On a sunny, hot, sticky morning, Amsterdam’s first touch of summer, I met up with the group of 100+ cyclists in front of OBA (Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, or the Public Library of Amsterdam). Many are friends from last year’s trip (we cycled from Vilnius to Tallinn); some are new participants. There’s a lot of organizing, waiting, and small group conversations on the first day; we’re excited to get started. Over 60 of us have rented bikes from the same supplier, and I’m charmed by my smooth-riding Dutch city bike. Sturdy, upright, “like steering an SUV,” someone notes. I’ve added cheerful bike bags, found in an Amsterdam HEMA store, which makes it easier for me to pick out my bike in the crowd. We deliver luggage to the truck and lock up the bicycles (Amsterdam, home to over 500,000 bikes, also has over 150,000 stolen a year).
And here we are, the first library visit. We file into a lecture hall for a presentation, and then are offered time to tour and eat lunch on the top floor, where a deck overlooks the city. We are a large group, wearing our fluorescent yellow vests.
OBA is less than a decade old, a building known and studied by librarians from many countries. I visited it last summer, so this time I drifted around getting a feel for the place; there are strong architectural design features, pleasing to look at, but in a library sometimes that can get in the way of patrons’ use. The children’s area is perhaps more static and austere than I’d like, but then again, there aren’t many children here today (school is still in session); on my previous visit, there was a lot of activity.
I’m reminded that it’s hard to judge a library’s successful use of space and resources without spending time looking, watching, talking with staff and users. I can’t rush to judgment on the libraries we’ll see, but I can collect ideas, images, impressions.
When we exit OBA, and get ready to ride together as a group for the first time, there’s almost a hum, in the heat and humidity of the afternoon: now the trip begins.
We don’t cycle far that day; our next stop is the library at KIT (Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, or Royal Tropical Institute). Housed in a grand old building, the library is a beautiful room and features important collections, but due to reorganization, the whole thing is in danger of being shut down and possibly sold off. (We heard the following day that there may be a reprieve but I’m not certain of the details.) It’s a chilling display of the same economic challenges that threaten all kinds of libraries. The issues of structural design, funding, and services will resonate throughout the trip.