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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 030-135-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Library Buildings and Equipment
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 135.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

Twenty years of public library building in flanders : 1978-1997

Marc Storms,
Flemish Library and Archive Association (VVBAD)
Berchem, Belgium
E-mail : vvbad@bib.vlaanderen.be


Since the library act of 1978, at least 164 new library buildings have been erected in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium with 6 million inhabitants. In a time span of two decades, one in two local authorities have invested in new infrastructure for their local public library.
In this article, the main reasons for this library building boom are described: the new library act of 1978, the merger of private libraries, the growing professionalism, the exponential growth of library use and the subsidies for building. A number of basic data will be analysed such as the year of opening, new / converted buildings, floor space, the cost of building and equipment and the evolution in library attendance.
At the IFLA-conference, slides of some remarkable buildings will be shown and described in detail


What causes the boom in new library building ?

New library building (2) - an analysis

This graph clearly shows that there two periods.

Not many new libraries were opened in the first eleven years after the new library act, except for 1982, when there were elections for the local councils. In this period the priority of the local authorities was to comply with the new library act. The establishment of the library, the recruitment of the personnel, the merging of the private libraries, the acquisition of library material and the preparation of building plans and documents took most of the time. The time delay between planning and the opening of the building is estimated at five and a half years (3). Sixty-five percent of the 28 projects described in the book were started during this decade. Only 18% opened before 1990.

Eight new buildings were opened in 1990, five in both 1991 and 1992 and since 1993 the figure has risen to ten per year. Sixty-nine new libraries were opened in the period 1994-1997, i.e. more than 17 a year. Most of the new buildings have been opened in the last four years.

It is difficult to predict the trend for the years to come. This boom cannot be continued because one in two municipalities has constructed a new library in the last twenty years. At the same time it is difficult to say how they will react to the abolition of the library building grants. As there is no central reporting station, no figures on new building projects are available. <`ul>

New / converted buildings

One in two projects is a new building, one in three is a conversion of existing premises such as a brewery, a church or an industrial plant. One in ten new libraries is part of a larger entity, a city hall, a cultural centre or a museum, and there are no figures available for 7% of the buildings. A statistical analysis of the figures on the time scale does not show an evolution from the building of new libraries to the conversion of existing libraries or vice versa.

Number of inhabitants - number of new buildings

Inhabitants	total number of new	total number of 	% of municipalities
	 	libraries	 	municipalities		with a new library
<5,000			  2			 15			 13%
<7,500			  9			 32			 28%
<10,000 		 16			 51			 31%
<12,500			 24			 48			 50%
<15,000 		 13			 38			 34%
<20,000 		 14			 49			 29%
<30,000 		 27			 38			 71%
<40,000 		 13			 23			 57%
<75,000			  1			  7			 14%
<125,000	 	  2			  6			 33%
<250,000		  1			  1			100%
>250,000 		  0			  1			  0%
Total			122			309			 39%

Most of Flanders' municipalities (4) (6) are small. Sixty percent out of a total of 309 have fewer than than 15,000 inhabitants. Small municipalities mean small financial and personnel resources. The expectation that relatively fewer new libraries would be erected in these municipalities has been proved by the figures Nevertheless, almost 50% of the projects were realised in these municipalities. It is in the category of the smallest municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants that only two out of fifteen have built or converted a library. In the category of municipalities with 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants, an amazing 71% realised a building project.

Floor space

Inhabitants	floor space	m2 per 100 inhabitants
<5,000		  329			7,35
<7,500		  356			5,48
<10,000 	  660			7,56
<12,500		  489			4,37
<15,000 	  711			5,23
<20,000 	  828			4,68
<30,000 	 1275			4,94
<40,000 	 1770			4,68
<75,000		 8917			13,2
<125,000	 4604			4,78
<250,000	 7500			3,33

There is of course a positive relation between the number of inhabitants and the total floor space of the library The more inhabitants, the bigger the library. That is why the surface area per inhabitant has been calculated. As expected, the smaller municipalities have more square metres per inhabitant. The figure diminishes from 7.35 m2 for 100 inhabitants in municipalities with fewer than 5,000 inhabitants to 3.33 m2 for the largest city.

If the area per inhabitant is measured on a time scale the figure rises slightly from 4.30 m2 per 100 inhabitants (period 1978-1981) to 5.18 m2 per 100 inhabitants in 1994-1997.

Building cost

107 libraries stated the cost of their building projects. These figures inflation-corrected using the ABEX (4) -index prices of 1997.

The average project costs 39,5 million BEF with a surface area of 961 square metres. This is about 41,158 BEF per square metre. Extrapolating this figure, we come to an investment in public library buildings (164 ) of about 6,500 million BEF of which 50% has been spent in the last four years.

We tried to analyse the time evolution of the building cost per square metre. A high standard deviation of 27.822 is found when prices are corrected with the inflation rate. This might be caused by the important differences between projects of small and large premises, the difference between converted and new buildings, the small number of openings in the first ten years. Another reason could be the trend towards a more industrial way of , which makes building cheaper. On the other hand, not only the building 'an sich' is considered but also the improvement of the area around the building. There are not enough data to make a serious analysis.

Equipment cost

The average expenditure on furniture is 4.2 million BEF. About 11% of the cost of the building is spent on furniture and equipment. In the last twenty years, this expenditure has risen by 10%. We suspect that this is caused by the rising attention for the interior, and the presentation of library materials. The linear book shelving with the highest capacity is more and more abandoned. A growing number of libraries arrange the materials according to interest groups. Also the choice for an integrated shelving system with book and non-book materials on the same shelves means more sophisticated, more flexible and thus more expensive shelves.

Library users

The figure of library users (5) per inhabitant is significantly higher in municipalities with a new library building, especially in those libraries constructed in the period 1986-1993 which count 30% of their inhabitants as registered users. The average for Flanders is 23.6%. In the libraries that were built in the last four years the user percentage is only 23.5%. This low figure is due to the fact that these municipalities only recently started with a library. It has to be studied how the user figures will develop in the following years.


One out of two Flemish municipalities have erected a new library building in the last two decades. The period of the shabby local library is definitively over. The library of today is housed in an attractive, flexible and multi -functional building, purpose-built for the huge collection of books, periodicals, audio-visual and digital material and equipment. At the same time the library is a meeting place for the locals and a centre for cultural and educational activities. The continuously growing number of attendants proves that the investment is greatly appreciated.


  1. The libraries of Gladbeck and Münster (Germany) were also visited. In the Netherlands the following public libraries were visited : Rotterdam (1985), Middelburg (1986), Breda and Tilburg (1994), and Den Haag (1996). In 1988 a program 'visit the library in your own region' started with visits to public libraries in the province of Oost-Vlaanderen, in 1990 Brabant, in 1993 Limburg, in 1996 Antwerpen and in 1998 in West-Vlaanderen..

  2. Only those projects of which the figures of the year of opening and the floor space were known on 27th April were analysed (124 libraries of an estimated 164 new buildings / conversions).

  3. With a standard deviation of two and a half year. This figure is based on 28 building projects that are presented in detail in the book "Bibliotheken bouwen in Vlaanderen : twintig jaar openbare bibliotheekbouw 1978-1997" (English edition "Twenty years of library building in Flanders : 1978-1997) published by the VVBAD.

  4. In this section we do not count the municipalities of the Brussels region.

  5. The Association of Belgian Experts publishes this index. It started in 1914 with 1. The index grew from 282 in 1978 to 468 in 1997.

  6. Based on the figures of 1997 if available.