We sat down with Peter Doorn and Mariça van de Weerd to discuss how libraries fill into the new digital world
By Thomas Ansell
Everyone remembers their first trip to the library. Mine was with my grandmother, who squeezed me into my bright red raincoat and forced me down the road to get my membership card. ‘Libraries’, she said ‘are somewhere that you will always be able to spend time. And somewhere where you can always learn’. At the time, the dusty, dark, and fairly unwelcoming local library seemed about as far away from a convivial community centre as one could imagine.
Now, 20 years later, I’m reminded of her words when Peter and Mariça say: “we’re here for everyone, and everyone needs to know that!” Biblionet Groningen has around 40 libraries in the Province of Groningen (within the city, the libraries are run day-to-day by The Forum Group, with whom Biblionet often co-operates), and they are accelerating their programme to become more open, more relevant in our digital age, and more usable for the communities in which they sit.
“About 3 or 4 years ago, we began a transition away from the traditional library model”, says Peter. “Now, we are thinking in terms of expanding our educational role to work with people that are over school age, so that we can be a place to casually gather skills, keep wondering, and learn new things”, adds Mariça. Essentially, the libraries in the Province of Groningen will become centres for informal learning: even more so than they are today.
Aside from E-learning resources, and all the literature you might expect, libraries will also become the community ‘hub’ in the village or town in which they stand. “It’s education for the 21st Century. So it should be as relevant for our youngest visitors as it is for our eldest. Skills such as using online government tools, or researching, or just making use of all of services on offer here!”, says Peter.
Importantly, all of these very good intentions are leading to real action. At the end of October, the first example of the new generation of Groninger libraries will open: an information point at the Stadskanaal library. At the moment, it will provide information on going digital, and how the Dutch government (which is one of the most digitalised in the world) is moving services online. “There is funding for 15 of these information points around the country”, says Mariça, “and by 2020/2021 there will be 12 locations in Groningen, able to offer information on nearly everything about living in the Northern Netherlands. They’re for everyone, whether you are Dutch or not, or a library member or not.”
Everything that Biblionet does is tested at a local level, and is done having consulted local people. This is important for keeping the libraries personal: whatever level of education you have. Mariça: “an upcoming project that’s really interesting is that we are working to provide a VR training experience. This will put people into the shoes of someone who has low literacy, and is designed to help people learn how best to assist people in this situation.” This is another way of building trust in local libraries: “in the Province there is a library within 15 minutes of almost everyone, so we want people to see how much they can do in their local library”, says Peter.
Indeed, Biblionet is so keen to make its libraries the ‘village square’ of each location, it is even offering space to entrepreneurs and groups. Mariça: “we are opening up space for entrepreneurs, and even things like social groups and societies. We want to be a space for all sorts of things, but working with entrepreneurs helps us give something back to the local economy, and it also means that we keep our talented people in the local area: they have somewhere to express themselves.”
Something that often comes up upon interviewing people involved in making the Northern Netherlands a better place to live is pride. So too when speaking to Peter and Mariça: “the library is a representation of the people that live there”, says Peter, “so we approach everything with the question ‘what can we do for you?’, and with increasing digitalisation of our world, we need to keep a local touch. Whilst we become more digital, we must keep social interaction.”
Naturally, the final question asked to Mariça and Peter was ‘what are you reading at the moment?’, and their answers were somewhat revealing. Mariça: “at the moment, I am reading ‘De nachtstemmer’ by Maarten ‘t Hart, it’s a really good piece of Dutch literature and storytelling”, Peter, meanwhile, is delving into ‘(Te) Gekke Slaaplekken’ by Renske Borst. In keeping with the theme of localisation, it is a compendium of some of the most breathtaking places to visit in the Netherlands. “Unfortunately, it has added several places to visit to my list!”.
Biblionet Groningen is responsible for the libraries within the Province of Groningen. To find your local library, or to get more information about the various projects being run, just visit the Biblionet website.