Editor’s Note: Fred Sztabinski is a Spacing contributor and former project coordinator of TCAT who recently relocated to Amsterdam, Netherlands. He will write occasional blog posts for Spacing comparing Toronto and European urban landscape issues.
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AMSTERDAM — Working from home, it’s often nice to go out and do a bit of work “off-site,” just to mix things up and, at the very least, remind yourself that there are other people out there. For me in Toronto, a café was the go-to place for this. But in Amsterdam it’s not as easy to find a place where you can order a latté and just sit for a while reading or on your laptop. Those types of places do exist here, but they’re not as common as in North America or other European countries, and en route to finding one you probably want to avoid what’s actually called a café (a restaurant/bar) and a coffeeshop.
I’ve recently discovered Amsterdam’s new Central Library (or Openbare Bibliotheek) and it truly is a great place to visit, for work or otherwise. The building is architecturally striking and the spaces very creative. This got me thinking that, as the Toronto Reference Library (or possibly the future Jane Jacobs Reference Library) is set to undergo a major revitalization, I really hope we might see some of what Amsterdam’s got in its showpiece library.
Opened in 2007 and touted as the largest public library in Europe, it is centrally located within a short walking distance of Central Station. The building was designed by famed Dutch architect Jo Coenen and is just one of a number of modern buildings filling up reclaimed land along the former docklands of Amsterdam’s waterfront. Coenen is also responsible for the master plan of KNSM Island (look out for a future post on this fully planned modern island development).
The library has a great variety of work spaces and internet-ready computers free for visitors to use, as pictured above in the library’s mixed media area. And there’s no need to reserve a computer or wait in line – there’s always a few machines open. The library offers free wi-fi internet access as well.
Offering spaces like this to students, self-employed individuals, and visitors to your city is a great economic development tool, in my opinion. The space breeds creativity and interaction, all within a knowledge centre not matched by too many other places. Cities should – and many already do – realize that a public library is more than just a book lending service to its constituents; it can also be an investment in its culture and work force.
Pictured above is the children’s area of the library on the ground floor. I find this space really attractive as it’s so open and full of light. In the inset photo you’ll see that there is a staircase that leads to a reading nook atop the circular tower of book shelves in the centre of the photo.
Perhaps one of the most pleasant things about the library is the piano in the main foyer. It’s free for anyone to use – up to a maximum of 30 minutes. Sporadically while I’m there someone will decide to tickle the ivories and you can hear the music waft throughout the building. Obviously, not your typical “Shhhhh, quiet please!” library mentality.
The library also has three restaurants, including a rooftop “marché-style” restaurant with patio seating overlooking the city.
This truly is a place worth visiting and something Amsterdammers are lucky to have. The Toronto Reference Library is a gem itself, designed by an equally famed architect, Raymond Moriyama, and with the upcoming revitalization I believe it could soon be on par with the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam.