Britain’s library sector has experienced considerable cuts and closures in recent years, creating understandable concern that the future of the UK’s library system is under threat. The BBC reported at the end of March that over 300 libraries throughout the country had closed in the last 6 years and the number of paid staff had dropped by a huge 25%.
Ian Anstice, a passionate librarian who runs the website Public Libraries News in his spare time, spoke on the so-called UK library crisis, saying;
‘Our public library system used to be envy of the world. Now it is used as a cautionary tale that librarians use worldwide to scare their colleagues.’
Some analysts have claimed that the very concept of a library is outdated, that the internet, phones, tablets and kindles have made the system obsolete.
But is this really the case? In Anstice’s own words, Britain’s public library system is being used as a cautionary tale – but other library systems in the world could still thrive.
This is indeed the case in many instances, as other major nations are seeing their library systems expand and some truly fascinating libraries flourishing.
If you’re a book lover and contemplating a move overseas, you may want to consider a region with a real passion for literature.
In this two-part article we’ll be looking at five such places, starting with The Netherlands, Germany and Japan.
A short hop over the channel will take you to a nation with over 579 public libraries, several of which are considered among the best in the world.
Just south of The Hauge is the municipality of Delft, home to the Delft University of Technology. While the University is the oldest public technology university in the Netherlands (being established in 1842) the ‘TU Delft Library’ was only created in 1997. The library has an iconic shape and a grass-covered roof that patrons are free to walk around on.
TU Delft boasts the ‘largest collection of scientific and technical literature in the Netherlands’, according to the library’s official site, with its collection standing out against a striking blue wall.
Delft doesn’t just have the TU Library however, as the ‘DOK Library Concept Center’ in Delft was opened in 2007 following a desire to redesign the old Delft Library. The DOK includes ‘iPod chairs’, with each futuristic chair having speakers and screens, making them set up for not just reading, but music, movies, games and art. There is also a ‘Tank U’ system designed to allow library content to be downloaded to personal devices via Bluetooth, plus other technological features that were impossible to support in DOK’s old building.
DOK’s mission statement reads;
‘It is to become and remain the most advanced library in the world. Using creativity, technical innovation, and advancing scientific understanding, DOK endeavours to be an indispensable source of inspiration for its members, visitors, and partners in the city of Delft, in the Netherlands, and in the world. In this way, DOK hopes to safeguard access to the independent, objective, free flow of information that’s essential for democracy now and in the future.’
Created in Spijkenisse by Dutch group MVRDV is a pyramid-like structure housing a library built of bookcases designed to be mountain-like in appearance. Aptly named ‘Book Mountain’, the library boasts five floors of bookshelves with a café at the very top.
According to Dezeen, which has collected a wonderful set of images of the artistic library, the shelves are made from recycled materials and architects have offered reassurance that books are less likely to take sun damage in their specialist home.
Image copyright hipproductions
A part of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, this library is perhaps the most famous library in the Netherlands because of its grand interior and it is one of the most oft-mentioned libraries in the world.
The library, similarly to the Rijksmuseum itself, is focused on art history and is the largest art history research library in the Netherlands. It boasts 400k volumes collected since 1885; including monographs, art sales catalogues and periodicals.
Despite being a historical museum, the library has made considerable amounts of its collection available digitally; ‘The aim is to provide access to all available materials through a flexible library catalogue. With a view to service and efficiency this requires a standardized library catalogue.’
Other fantastic libraries in the Netherlands include the classic Royal Library in The Hague and the Nieuwe Bibliotheek in Almere, designed to look like a modern book store to entice patronage.
If we head a little further into Europe we come to Germany. Despite being considered one of the most industrial nations on the continent, Germany has some of the world’s most fascinating libraries and shows a real passion for collections.
Germany has around 10,000 libraries, with over 2,000 of these being funded by the government and the remaining libraries being run by churches and other passionate groups.
An article on DW discusses the issues that have caused some libraries to struggle and observed reasons why Germany’s library system is booming. These include “expanding opening hours and campaigning for better access to e-books”, as well as offering cafés, children’s play areas and comfortable relaxation areas. The article also claims that library usage in Germany has actually increased in the last 2 years.
Image copyright softdelusion
Designed by Eun-Young Yi from Yi Architects, the Stuttgart Municipal Library is a modern 9-storey library shaped like a cube. It opened in October 2011 after a fourteen year and 79 million Euro development. Previously, Stuttgart’s central library was located inside the Wilhelmspalais – a palace in Stuttgart – however in 2011 the central library’s contents were moved to the new ‘Stadtbibliothek am Mailander Platz’ building designed by Yi.
Despite being opened so recently, the library’s design, with its tapered floors that focus on a minimalist design to improve mental clarity, has been celebrated worldwide and become a globally recognised structure. The library boasts a media collection of over 500k volumes ranging from books to audio files and e-books, with touchscreen stations on every floor making locating any piece of the collection easy for visitors.
The library’s mission statement was inspired by a quote from Umberto Eco; “If the library is a model of the universe, we should attempt to transform it into a universe that is appropriate for human beings. In other words, into a pleasurable library that people enjoy visiting”.
Established in 2005, the Philological Library (or Philologische Bibliothek) is a recent addition to the Free University of Berlin (Freie Universitat Berlin) campus. The library was designed by Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, and its glass and metal casing is shaped like a human brain to form the centrepiece of the university’s ‘Rust and Silver Lodges’ complex. It has become known as a landmark of Berlin.
The building contains 10 previously separate library departments and has the space for 800k volumes and desk space for over 600 readers. The futuristic appearance of the interior that merges walls with ceilings was made with the goal of maximising the spread of natural light and ventilation to create a warm and healthy atmosphere for patrons.
Image copyright lullabi
Short for ‘Informations-, Kommunikations- und Medienzentrum’, the IKMZ is the public library of the Brandenburg University of Technology in the University city of Cottbus. Designed by famous architects Herzog & de Meuron, the library was opened in 2004 with an emphasis on organic shapes that fit in with the building’s surrounding region.
The inside is adorned with modern, unique architecture that utilises bright contrasting colours like pink and green. Ceilings are intentionally low to maximise the amount of natural light in each room and a modern media centre occupies the first floor.
Book culture in Japan is thriving with Japan’s capital, Tokyo, boasting 1,700 book stores – the most of any city in the world according to UNESCO’s World Cities Cultural Report. Every city has at least one public library, and as over 90% of individuals in Japan have been accessing the internet as of 2016, the grand majority of Japanese libraries have a public catalogue available online.
As of 2010 there were over 3,250 libraries in Japan and according to an editorial from the Japan Times, libraries in the nation have been thriving in the last 5 years. For example, in 2010 school libraries saw around 26 books taken out per child despite the nation’s considerable internet usage.
Osaka is home to some famous museums, such as the National Museum of Art, the Osaka Science Museum and the widely celebrated Shiba Ryotaro Memorial Museum. The latter, which opened in 2001, is home to a giant bookshelf housing over 20,000 books.
The aptly titled museum was named after the late author Ryōtarō Shiba and built as an extension of his home in tribute to his work. The volumes in its collection include Shiba’s work as well as the numerous works that inspired him throughout his life.
The library was designed by Ando Tadao with the intention of helping visitors visualize how Shiba’s mind worked and flowed, steeped with smooth curved walls of information. The library uses a gradual change of darkness to natural light to emphasise the feelings Shiba’s work invoked in readers after World War II, and its wooden walls are surrounded by nature.
Tama University’s modern library, designed by Toyo Ito (winner of the 2013 Pritzker Prize) opened in 2007. The design priority was to create a space that would be used communally by students and staff of all disciplines, and as a result the library was placed in the middle of the campus as an area people would meet regardless of how they planned to use the library.
The building is characterised by its ceiling of unique arches, which aim to reflect the gentle slopes of the campus outside. The design also had the intention of creating a series of continuous but individual spaces, inspired by the exploration of a cave or forest. The library is equipped with copy machines and art books that make professional-level editing work accessible for students, as well as – of course- a diverse range of books and films.
Designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, this University library’s interior celebrates traditional libraries by having its walls made almost entirely out of bookshelves, with a long coiling bookshelf making up the majority of the library’s inner walls.
The library’s exterior walls are shelves plated with glass, giving the library a neat modern feeling. The bookshelves within the library itself were made with the intention of eventually all being filled, whether they be shelves used for walls or stairs. The shelves include space for as many as 200,000 books, with half of those books kept in a closed-archive.
Fujimoto designed the library to capture the essence of the ultimate library, focusing on simplicity and books and keeping the technological aspect to a minimum while still offering an extensive information access system. Despite this tech-light approach, the library has become a hit since it opened in 2010.
Join us for part two of our look at five fantastic emigration destinations for book lovers. Next time we’ll be looking to the United States and South America.
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