Written by Hanna Marie Roseen
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OBA is Amsterdam’s central public library. Like many modern public libraries, the design of OBA is open, airy, modern, and facilitates interaction.
I was personally quite taken by a wide staircase that also functions as a place to sit and read or work. There are so many places for people to study, as I saw while there since it was crawling with students studying for exam week.
Some of the spaces were open to the goings-on of the library, others were more secluded, and some welcomed collaboration and group work. OBA is not too loud or too quiet in most places (there were some floors dedicated to being quiet) and the overall vibe was open and welcoming.
The top floor includes a theater, cafe, and balcony with a good view of the city. There is plenty of seating and since I was there on a sunny and clear day hanging out on the balcony was lovely. These spaces make the library a great place to meet a friend or study there all day, something one of my friends happily did.
There is something for people of all ages here, especially seen in the children’s section with its playfulness and whimsy. Much like the Dutch’s focus on children and acceptance of them to be children – messy, active, exploring their independence – there is space here for children to enjoy books, climb, and be creative. I was a little envious of the whimsy of their section!
Lifelong, independent learning is also encouraged here, with OBA’s House of Skills that works “closely with the business community, trade organisations, employee and employer organisations, knowledge institutes, education and administrators in the Amsterdam region to develop structural solutions to this problem”. I appreciated how the skills listed celebrate the abilities and skills people already have rather than treating people as lacking;
Everyone has skills, whether soft or hard, that can be developed further and that must be qualified to be able to apply them in education and the labour market;
Skills are an opportunity for employees and job seekers to make their unique profiles clear on a quickly changing labour market; What you can do already, what you want to and can learn, what makes you flexible; Personal set of skills (soft/hard) that is recognised and valued and creates labour market versatility.
This library makes a great use of space and is a wonderful example of how the move away from physical collections to digital ones is not a sign of the death of libraries but the chance for them to fulfill their other missions of civic engagement and interaction and life-long learning by using space in new ways. As one of the staff members I spoke with said, people are staying in the library and interacting more with others now that there is space to, compared to coming in, checking out their books, and leaving.