Around the world and historically, libraries have been open to the public for many years, but in the Netherlands this was not the case. Politicians objected to this free access to information, and were afraid of books with ‘low morals’ so when, in February 1919 Amsterdam opened a public reading room there was uproar, but this was just the beginning. It led to more books, more readers, and more branches across the country.
During the 30s there was an economic crisis, which led to mass unemployment and the decline of the library. This, combined the occupation of the Nazi’s in 1940 when books were banned, meant a very uncertain future.
However, during the sixties there was a huge turnaround, when it was decided to incoprporate light reading as a part of its collection, and again in 1975 when the government introduced new legislation for all libraries to make them accessible for everyone. Wim Meijer, the Secretary of State for Culture believed libraries were important for disseminating knowledge, and pushed through this legislation, so that access to a library was a basic amenity which everyone should be able to use.
In the 80s there was another economic crisis which led to the closure of seven libraries, and the government repealed the law pushed through by Wim Meijer. However, the libraries kept looking for new ways to attract people and added Turkish and Arabic books. It went digital in the 90s, and in 2007 the new Central Library was opened. I went to have a look.
The outside of the building
An area where you can work, and read magazines.
Who’s this bird?
Some of the really cool bookshelves and areas to read in.
A place to study, meet friends and discuss ideas.
Sheet music in the library
A place where you can get pop music CDs.
The wall of wailing socks – an artwork piece of lost socks.
Vinyl covers on a wall at the library.
The good news is that you don’t need to be a member to visit. It is totally free to go into. They have long opening hours – daily from 10am until 10pm. There are free internet PCs, language PCs for people wanting to learn Dutch, two cafes for when you get thirsty, and wireless internet which is free of charge for members. For non-members it costs only €1 for half an hour. Membership costs vary, and are as little as €17.50 per year.
How to get there: The OBA is located just a short walk from Amsterdam’s Central station. It is 500 metres to the East – walk past DoubleTree hotel, and keep following the path until you reach the library.