This post originally appeared on the LAIP in December, 2013.

You may know today’s featured librarian from her intriguing Twitter handle: @AirprtLibrarian! I’ve been a fan of the Airport Library, located in the airport in Schipol, the Netherlands, for a while now – and it’s a real pleasure to host librarian Jeanine Deckers today. Jeanine talks about her background and how the Airport Library came to be – and the vital, exciting role it plays in Dutch culture today. As I’m gearing up for a flight over the holidays, oh how I wish I could dally for a while in this inviting space. ~ Laura

by Jeanine Deckers

I’m trained as a children’s librarian and as an art historian. I’ve had several jobs (all in libraries) before I became manager of the Mobile Library department of ProBiblio, a service organization for public libraries. We had 9 bookmobiles that visited small villages or city suburbs with no library. In 2005 the province of South-Holland asked us to think of  something to promote reading on the beach, and because bookmobiles are about reading outside a conventional library, my boss decided I was the one to deal with that.

We decided to make libraries on the beach during the summer holidays: temporary libraries where you could lend a book for a day (or an hour) and where we organized classes on different subjects. We started out with 3 libraries on the beach and (against all odds) it became a huge success, within 3 years there were 14 libraries, all along the Dutch coast. All funded by provincial governments.

This success taught us that people do want to use a library, but that we have to make it special and that we have to go out and look for them instead of waiting for the people to come to the library.

So we started thinking about other places to make libraries. We wondered about where people read and we came up with trains and planes. So that’s how the idea of making libraries at railwaystations and airports started.

Airport Library entrance. Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Airport Library entrance. Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

At first we wanted to make a lending library at the airport but that was too complicated because of the strict security regulations. But Schiphol is one of the largest “airport hubs” in the world; over 18 million people spend some time at the airport on their way to another destination. Most of them never visit the Netherlands but they spend sometimes 8 to 10 hours on Dutch soil and all they see is shops and airplanes.

We wanted to show those travelers something else, so we came up with the idea of a reference library. At first we wanted to show everything about Holland: art, technology, business. But we got a fund by our Ministry of Arts and Culture to make the library and they wanted us to promote Dutch art and culture. The library is at the airport on behalf of the combined Dutch libraries, and therefore paid for by our National Government.

Our collection is divided into several parts: we have a large collection of fiction by Dutch authors, translated into over 30 languages and there is a non-fiction department. In the non-fiction part there are books on Art, Photography, Architecture, Design, History and Amsterdam. We added Amsterdam because the airport asked us to, Schiphol being Schiphol Amsterdam Airport. Besides books there are videos on all these subjects to watch at iPads and you can listed to Dutch music (via the iPads). We also have photo exhibitions on a digital screen (by Dutch photographers or about Dutch subjects) and small exhibitions on Dutch books or Dutch history.

We wanted to show visitors that libraries are more than stacks of books and that libraries are not drab places filled with boring stuff. And that there are more ways of learning something than by reading a book.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

The Library as Incubator Project posed the question, how do you decide what materials to have in the library?

When choosing what materials to provide there are a few things that make it complicated: it has to be in English (when it’s non-fiction) and it has to be attractive to a larger audience. So there must be (nice) pictures, preferably lots of them. We figured that people that travel internationally can read English, at least sort of; that’s why we decided on English. So that narrows it down because there are a lot of books and films on Dutch art, but they’re not all in English.

In the fiction department I collect everything I can get my hands on, but there are only so much Dutch authors being translated.

In deciding what’s interesting for the library I get help from several institutions. I figured it would be quite presumptuous if I were the only one deciding what Dutch Art is, so I contacted  museums and libraries to advise me. The Fotomuseum in Rotterdam knows all about Dutch photography, the Muziekweb provides me with all Dutch music and the Dutch Foundation for Literature is a great help when it comes to Dutch fiction. And there are some very good bookshops that help me.

The focus is different for each theme: in Photography, Design and Architecture it’s mainly contemporary. In Art and History that’s not the main focus. Lots of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh in the Art department!

And here we asked, what’s the relationship between the Airport Library and living artists?

Sometimes we invite artists to the library to perform. We’re about promoting Dutch Art and Culture, so what better way then real life promotion? Not very often though.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Photo by Sander Stoepker.

Here are a few videos to show what that looks like. They’re in Dutch, but you get the idea:

We don’t get many comments from Dutch artists but I did get an email from the Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo. Their director had visited our library and noticed that we had only one book about the firm, so they offered to send us some more books.

One of my favorite reviews of the library is this one from Mrs Tsk *. He is not Dutch, but he is an artist, so I value his opinion a lot.

The library started as a project that was supposed to last three years, but because it’s such a success Schiphol and the Ministry of Culture asked us to continue. We had over one million visitors and over 900 press mentions.

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