Planifying and programming in changing times – Charles Noordam

Charles Noordam
Public Library The Hague was founded just over 100 years ago with the aim to raise the people. The easy access to books for people who were unable to buy them, was seen as contribution to the development of the working class.
The Hague has traditionally been the seat of government. This was reflected in the professional structure of the population. But in the 19 th century The Hague developed into an industrial city. Around the small town large housing areas for the working class were built. On the other side of the centre residential areas for the prosperous were built. The industry has now largely disappeared from the Hague, but the city still shows a fairly sharp division between wealthy districts and poorer districts. In the poorer districts there is from the 70s onwards an over-representation of low-skilled – often illiterate – immigrants from Morocco, Turkey and Suriname. In the wealthier areas live many expats, who work in the international institutions, which are located in The Hague.
In 2010, The Hague is a city of great diversity and this has significance for the functioning of the Public Library of The Hague, the third largest public library in the Netherlands. Of the 485,000 inhabitants of The Hague there are 105,000 members of the library, but many more people use the free offer of the library, especially for reading the newspapers and magazines.

There is a central library in the centre of town. In addition there are 18 branch libraries, of which three were built in the last four years. The library focuses heavily on the needs and demographics of the districts where it is located.
The social changes in the districts also have to be reflected in the composition of the collection of books and other materials. The district libraries take into account the frequency of lending materials. A lending rate of 3 is low, 8 is good. Books that have not been lent from the collection in one whole year, are taken out of the collection. Books with a high lending frequency are more purchased. In this way, the library collection in each district gradually reflects the needs and demographic composition of the district. In districts with many inhabitants of Turkish or Moroccan descent Turkish and Moroccan literature translated into Dutch. In districts with many expats you can find many English-language literature.
The library is undeniably an important factor in the integration of migrants. The district branches in immigrant neighbourhoods are extremely busy. Attention is paid to to illiterate mothers with children. They get books without text, so they can ‘read’ it to their children. Moreover, they learn that the library is an important place for their children. The library is also a safe place to which in time their children can go on their own. For many Muslim girls, the library is the only place they can go on their own. Meanwhile Moroccan girls read more than girls of Dutch origin.
The district libraries are positioned as “the living of the neighbourhood’. The meeting function is important in a city with many immigrants. The library has several programs to encourage involvement in the district. One is the project ‘the stories table’ where residents talk about their history in the district or their migration to the Netherlands. Especially for the elderly this is a very rewarding program. Another project is the district media workshops, where residents can borrow film cameras with which they can visualize their neighbourhoods. The films can be edited in the library and shown to the public on large screens.
The city of The Hague is working closely with the library to disseminate information in the district libraries on topics such as integration, and health. This is concentrated especially in deprived areas. The district libraries in poorer neighbourhoods also have extensive computer facilities, heavily used after school for homework. Library staff works closely with schools to promote language programs.
In the cultural programming of the branch libraries also the demographic composition of the neighbourhood will be taken into account. The libraries are often the stage on which the inhabitants of the district and the organizations of the district show themselves.
Compared to a district library in an prosperous neighbourhood a district library in a less prosperous neighbourhood has:
– more computers (for Internet courses, homework support and Internet)
– more cultural activities and programs on social issues
– Language programs
– more youth members (they are contribution free until 18 years)
– greater use of free services (reading newspapers and magazines)

About 2.5 million people annually visit the branch libraries. The busiest neighbourhood library receives about 1,000 people a day. Every district library will be restyled every ten years. In this way they remain fresh and modern and they can fulfil their function as meeting place. The past four years four branch libraries have been restyled. Two branch libraries will soon move to a new location. In plans for restyling and new buildings flexibility is a keyword. Every district library should be able to accommodate gatherings of 60 to 80 persons.
The central library has a very specific role in the system of public libraries in The Hague. First of all, the collection is completely different. The collection of the central library is as big as all district libraries together. The lending rate as a collection tool is of much smaller importance than in the district libraries. Actually, the central library ought to have ‘everything’. There is therefore a large background collection, also serving the district libraries and there are big specific collections such as the the sheet music collection and the DVD collection. There is a busy transportation of materials from the central library to the district libraries.
The central library is annually visited by almost 1 million people, but there are major differences with the district libraries. The youth members are concentrated in the district libraries. The age group from 18 years up is overrepresented in the central library.
The central library has changed significantly in recent years. It was built in 1995, but was in fact already obsolete in a short time. Designed to be a place to find books quickly and leave the building, the last years much attention was paid to the transformation into a pleasant staying place. The library is no longer a place of silence. Only on the top floor – the study floor – absolute silence is the rule. This floor is used mainly by students who are learning for exams. On busy days there are a few hundred students at once.
As in district libraries in the central library internet courses offered and there are special collections for people who have difficulty reading, whether immigrants or native inhabitants.
The work on raising the attractiveness of the central library is still in progress. One of the floors will be converted into a floor for lectures and debates, with facilities for TV registrations. The desk on the ground floor will be combined with the tourist office. Further development is needed, especially in regard to attractive presentation of books and materials.
There are new challenges. As a result of the credit crisis, The city of The Hague will cut budgets which will also be noticed in the library. But there is also room for new creativity. There is in The Netherlands and also in The Hague a development towards ‘broad neighbourhood schools’. These schools combine several functions. We will explore if this may give new perspectives to The Hague Public Library Hague.

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