As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994


Wim M. Renes
Librarian, City Library,
The Hague, Netherlands.



Everyone who is familiar with the distressing accommodation of the central library of The Hague, in the Netherlands, will eagerly look forward to the developments on the new library building. In the so called 'slipstream' of the new city hall, the new library is being erected. Actually, little is known about this new building for the public library. 1 The vicissitudes of the city hall have been drawing almost all attention for the last few years. The choice of the architect and his design and the endless stream of political and financial difficulties the discussions concerned everything but the library.

But the problems were resolved and the construction of the city hall/library complex is now in full progress. Within just one year, the building will erase its own history with its presence.

The city hall/library complex did not simply appear out of the blue, of course, and neither did the architect, in his divine providence, totally have the upper hand in its realization. Many people and many developments have made their mark on the building process. Aspects focused on the library: factors which led to the decision that a new accommodation had to be built, that a location had to be found for it, that money had to be reserved, that the library would ultimately be attached to the city hall, and also that it would look very different with a different lay-out than the existing building, originally built in the Twenties.

2. A new building for the central library of The Hague

It was already clear in the Sixties that a new central library was needed. It is surprising that the first serious administrative initiative for a new construction was not actually taken until 1982, when the city council reserved a location for it in a zoning plan in the centre of the city and then determined the programme of requirements.

The central library rated low priority for a longer period. The branches, those were important. In the Seventies attention focused on the spreading of knowledge, and that meant expanding the number of branches. Knowledge had to be brought deep into the districts, close to the people, the users, so that social and educational barriers would be eliminated.

Yet those who in the Seventies drew up the city plan for the public library realized that more branch libraries did not mean a relief but rather an extra burden for the central library. And it was expected that the greater the familiarity with the work of the public library in The Hague, the more the Hague people would go to the central library accommodation to read, study and consult reference b ooks. The city plan therefore emphasized the need for a totally new accommodation in the central area of the city.

But it remained a vague intention. "New building in the city zoning plan at the appropriate time", as the Municipal Plan put it. The new building was still gaining momentum in the first half of the Eighties. The network of branches was virtually completed and the municipality could now direct its attention to the central library. A programme of requirements had to determine what type of library w as wanted and how large it had to be. The municipality also had to determine a location in the city centre. And finally, money had to be reserved for the construction of the library. The library speculated that if there were a programme of requirements, the library could speed up the slow decision making process. In August 1982 the counselling committee of the library brought out its program.

In order to give the planning process a decisive push forward two councillors argued in favour of locating the new central library in the city centre. It was now February 1986. Their idea: a 'contemporary information centre' which offers more than lending out materials. Therefore a library which provides information, organizes expositions on authors and books, holds symposia and comprises an art lending library. The government gave a number of large cities an investment incentive aimed at stimulating the urban economy. The Hague fortunately used that money for the new central library.

3. From brain-storm to new city library

All the conditions for the construction of a new central library seemed to be met in 1986. There was a location, there was money, there was a programme of requirements and there was the political move ahead. Yet is was thanks to a sudden brain-storm that it actually developed into a building plan, an idea born at the end of April 1986 on the terrace of a hotel at the beach in The Hague. This is w here the newly installed Board of Mayor and Aldermen met to consider the municipal programme for the coming four years. There and then flashed the bright idea: why don't we build the city hall and the library in one complex in the city centre?

In July 1986, six project developers had been selected, each of whom had called in an architect of worldwide renown:

The bidders for the city hall complex received an extremely general programme of requirements. For the library the assignment, based on a very detailed programme from 1982 and updated in 1986, was to design a total number of square meters, of approximately 18.000 m2 gross.

4. Public library for the future

Certainly now that there was talk of the combination of the public library with the city hall it was absolutely necessary to prevent the new building or the central library from getting into a tight corner of the huge complex of more than 110.000 m2. The creed of the library was: don't wait but let us take the initiative ourselves, and from the beginning, already in the competition phase, be as c lear as possible about the central library and its services to the public. The period of reconsideration suddenly placed the building process under a great pressure of time; it was a blessing that the programme had already been prepared and agreed on. The initial brief served to single out the main points, and, as far as necessary, to adjust them to the new situation. It also mentioned a few vita l requirements of a technical nature.

Principal elements in this initial brief: the library should develop itself into a social/cultural centre which works in close cooperation with the city hall and the city archive. The unnecessary duplication of facilities must be avoided. For example, there can be a communal restaurant as well as an exposition hall. The brief also proposes an activity room and adjoining theatre which can be used by both the city hall and the library. Furthermore, the brief emphasizes the importance of recognizability: the library must be easily distinguished from the city hall and the entrance must be inviting, with a clear design. The most important requirement was and is flexibility. This flexibility guarantees that the space can be constantly adapted without requiring demolition or other structural ad aptions, but purely by moving about the furniture. You can hardly imagine a greater contrast between the old central library and the new building. The differences are so great that comparison is virtually impossible. What both buildings radiate, for example. The exterior of the old existing building appears rigid and sombre; it is a typical government building from the Thirties. You can hardly see what happens inside; you only know that it's a public building.

Meier's library, with its white facades, will be far from sombre. It will also cast no doubts about the activities within; the ground floor and the first floor are totally surrounded by glass and show everything of library life: the lending centre with computer terminals, the escalators, people reading magazines in the reading cafe or carrying books, compact discs and videotapes around. That the central library is entering into a completely new existence is even more pronounced on the inside. Meier's building features large, open spaces. You seem to have a total view; wherever you are, you'll know where you are and certainly how to get on your way to your specific library whishes. A veritable revelation compared with the old library, where you never know where you are. The functions of the central library for the city and the region, including all the important subjects for the public librarywork in the coming years, can be organised from Meier's open building. The functions of the central library are:

  1. In the first place a so-called background library for the library network in the city, logically with more materials than the branches: more specialised literature, more reference works etc.
  2. For the surrounding residential area in the city it is simply a branch, albeit somewhat larger than the other branches of the network in The Hague.
  3. The function of regional support library with scientific literature for the residential areas around the city gives it its third function.
  4. The fourth function relates to the technical services for the network including the branches. For instance the acquisition, cataloguing of books and other media and automation. The last the central library is also the headquarters of the public library network as organisation. The management and administration is carried out here. It also provides other services, including lending out materials to homes for the elderly, schools and hospitals.

5. The architectural competition

As the result of the above mentioned architectural competition five project developers and their architects presented their designs at the end of 1986. The new central library hardly played a role in the public discussions. This was different in the jury, whose job it was to give all aspects, including the library part of it, the necessary attention. Two guarantees were built in for a good evaluation of the library.

The first guarantee was jury member Ute Klaassen, director of the public library in Gutersloh, Germany. A second guarantee consisted of the jury's invitation to the librarian to comment on the designs. We made a critical examination, with the title 'A few marginal notes on the city hall/library plans for The Hague', which was discussed in detail with the members of the jury. The main theme was: disappointment. Four of the five plans did not provide for a flexible and compact library. The architects seemed to have taken little notice of the brief of the library. Yet this report did not speak of a preference. In any case, each plan was to general and could be adapted.

The jury reported its judgement on 22 January 1987, in which it endorsed the analysis of the City Library. The disqualification read as follows: "It is remarkable that the program for the central library was either misunderstood or underestimated in terms of complexity". It was striking to note that the jury, after its disqualifying comment, discussed in depth how the library should have appeared . The jury also elaborated in detail on the type of atmosphere the library should have. This public library is pre minently an institution where people meet; the visitors must therefore feel comfortable there. A library can certainly look normal. People consider going to the library a normal act, comparable to shopping, and not primarily as a cultural activity. This was a lesson for the participa ting architects, who, according to the jury's judgement, had incorporated too little of the spirit of the nevertheless clear program into their design.

To give their designs more of a chance, the architects, Richard Meier (U.S.A.) and Rem Koolhaas (Netherlands), made some substantial alterations. Alterations which were also urgently prescribed by the library.

Meier and Koolhaas both saw to it that this section of the total complex became more compact. Koolhaas succeeded better in this endeavour than Meier. His library was accommodated on five floors, that of Meier on eight to nine. Koolhaas' compacter library, with escalators, was suitable for more flexible use. The floor plan of Meier's library has an extreme L-shape, but that form underwent a metamo rphosis; it now looked exactly like a key, and became more practical, compact and flexible. Other alterations: the ground floor was enlarged in both designs and for the transport of five thousand expected visitors per day through the building Meier also added escalators to his design. The fact that Richard Meier originally opted for a different type of library is also evident in his choice for lifts in the building: he associated escalators with department stores and underground station s. To his mind they were too noisy for libraries and, with their ongoing transport of visitors, created commotion in the area. Better then, to use lifts which also symbolize human elevation to the upper levels. But the expected five thousand visitors per day could certainly not be transported by lifts alone. An undisturbed space withdrawn into itself was not an absolute necessity: the modern city library does not keep life at a distance but welcomes it. Meier finally placed the escalators on the side of the atrium of the city hall. So from there, you'll see people mechanically gliding from floor to floor like dolls - a kind of traffic exhibitionism with which Richard Meier has enthusiastically entered into the line of modernistic architects.

6. Spacebook for the library

Finally, in July 1989, the city council opted for the Meier plan. Construction started later, the following year. In the meantime the arrangement of the library floors crystallized. In a very detailed 'Spacebook DOB' (see also appendix A), the city library described, per floor and per room, what activity would take place where, and what technical standards the space must meet. Nearly everything was summarized: the functional relations of the rooms, the manners of internal transport, floor coverings, floor lo ads, the required temperatures and humidities and the light requirements. The aim was to provide all participants in this project with sufficient information so that they would exactly know what they had to do. The complex and very detailed information given in this document has been used for further development of the library, by all participants, such as:

The building process may have become more complicated in this way, but the timely involvement and deeper concern of all those participating in the project made it, at the same time, more controllable and easier to plan. Later in this process this approach would also be followed for the city hall sections of the complex.

7. Arrangements of the floors

Regarding the arrangement of the ground floor, the intention which the city library had always in mind can be recognized. The ground floor displays the library fully to the passers-by on the street. It accommodates the lending centre, the reading cafe, a reading area, a small exposition area and some shelving with the most popular books and the library shop.

The entire first floor is designed for the information department. There are the catalogues, reference material, clipping files, microfiches and access to external dataconnections. Then comes the second floor which houses the most frequently visited departments: the childrens department, and the fiction department with books in more than 10 languages.

Levels three, four and five, respectively: linguistics and literature; history and geography; music and art; technology and social studies. Each level has its own information desk. Distributed over these floors are 24 closed studycarrels. The music department also stores a large collection of compact discs and videotapes, together with music scores and books on music and has one extra studycarrel with a piano. The departments which are accessible to the public are therefore concentrated on the ground level and the first five floors. The sixth floor will house the department for group-oriented services. The work rooms of the staff are on both the sixth and the seventh floor.

8. Interior lay-out

After a year of considering, brain-storming, shoving about with chairs, tables and shelving on paper, modelling, detailing and trying, the lay-out of the new central library has now been decided on. Early in May 1994 the interior contract with the firm Schulz from Speyer, Germany, was signed.

8.1. European tender procedure

Previously to that, the city library has since 1992 been hard at work in the preparation of the interior of the public departments of the new central library. Under the regulations of the European tender procedure the library invited four firms to make an offer for the furnishing of all public departments of the central library under construction. The four firms submitted their quotation on the f ixed date - November 6, 1992.

The subscribers were among other things asked to show their ability in designing a library lay-out by presenting their proposals for the lay-out of two floors: floor two (fiction department and children's department) and floor four (art department and music department with compact discs, music scores and books on music).

8.2. Reviewing process Library

The library awarded marks to a great number of components. These rated from 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent). Besides, each component was awarded a multiplying factor. These also rated from 1 (very low) to 5 (very high). All this resulted in a measured score for each component. By structurally analyzing and tackling the problems to gain an objective opinion on the different quotations by means of a matrix, the comparison was defined and solved, both from an organizing as well as from a technical point of view.

The furnishing offered by the firms was judged, both on design and construction and capacity, on the following elements:

  1. Of course those elements matching the demands of the library scored highest.

  2. Other important criteria in the reviewing process were:

  3. Finally, the firms could also be judged on their vision and creativity with regard to t he lay-out of the library. In the tender procedure all firms were asked to present a detailed lay-out for two floors according to their own views. In this way the library gained an insight in the various visions the firms had developed as to the library work in The Hague. After careful analyzing the four quotations the city library on April 14, 1993 selected the firm Schulz from Speyer, Germany. After rounding off the European tender procedure, from April 15, 1993 onwards the furnishing of the new central library was started in detail and the firm Schulz, in close cooperation with the city library and the architect, worked on the realization of the furnishing: by working out the details the interior of the public departments was given a more concrete form.
In many discussions between supplier, architect and library the following matters were raised: the choice of the system and materials, the choice of the colours to be used and the design of the furniture. In view of the functional and ergonomic aspects a life-size testing model of the administrative lendingcentre on the ground floor was constructed. This was tested by an external expert on ergono mics, together with the library's own staff. According to the conclusions of the resulting report the definite form was fixed.

8.3. The interior layout of Richard Meier

The involvement of the architect Richard Meier & Partners (RM&P) in the furnishing was discussed and fixed in a contract. The architect was intensely involved in all aspects of the furnishing. More specifically he made designs for:

But also in all other elements of the new interior the involvement of the architect can be seen in a pleasant way: chairs and tables, shelving, special furnishing for the children's department, booktrolleys, shelving for magazines and newspapers; also in the way of colour and form. The general premises on functionality and architecture for the final lay-out were:

8.4 Datasheets for the interior layout

During the process of preparing the detailed layout of all public departments, together with the product description and the exact measurements of all parts of the furnishing, the firm Schulz has drawn up datasheets. For the library it was important that in this manner it was possible to get a clearly structured overall view of all different materials.

All types of shelving for books, magazines, video-tapes and compact discs, including height, width and depth measurements, shelfs and other parts of these shelving are described in full detail. Tables and chairs, besides individual studycarrels with connections for datacommunication, the furniture for the reading cafe, the informationdesks in the different public departments, the administrative lending centre on the ground floor, the closed studycarrels and the exhibition elements for presenting aspects of the library work, so reached their final form.

In drafting these datasheets first of all a firm ground was laid for the contract with the supplier of the library furnishing. An important side effect was that these datasheets can be used as a source of information within the own organization. Now, a year before going over to the new accommodation, the choice for the furniture and layout of the interior has been decided on in detail, the contract has been signed. Now the production can start, so that form mid 1995 the population of The Hague can make use of this contemporary, attractive and very modern new central library.


1. There are a few points to be stressed. First, for every library building there is a wide range a variables. Furthermore, there is no one way of approaching the process of creating a new building. It is however essential that the library and its staff themselves know and lead the complex process of planning and design. To make the process succeed it is, in my view, essential that with regard to the progress and decision-making the initiative stays completely in the hands of representatives of the library.

2. Many internal working groups, composed of library staff, are preparing in detail all kinds of aspects of the building- and furnishing process. The internal organization asks for much time, energy and money. However, the result is positive. The final result: a contemporary new central library. A positive side effect is the fact that many staff in a early stage started thinking about the new acc ommodation, This has increased significantly the involvement of the staff in the forthcoming move to the new central library. Some examples of these internal working groups are: the working groups on furnishing, on the removal, on the datacommunication infrastructure, the signposting of the public departments.

3. The pioneering role of the library in the planning- and design process has to be built up and supported very carefully. Examples are among others the 'Spacebook' for the building process, and the preparation of the datasheets for the interior design of the library.

4. Finally, an important element in this complex planning process is the time involved for the total staff of the library. In The Hague we are, since 1986, working with three full time staffmembers. Working with the many internal working groups, the frequent consultation of all staff and the general information through general staffmeetings and the internal house magazine, costs the organization much energy, time and money. But although this whole process is time consuming and costly, it is more than worth the effort and thus an investment well spent.

10. Appendices

A Ä Design data sheets: City Library The Hague B Ä Reviewing matrix interior lay out C Ä Example data sheets D Ä Some facts and figures city hall/central library [See author for appendices]