I guess I’ve written about a library on my blog before, which gave me pause about doing it again. But then, the place I’ve been spending most of my afternoons in Delft isn’t a library: it’s a Library Concept Center.
Some things seem large when you’re small and smaller as you get bigger, but I never remember thinking the library in my hometown was large. Even as a kid I sensed that all the books in this world could not possibly be contained in that one room. And I’ve been looking for the rest of them ever since.
A good many appear to be here in Delft, but mainly in a language I can’t read—yet. The DOK is, by its own description, “on a mission to become the world’s most modern library.” It is bright, lively, sometimes noisy, and puts not just print materials but all sorts of artistic media at your fingertips. Kids run around and play video games. Adults buy coffee and sandwiches. Sometimes they play the Beatles over the sound system—I don’t know why. The art loan department is heavily trafficked. And there are inviting spaces all around where you can sit with your coffee, your book, your free WiFi, your computer. I have a favorite spot already, and despite the casual atmosphere, you can sit for hours without being disturbed.
Getting my library card here was as humbling as earning my first at age five or so by proving I could sign my own name. An employee sat me down to fill out a “simple” online form. In Dutch. I couldn’t tell if she noticed when I whipped out a translation dictionary, but she had to notice that this simple form was taking me five minutes plus. Finally I had guessed my best and could only wonder if I’d registered a card that said my name was “Oude Delft” (our street) or maybe “Blosser Meghan.” She then explained the different levels of membership here; for an individual the levels would be privileges to borrow either three or five materials at a time. Having routinely borrowed ten titles in one shot back home, three and five sounded equally restrictive, but I went for five. If you’re thinking that “membership” implies “cost,” you are correct: when she told me it would be E39 for a year, I was disappointed but didn’t hesitate to pay. If there’s a library here, I need to be a member of it—and what a library this is.
I think there’s a lot to the DOK that I haven’t grasped, because of my language barrier and shyness in crossing it. And the English-language section is very much smaller than I would like. But already this place is a treasure trove to me, and my preferred spot for thinking and writing.
Bonus reading: NPR article on the impending hipness of libraries Thanks to my friend Christie for posting this!
As a sidenote, I skimmed some of the comments to this article—something I should never do because I get quite fired up. (I also get stressed during question-and-answer sessions after someone gives a lecture. I’m working on this.) A lot of the responses seem to echo the same complaints about modern libraries, such as:
Sometimes (gasp) homeless people come inside. Because they can. Yup, and if they’re not doing anything that would get a non-homeless person kicked out of the library, then I don’t see the problem. (There’s a homeless guy I’ve seen in the DOK a few times, just sitting, and I love that no one tells him he has to leave.)
Libraries used to be quiet, but now they’re not. (This is repeatedly issued as a complaint rather than a statement.) I love quiet. I really do. I have trepidation about sleeping in hotels, because I sleep lightly, and about going to movie theaters, because people talk when I wouldn’t, and all that. And if right now there was someone sitting next to me here in the library being annoyingly loud, I might move to a different area. But I know that I can’t regulate people in public spaces. And so if I really want to read in silence, I should probably expect to do that in my own environment. The buzz of the library here in Delft tells me that people are enjoying it, that it’s alive, and that kids, especially, actually like to come here. The only kid I have seen get reprimanded here was joyriding the elevator. And loving it.
There’s something about that line of complaints that reminds me of people who don’t like when church isn’t the way it was when they were young, or think that because some people act or look differently in church, they must be somewhat suspect. I guess in either case it depends on what you think the purpose of the thing is: a library, a church service, whatever.
And those are my thoughts for today. Brought to you from the DOK in Delft.