We were always happy to arrive at a library (in fact, the two days when we didn’t visit any felt much longer, and not just because they were long cycling days). And when we arrived… we made quite an entrance. Over 100 people, in those safety vests, streaming in, often making a beeline for a bathroom, a beverage, an electrical outlet, a wifi access code or computer, depending on current priority (all of these were important).
It was really hard not to have a sea of yellow vests in every photo, and I’m embarrassed that it took me several days to realize I had to turn off my flash to avoid getting light halos from the reflective stripes. Some libraries had treats to offer us! Coffee or water, a food cart with fresh Stroopwafels, glasses of wine, a bar serving Belgian beer … yes, we were spoiled by the attention.
Here are some of the impressions that stick with me. To put them in context, I should note that in The Netherlands and in Belgium, patrons pay an annual fee for library use (free to children under 18, reduced rate for those with lower income). In Belgium, there’s a limit (I think around $10) for this fee, but in The Netherlands you might pay more for more services. But one library director said this: “When people pay for services, they expect more,” implying that libraries are therefore driven to provide better services.
Something different: a theme that came up often was “innovate or die.” One example was the Haarlem Train Station Library, in The Netherlands. This is a new, small, library in one of the busiest train stations in The Netherlands. It’s geared to commuters, and uses a bookstore-type layout: all new materials (less than two years old); several copies of the most popular new books (known as “sprinters,”), bold graphics. The supervising organization also has a library at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, and will eventually offer a network of ten train station libraries. The library card can be connected to a regular library card for an additional fee.
Several libraries used shelving and display sections that we more commonly associate with bookstores; one librarian told me, “we call it retail.” Lots of face-out books, materials grouped in stacks, clear colorful signage.
At DOK in Delft, there’s been a concerted effort to push out with new services, or to supply typical services in a way that engages the patrons. One example I liked is the “e-bar,” where a range of e-reader models are set up (a bit like an Apple store), with clear instructions for downloading library digital materials available on a pad of pull-off sheets next to each device. DOKLab is located within the library; it’s a creative forward-looking business that develops digital library tools and services, and can try out emerging products in the library setting.
In Belgium, libraries can receive special funding when they demonstrate creativity in library organization or approaches. A new library in Affligem arranged its collection in a series of “rooms” that integrated fiction and non-fiction materials by theme. The children’s area was designed with input from children and families in the area, and was separated by a white wall that looks like a house.
As I looked at these libraries, I couldn’t help thinking about how some of the elements might translate to the libraries I know and use in the Lancaster area. Think about it, a train station library … wouldn’t that be great?