Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Loved It!)

While David and I have been living in Den Haag, we knew we’d have to make several trips to Amsterdam. David spent several days visiting the University of Amsterdam to take a look at a few 400-year-old books. Yeah, seriously.

I knew that I wanted to visit the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Amsterdam Public Library), specifically their central branch. It’s one of the biggest libraries in Europe! It’s also really modern, and I was extremely curious to see how well (or if they tried at all) to balance traditional and modern library spaces.

Photo from Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam Wikipedia page (Dutch version).

I counted a total of 9 floors, including the floor with the restaurant, but Wikipedia says there are 10 floors… maybe there’s a hidden floor just for staff!
There are hundreds of workstations, wireless internet (free if you first get an OBA membership), a theatre, museum, restaurant, café, two radio stations, music, games, newspapers, magazines, and lots and lots of books!


Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff…

The first floor (which the library refers to as “Level -1”) housed the children’s section!


One thing that I noticed, especially in the children’s section (but the furniture is largely the same throughout the branch), is that almost all the shelving is white. I’m surprised how much I liked this choice (I’m all about wooden shelving!), but the white really highlighted the colours of the books and some of the other furniture. I found the book spines really popped from the shelves!



This was a pretty brilliant use of space; I loved it. There are little stairs that lead up to a second level on this circular book case! At the top the floor is squishy, and there were blankets and pillows lying neatly on the side. A great “hideout” for kids coming to read!


This was so incredibly comfortable. I actually kind of threw myself onto this big poof. Nap time?

As David and I were walking around we saw a Dad with his twin daughters lying back on one of these poofs, one daughter on either side, while he read to them. Awww.

One of the few areas that had toys. And that chair is seriously funky, is it not?

Lots of the shelving units had Papier-mâché figures that were brightly painted. This one was my favourite.

Next, we moved to Level B1! There’s actually nothing really exciting about this floor, other than the fact that these awesome stations were there!


I asked this woman if I could take her picture. She was more than happy to oblige! They have these really cute (and kind of weird…) individual workstations. There’s a plugin for your laptop and a nice tabletop for all your things. There were several of these around the library, which provide privacy without taking up a lot of room!

See below for a view of them from the next floor up.


David checking out the computer stations.


This is a great place for people bringing their own laptops. There’s a plugin on the tabletop with two outlets, and once you’re finished you can slide it closed so it’s not sticking up. Though obviously a lot of people don’t do that, haha. I can count four in this picture that have been closed!

Level 1 houses all the multimedia (CDs, DVDs, etc). I walked up the stairs and Beethoven was playing from…


I suppose the librarian picks a CD and people can check it out if they like what they hear while they’re browsing!


A listening station for music! While I was exploring this station, it seemed as though all the music available for sampling was available digitally. Though, I did see there was a slot on the side of the computer for a CD, so I think you can also sample music CDs.

“Taalcursussen” translates to “language courses.” Which does not refer to these computers, but the shelving behind them! These computers were available for catalogue searches.
One of the two radio stations, on Level 4! I could see they had it set up for their live show that had happened earlier in the day. The public is welcome to both radio stations during their live show!

And here are a few more random pictures from various floors.


The café on level 1. You can see the train going by in the background!


They had some of these collections on various floors – old books, comic strips, newspapers, etc. encased in glass. They were sort of museum-esque. I wasn’t sure exactly what was being displayed, but there was one display case of old toys!

Photo from “Model Programme for Public Libraries.” Click on the image for the URL.

On the top floor is a self-serve restaurant (La Place). There’s lots of comfortable seating as well as an outdoor terrace! La Place is not a restaurant that’s unique to the library, it’s located all around the Netherlands (we really like it!). They make awesome pizza. And lemonade.

And what a spectacular view, right? This is from the outdoor terrace on the top floor of the library. I’ve heard that the Central Library in Amsterdam has some of the best views of Amsterdam. I’d have to agree!

David and I visited this library a total of 3 times. During Sail Amsterdam 2015 we ate at La Place! We also took a break from one of our days touring Amsterdam by plopping down in a chair and reading Dutch magazines (or, in my case, looking at all the fun pictures!).

My thoughts:

I attempted to be brief, but obviously I could go on for pages and pages about libraries. Love them!

Overall, I really enjoyed this library, and it was really interesting to visit. I loved the children’s area. There is also a Mouse House (it reminded me of Beatric Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice), which is cute and fun to look at. There are lots of funky and colourful furniture that really popped out from the white shelving units, and the use of space is great! In the children’s area, there is an entire craft room, but the walls are made of glass so you can watch the kids make fun things! And a lot of their creations are on display.

I liked how they had a lot of space for people who brought their own computers, and I LOVED the café in the Newspaper section. Lots of people hanging out reading and drinking coffee. During our initial visit, there was a staff member (at least one) on each floor and catalogue computers. Very well organized!

Sometimes I did feel like the library was a bit cold and uninviting with all the white shelving. I think they handled this the best in the children’s area, but other floors were less inviting. There was just a lot of white.

Obviously not all libraries can (or should!) look this way. They had a lot of space and money to work with (seriously, 80 million euros…).

Also, one thing to note is that library membership is only free if you’re under the age of 19! A standard membership is €35 a year which allows you to check out 8 items at a time, and limits you to 50 items a year. Borrowing movies, CDs, games, or blurays cost at least €1 a week, per item (that’s not a late fine, that’s just the rental fee). If you want unlimited checkouts a year (but still limited to 8 at a time) you have to pay €55/year. And the cost of borrowing media items remains the same.

I don’t think having to pay for a library membership is a bad thing, and certainly the cost indicated above is quite minimal for what you get. There are lending stations in hospitals and train stations! However, I think you’d have to be offering an extraordinary level of service (and be good at marketing those services!) to have patrons feel comfortable paying for a library membership. I love libraries, and I wouldn’t hesitate paying €55/year for the “Leenpass+”, but I know many people would be angered that a membership costs money.

I think they’d get over it. Eventually.



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