Libraries 2040

It was early June 2000: eight children from the municipality of Moerdijk were putting up their tents in the pouring rain near Fort de Hel (‘Hell fortress’), a deserted 18th century stronghold on the border of the province of Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands. Their assignment was clear: design and complete a public library for 2040, the partisan library. These children were unobtrusively launching the Libraries 2040 project that reached its provisional climax in November and December of 2000 when seven much talked-about libraries of the future were completed.A vision of the future for public libraries was revealed at seven locations. These seven future libraries ranged from the partisan library designed by the children to intimate sitting room libraries in the homes of well-known inhabitants of Brabant and a spectacular new library concept designed by one of the best known architects of the Netherlands, Winy Maas. All seven projects demonstrated the viability of libraries and also a plea for greater imagination and inspiration in designing future libraries.

The central focus in the Libraries 2040 project is on the future of public libraries. In most future projections, the principal question is what exp ectations there are for the future: the probable future. That is the future of extrapolated trends and factual expectations. This project is all about what we ourselves want in a chosen future, a future in which our ideals and dreams also have a fair chance. The premise on which this project is based is that books will live on. Why? Quite simply because we want them to. Just as you walk even though you could take the car, the bus or the tram. Books will be there as long as we go on walking. Books enrich society and will forever remain part of our culture. For that reason there will always be room in our civilisation where we can keep books, places of collective inspiration, attractive places that are pleasant to spend time in and where we can meet books.

In future, the people of the Netherlands will be finding different ways of spending their free time, reading differently and using different sources to find information. Accordingly, we have framed a concept of the future, a farreaching, attractive alternative future in which anything is imaginable and everything is feasible. In this concept, libraries are given a future. By 2040, the traditional public libraries will have ceased to exist and new, attractive future libraries will have taken their place. What will they be like? The Libraries 2040 project is looking for an answer to this question.

The Brabant Library The Brabant Library is a fascinating design by architectWiny Maas, in which the power of a small-scale design is combined with the almost limit – less possibilities of a 230-metre tall super library. In just a short space of time, Maas has become one of the Netherlands’ most famed architects. Among his work is the design for the VPRO Villa (VPRO is a Dutch broadcasting organisation) and the much talked – about Dutch Pavilion at the Expo 2000 in Hanover.

The impetus behind this Brabant Library is that the current public library system is no longer able to cope with the enormous production of books. In addition, increasing urbanisation and population density have spawned a growing and more differentiated demand for information. In his design, Maas calls for a centralised approach so as to fend off virtual developments and the decline in quality brought about by the product that the cur rent decentralised order provides. He has designed a central library which also functions as a general resource facility offering a complex and effective distribution package. Operating in this framework, Maas has designed a library that redefines and intensifies all existing and new library functions in Noord-Brabant. In this 230-metre tall ‘metalibrary’ there is room for about 5 million books (17 kilometres of bookshelves), thousands of magazines, terminals, reading/studying rooms, (Internet) cafés, a theatre, etc. Next to traditional lifts and staircases, there will be about 800 glass study booths that move vertically as well as horizontally, on the outside and on the inside. This makes it possible to navigate the whole collection from one’s own comfortable, private booth, in whatever way or order one likes. Other target groups can be serviced by furnishing some of the booths as meeting kiosks or mini lounges. A navigation system would prevent collisions.

Maas’ design is pioneering and innovative, he presents nothing less than an entirely new concept for the construction of libraries. All library functions and collections of the province are concentrated and kept in one place in the Brabant Library, thus creating a gigantic and comprehensive library. With its international appeal, this library is also emphatic when it comes to fulfilling a depository task. Its collections are directly accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, thus guaranteeing completeness and specialisation. However, the Brabant Library is not only a physical public library, it is a service facility for all kinds of decentralised branches. It would seem that a central library such as this, combined with a wide,fast and efficient distribution network is ideal because it makes it possible to couple collection building to local service. Locating small, yet exclusive collections in modern meeting places such as local cafés, dentists’ waiting rooms, stations, schools, hotels, city halls or petrol stations, can stimulate the demand for books.

Hotel Alphabet Hotel Alphabet is a 24-hour public library designed by Joost Swarte, situated in the private, but very hospitable and accessible environment of a large hotel.

In a previous collaborative venture with the Provincial Library Centre for Noord-Brabant, the strip cartoonist, artist and architect Joost Swarte depicted the classic public library as a hotel lounge, calling it ‘Hotel Alphabet’. In Swarte’s view, the public library is not a static habitat where books stay for the duration, but rather a dynamic building with, literally, a toing-and-froing of books. Spinning that out further, the image takes the shape of a complete biotope of a large hotel (open at all times, pleasantly anonymous and welcoming), where you can eat, do business, sleep, meet, party, mourn, go on blind dates, etc. This hotel is a small and integral city in its own right. This image is reflected in the Van der Valk Hotel in Vught, a hotel in the old Brabant tradition, open 24 hours a day and easy to walk into, with an open fireplace, good chairs and books at the end of the hotel lounge. What more obvious step than to ask Joost Swarte to set up his library (Hotel Alphabet) in this Van der Valk hotel? The spines of the books are important in the Hotel Alphabet – the books are in bookcases, themselves made in the shape of books, one next to the other, in the spine as it were. Readers can take out and replace the books themselves, helped by unique pictograms, likewise designed by Joost Swarte. A limited select edition of these design bookcases will be available for sale to interested libraries or private individuals.

The hormone library This library was realised by a group of teenage youngsters from Oss, called Osse Pubers, in a collaborative venture between the Oss public library, de Muzelinck in Oss and the Arts & Crafts College in Eindhoven. A text by the Flemish author Herman Brusselmans was the inspiration for the hormone library: “Are the nineties any different to the sixties or seventies or the years before that? Will the years after 2000 be different again? Are the young younger in different ways than they used to be? I have my doubts about that. OK, there were no computers in my day, no mobile phones, no Aids risk. Statistics say that there were less suicides in our day, we didn’t take weapons to school, we didn’t pop XTC pills, and didn’t dance to 280 electronic beats per nanosecond. It wasn’t drummed into us what a millennium bug was, or the euro or the Axion Proton card, no Internet access, no chat room chums, no 167 TV channels, no psychological counselling if we’d failed our geography test and then threatened the teacher with a knife or a lawsuit during the day or harassed him with ‘that’s the end of you’-e-mailthreats at night. Maybe we had fewer friends, parents that weren’t as flashy, grandparents who had never been skiing, and no gel in our hair that was definitely not tested on animals. But we were the same dopes as those who came after us, and young in the same way as those who are young today, and who are young in the same way as the young will be in fifty years time. We were spawned by a mother and a father and doomed to live. We were small, we grew up, we were young and one day we were no longer young, however old we were. We were, I think, people.”

The library represents the unchanging view adolescents have of their environment in 2040, the most fundamental elements of which still are recklessness, insecurity, loneliness and curiosity. This library is designed as an ‘emotional interface’ enabling youngsters to use the library in ways that respond to their rapidly changing moods.

The survival library Excitement and adventure. Two essential ingredients in Sherlock Holmes’ books, evenings playing games or during a survival expedition, to mention just a few extremes. For those who enjoy solving mysteries or riddles, this is certainly not a game to miss out on. Search for the mini book chests hidden in the woods and marshes in Oisterwijk, the Kampina nature reserve and countless buildings around town. This is about the most adventurous and relaxing library you could imagine! Book chest hunts are fun for all ages. Fitted out with the cryptic directions given in the ‘hunt’ booklet and other indispensable attributes such as a map, a compass and a keen nose, these book chests can be ferreted out. The survival library comprises almost thirty publications by writers from Noord-Brabant, hidden in the town of Oisterwijk and the surrounding countryside.

These publications can be found by solving the cryptograms and with a unique matching stamp, library users can keep their own ‘hunt’ books up to date. This library – the smallest in Noord-Brabant in terms of number of books but the largest when it comes to surface area – is a joint undertaking of the Dutch Association for the Protection of Natural Monuments and the Oisterwijk public library.

The virtual library of the future You don’t seem to get that same reading experience from a digitised book as you do from the actual book. The feeling that you’re ‘reducing speed’ when you read a book just cannot stand up to the competition from the ever increasing speed of consumption of the visually oriented, virtual world. Where can these worlds meet? What experiences does the virtual library have to offer in exchange? Up to now, technological possibilities, functionality and ease of reference are at the forefront of most digital library concepts. As such, technology is not the keynote of this library, the main aim is to create an environment in which the terms ‘structure’, ‘chaos’ and ‘collectivity’ are given new meaning. A text written by the Italian author Italo Calvino was the focal point for the design: ‘It’s not true that I can’t remember anything; the memories are still there, hidden in the grey tangles of my brain, in the moist sandbanks deposited on the riverbed of my thoughts.’ If we want to recall a memory, we circle around an area of memory, guided by association and emotion. Together, we give the world a collective memory with our topical associations on the surface and deep down, dormant, the traces of the old Greeks as well. In so doing, the virtual library takes on the values of the classical library: we are the best archive of our time. In this concept the virtual library organises our memory, presenting it as a fractal spiral. The virtual library of the future is a design by MarcelWoutersOntwerpers, a firm from Eindhoven that won recognition by developing intriguing and progressive exhibition concepts.

The Bibliothèque d’amis Not the books themselves but the experience of reading is the primary focus of this library. It is in people’s own living room and can be entered only by courtesy of the host or hostess. As a Bibliothèque d’amis, the public library becomes a network of all kinds of home libraries, where we encounter one another in the intimate surroundings of a club, enjoying a good book, a good conversation and a good glass of wine. For one evening, a few Brabant people – some famous, some not – opened up their own libraries and studies, inviting people in for a good conversation about books,sometimes in the company of a writer/poet/storyteller from Noord-Brabant, if they so chose. Naturally, they decided themselves who to invite, but a few (well-screened) onlookers were also welcome. Each Bibliothèque d’amis selected two or three books that were thought necessary to add to the library of 2040. These books have in fact been purchased and will be included in the 2040 library. Should this Bibliothèque d’amis continue for another 40 years,it will be a unique collection of about 1000 ‘timeless’ books. This part of the project came about in association with LiBra, the Literair Informatiepunt Brabant (Information group about literature in Noord-Brabant).

The partisan library Eight children spent four days on a campsite on the grounds of the Fort de Hel (‘Hell’ fortress) near Willemstad. They came as partisans, from an underground ‘Resistance’ organisation, searching for freedom, friendship and adventure. They wanted to design a library for the future. Of this future it is said that it is a time where you can read everything and there are no longer any forbidden books. So in that lib rary the lure of the forbidden will be replaced by the excitement of the hidden. That is why Zo & Zo (So & So) took along the book Het verboden boek (The Forbidden Book) by Bert Kouwenberg. Why? Because of its title and the landscape in the book: de stad aan de zee (the town on the seaside). The landscape is similar to the landscape around Willemstad, but also the area in the immediate vicinity of Fort de Hel. The book is about freedom, friendship, resistance and hope and it’s exciting into the bargain. This is how the adventure began – a mixture of enticing reading and fragments from‘Het verboden boek’ played out by children in the landscape around the fortress. This was followed by a ‘wild’ adventure trip in the Biesbosch, a marshland area, and a discovery and invention day in the world of science and technology. Each day was given its own name, the day of ‘the train of thought’, the day ‘against the grain’, the day of ‘brain-twisters and inventions’, and the day of ‘hope’. The children wrote descriptions of these days in small red books and designed and constructed their library. This library was hidden in the scenery around Moerdijk. The children became the librarians of their own library and only children were told of its whereabouts. It was only after a week that adults were allowed to know where the library was! The par tisan library came about in association with ZO & ZO, museums of and for children and the Moerdijk public library.

The future of the future The first seven libraries of the future yielded a host of information and experiences. Each library tells its own unique story about new forms of library work, co-operation, involvement, enthusiasm and inspiration. But at the same time, there was also a shared and cohesive story: there is a future for small-scale design alongside large-scale structures, a future for paper alongside digital reproduction, a future for the library.

The most important conclusion is that the function of the public library (information and imagination in the public domain) continues to exist, but a number of traditional starting points will change drastically. Mainly due to the application of ICT, there are no longer small or large libraries. The library can assume all kinds of appearances, either in digital or physical form. The library of the future will no longer be bound by geographical limitations; space and function will be more important than place. Moreover, the role of the user will also change markedly. The public library organises the knowledge and expertise present among its users. The hobbyist becomes a specialist and the child becomes a librarian. The library user of the future will not only be a consumer, but also an expert partner or an information specialist. These starting points will be explored in more detail through the realisation of new libraries of the future:

  • The library of 100 languages. A concept for the design and layout of a children’s library, developed by and with children, in which their experiences are central.
  • The library as a travel agency: lifestyle research as the starting point for a library concept, in which the journey to the library collection is central.
  • In 2003, a cultural expedition lasting several days, during which the cultural biography of the Netherlands is explored.
  • A new publication about library architecture.

Where can I find the future?

  • The book Bibliotheken 2040 was published in 2002 by Biblion in The Hague. It contains background information, photos, CD-ROM and articles about the first seven libraries of the future (ISBN 90 5483 297 5).
  • The project can be followed at
  • More information may be obtained from: Vereniging NBLC, PO Box 43300, 2504 The Hague, The Netherlands.

Rob Bruijnzeelsbruijnzeels AT

About the project leader Rob Bruijnzeels is head of the Library Interests Department at The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries. He is responsible for the development of a future strategy for Dutch public libraries and for the co-ordination of ICT policy.


Bibliotheken 2040 is now being carried out under the auspices of The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries (NBLC). Founded in 1972, the NBLC is an association of public libraries and is concerned with promoting the interests of its members. About the project leader Rob Bruijnzeels is head of the Library Interests Department at The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries. He is responsible for the development of a future strategy for Dutch public libraries and for the co-ordination of ICT policy. Bibliotheken 2040 is now being carried out under the auspices of The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries (NBLC). Founded in 1972, the NBLC is an association of public libraries and is concerned with promoting the interests of its members. Previous Nyhavn 31E • DK 1051 Copenhagen K • Denmark • splq AT Home

About the project leader Rob Bruijnzeels is head of the Library Interests Department at The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries. He is responsible for the development of a future strategy for Dutch public libraries and for the co-ordination of ICT policy.
Bibliotheken 2040 is now being carried out under the auspices of The Netherlands Association of Public Libraries (NBLC). Founded in 1972, the NBLC is an association of public libraries and is concerned with promoting the interests of its members.