Fabulous, in one word, yes, fabulous! Without a doubt this bibliotheek, Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, is one of the best libraries in the world. (Mind you, I’ve not been to all the libraries in the world, but I’ve been to quite a few.) At the time I visited, the OBA’s claim to fame was that it was supposed to be the largest public library in Europe. Finished in July of 2007 to the tune of $97 million dollars, it is well worth the money. Amsterdam needed to replace the older and much smaller facility to which folks flocked regularly, and it did so with flare in its seven stories of over 300,000 square feet. It is impressively high tech with it’s conveyor belt for circulation returns, its numerous self checks on each floor, its 1,200 desks each with internet connections, its 600 computers (that either are used for database searching or for free Internet), its information stations on each floor, its escalators and elevators (almost department store like), and its sustainable quality. By sustainable quality, I mean the building was constructed environmentally friendly with natural limestone, wood from sustainable forests, heavily insulated windows and photovoltaic panels on the roof. The white 5ft.high bookcases are lit by LED lamps. The A/C is a geo/thermal system.
The building is definitely contemporary in design with decidedly linear features – yet, it fits. It is on an island near the port and central train station in the main part of Amsterdam. This island was undergoing much new construction at the time. Floors in the bibliotheek are devoted to subject areas, a large children’s area on the ground floor, an A/V floor that is mind boggling with so many CD’s and other media from which to choose, and a periodical section that is indescribable. I didn’t know there were that many magazines published! (Well, yes I did, but, I’ve never seen that many in one place!) There are extras: a 250 seat theater and three eating areas; one on the first floor that also serves alcohol, a small café in the periodical section and a full fledged cafeteria on the 7th floor with delicious looking food at nominal cost. From the terrace on the 7th floor one has a marvelous view of Amsterdam and the neighboring Science and Technology Center (NEMO).
Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam has not forgotten its patronage outside the city center, nor its heritage. There are numerous branches. One impressive branch is housed in the Pintohuis not far from Rembrandt’s house. This Italian Renaissance building is significant because of the renovation completed in 1680 by a Jewish immigrant – it has an impressive façade. It was nearly demolished in the 70’s, but was saved and now comes under the wing of the public library domain. It was closed when I walked past – very sorry – it would have been a delight to have visited. Needless to say, I was greatly impressed by the library facilities Amsterdam offers to its public. It is obvious that emphasis is on freedom of information and freedom to choose.
(Statistics courtesy of: Fodor’s Amsterdam & the Netherlands, 2008; Continental, the inflight Magazine for Continental Airlines, September 2010)