February 12, 2015

Attendance skyrockets at an innovative library in the Netherlands


newlibrary1What makes someone visit a library?

Faced with rapidly declining patron visits, library administrators in the Dutch town of Almere felt that they had to do something dramatic to change the downward trend. To find out what might encourage people to visit the library, they decided to ask patrons what they wanted, and turned to the community to come up with non-traditional elements in an all-encompassing new design.

Guided by patron surveys, administrators tossed out traditional methods of library organization, turning to retail design and merchandising for inspiration. They now group books by areas of interest, combining fiction and nonfiction; they display books face-out to catch the eye of browsers; and they train staff members in marketing and customer service techniques.

When it opened in 2010, the Nieuwe Bibliotheek (New Library) had a record number of people visit the library — 100,000  in the first two months. In 2013, they had over a million visits. In an interview with Shareable,  librarians Roy Paes and Marga Kleinenberg say that while everyone was skeptical at first, librarians adopted behavior like booksellers to engage with patrons and recommend books that were featured in displays like in a bookstore.

They also explained how the library’s status as a Seats2meet (S2M) location —  where “patrons are empowered to help one another in exchange for free, permanent, coworking space”— utilized something called the S2M Serendipity Machine.

The S2M Serendipity Machine makes it possible to set up a personal profile based on skills and knowledge. By this facility, visitors can sign up when they are present. In this way, their knowledge and skills are visible to others. This allows people to make contact with each other based on knowledge profiles. Using the Serendipity Machine is fairly new. We hope this way people will find it easier to interact and connect to each other.

The library created an environment that is geared toward the patron to allow visitors browse to find books, since they discovered that most patrons did not come to the library with a particular title in mind.  And the social aspect of the library was important — there’s a cafe in addition to the co-working space. Looking ahead, Paes and Kleinenberg say that challenges include “finding a way of creating a good supply of e-books” and finding ways to “develop more digital services, including facilities to share knowledge.”


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.