Public Libraries in the Netherlands are in an upward trend. There is an evaluation of the public library law underway and the most important change is a duty of care for municipalities, meaning that there will be a legal obligation to provide a public library service to the citizens. And there is more positive news to report.
How did this come about?
The current library law (Public Library Facilities System Act) (see: https://naple.eu/mdocs-posts/public-library-facilities-system-act-2015-eng/) is not that old, it dates back to 2015. However, we found that municipalities were still cutting the budgets of public libraries in most cases. In some small municipalities, there was no longer a public library available, as a result of cutbacks. At the same time, the role of the public library became more and more crucial to the communities it serves. By offering not only books but access to the internet, courses and help with the digital divide, among other things, the public library in the Netherlands was slowly but surely becoming a crucial local actor for its communities. A safe and welcoming third place. This became especially clear when during the lockdown as a result of the coronavirus pandemic public libraries, like so many public institutions, had to close their doors. This made it clear to the communities and the central government the crucial role the public library has. As a result of the last lockdown, public libraries were deemed essential and could stay open.
Where are we now?
This resulted in a letter from the Ministry of Culture, education and Science from our Secretary of State Uslu at the end of 2022. In this letter, she not only announces the duty of care for the public libraries but also additional funding from the ministry for public libraries. Secretary of State Uslu states:
“If you are a member of the public library, you have a subscription to the whole world. Because reading is fundamental, and a library brings you much more than that. It is a place where people awaken and grow culturally and socially. Where worlds open up for you as a child. Where you as a parent can send your child with peace of mind. A place where knowledge, stories and other perspectives are within reach for everyone. That’s why I’m investing a large part of the extra culture budget in the public library.”
More concretely this means that in 2023 an additional eur 18,3 mln is made available, in 2024 an additional eur 38,7 mln is made available and from 2025 onwards eur 53,7 mln additionally on an annual basis is made available by the ministry. This is a great upward trend and recognition of the public library.
A bright future!?
And recently there was more recognition. From our king nonetheless. Every year on the third Tuesday of September he has a “Troonrede” a speech from the Throne, sort of a state of the Union in the US. In this speech, the King mentions public libraries as well.
The King says:
‘If differences of opinion harden into irreconcilable contradictions, this inevitably erodes trust in our democratic institutions, and thus the social fabric that holds us together as a society.’
And two sentences further:
‘Culture confronts, inspires and bridges contradictions. From festival site to concert hall, and from museum to music school. That is why the government continues to promote that people can enjoy culture, for example with the Culture Card for young people. The government also wants to restore the public library in as many places as possible, as a place where people can read, learn and meet each other.’
So it seems public libraries in the Netherlands have a bright future. Too bad that this cabinet has fallen and had to resign and we have new elections coming up in November. We are all hoping that the positive vibe for public libraries will continue in the coming years…..
Sander van Kempen is as Senior adviseur at Landelijke digitale openbare bibliotheek Stafafdeling Bibliotheekstelsel, National Library of the Netherlands.