students. The whole ground floor has such a vibrancy about it it's just a lovely place to be.

Upstairs, each level has a different focus: the first is devoted to media and information. There are large, lecturn-shaped tables with reading lamps where anyone can go and read the newspapers available. Last week, I was just one of a number of – shall we say – mature ladies and gents occupying these spots. Then there are the books but of course these are categorised and spread over the various floors, along with other media such as music, film and other audio. As an information centre, it really has no equal.

Right at the top of the building, there are small rooms that you can hire as a study space and even sound proofed rooms with pianos for musicians who want a private place to practice. There are also meeting rooms for hire for small groups. If you're a library member, meaning that you've paid a subscription, the individual rooms are free, but I should say anyone can use the library, spend time in it, browse through the books and read there. No one is at the door to check you have paid. It's just that if you want to borrow books, or use the internet or other facilities, a subscription is needed. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of visitors who only go there to enjoy the community feeling without feeling obliged to fork out for membership.

Rotterdam has shown how important a library is to the community and ours is such an example. I absolutely love it and often spend time there between lessons, it's such a stimulating place to be. The council have managed to make sure it's still an appealing place to go and it is extremely well run. I can definitely recommend it as a place to visit too. The building is fascinating quite apart from anything else, with its bright, yellow exterior pipe work. It's just one of those off the wall designs for which this city is so well known.

The library to the left of the Pencil building from the Markthal

The library from the Markthal

Well that's it for me this week. Have a good weekend allemaal and I'd love to know if you have a special library. Do you think you'd like to have one that's as busy as ours, for example? What makes a library special for you?

14 comments:

  1. That's really interesting about the library. I recently visited the library of Birmingham, in the UK. A fabulous place full of surprises over several floors with a rooftop garden. Well worth a visit.

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    1. Now that sounds like a great place too, Maria! Thank you for commenting!

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  2. What an amazing place Val. I think you could spend the whole day there. My local library is in its original building so very old and small. In Glasgow we have The Mitchell library which is a historical building and has quite a few floor I think. That's where Glasgow author 's do their research.

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    1. It really is, Anne! I love being there. Your library in Glasgow sounds like a lovely place to be too!

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  3. Hi Val - it looks amazing and enterprising ... loved you taking us on a tour. While the architecture is quite special too ... brilliant - love the idea of sound-proofed music rooms ... they seem to have covered all the bases. No wonder you enjoy visiting and make use of it ... cheers Hilary

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    1. It really is fabulous, Hilary. Have you come across any libraries on your adventures?

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  4. I went in there when I was in Rotterdam in December, and agree what a nice place it is. I could have done with a more welcoming snack bar though (unless I just didn't find the right one) because it seemed very expensive and a little offputting. I entirely agree that this is what libraries ought to be. There are a few in London called Ideas Stores and they are nice too although not as ambitious, I suspect. Towns need places like this, don't they?

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    1. Oh I do agree, Jenny. This one has become quite a social hub. I’m sorry you didn’t like the café. It is expensive, I agree, but I like sitting in the window seats and reading.

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  5. Brilliant! When the central is local! That part of Rotterdam is vibrant and to have a superb library there too is very special indeed. A great place to meet your prospective students. Thank you again for joining me in Spalding Library, which, though small, is humming all the time. :)

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    1. It’s people like you who keep the smaller libraries buzzing, I’m sure, Christina! I am very fortunate to have this one so close to hand, though :)

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  6. Marvelous blog about a fantastic place. What a gift you have...sort of in your front (or back?) yard. Inspiring blog, Val. As always. All libraries should be like this. (Steph)

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    1. I agree, Steph. They should :) I am very happy to have it so close by!

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  7. How wonderful to live so near to this magnificent library. It seems it is everything we would all like a city library to be, as well as architecturally very attractive. Love the yellow pipework.
    I'd be there often if I lived nearby.

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    1. It has no shortage of admirers, Patricia, so that’s all of us :)

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