The Innovative Dutch
Libraries, Universities, and Research Institutes in the Netherlands
by Lark Birdsong
Birdsong Information Services
Having spent 4 weeks in the Netherlands in August and September 2009 visiting libraries, universities, and research institutes and hearing lectures from the Dutch, I learned quite a bit from these innovative professionals. The public and academic libraries and research institutes have an innovation engine driving their daily existence and research. No matter where I find innovation at work, it inspires me. So let’s start with the DOK Library Concept Center (DOK) in Delft, Netherlands, a place some folks call the “most modern” or “best” public library in the world.
DOK Library Concept Center
Other authors in the information and library profession have visited and contributed information about DOK. This includes discussion on the details on DOK, its digital thrust with its collections, and images of DOK‘s physical building and interior. Some of these resources are included in the end notes.
Here are a few basics and a link to a video overview of DOK available via YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/itivideos#p/u/3/h0_hC4WW5aI. (See individual videos on the right.) DOK came about with the 2006 merger of three libraries: one music, one art, and one public. The library space is 4,300 square meters, with 600 square meters for office space (about 14%). Overall, the space is open, with vibrant and inviting colors all around. The library cross-populates many of the spaces with activities, materials, and furniture to make sure each space has some activity for adults and children.
To get to the more popular spaces, you must first go through the information center, the place to check out materials, find literature on library and community events, and talk with a librarian. Currently, DOK has 110,000 books, 40,000 CDs, 5,000 DVDs (1,500 of them films), 200 magazine subscriptions, 10,000 sheets of music, and 4,000 works of art. It has 30,000 online users per month. Its classification system is like the Dewey Decimal System (SESO). You can check out works of art, take them home, and enjoy them for as long as 6 months before the items need returning.
DOK is funded by the city council. It has member fees of about 35 € annually. Generally, only adults who are working pay the fee since there are some allowances for those who are unable to pay for the membership. Checking out books does not entail a fee. Students, the elderly, and youths under 18 don’t pay an annual member fee. All materials have an RFID chip inside. DOK staff believes within 5 years, 100% of all materials will be digitized. A video describing DOK’s digital services also is available via YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/itivideos#p/u/1/uyS1n1rBJhQ. (Second video on the right. Note that the video starts with the 55-second introduction of all people involved but then goes into the section on digital services.)
When asked about some of the differences with American public libraries, DOK staff noted DOK has smaller funds, opens fewer hours, and has less physical space to achieve its mission than many other libraries.
DOK: The Entrepreneurial Public Library
The real intrigue for me in visiting DOK was why and how it got the reputation as the world’s “best” or “most modern” public library. Partly it has to do with DOK’s move into digitizing all its collections, defined as collections stored in digital formats, and its many gaming capabilities. Yet digitizing collections is just one of the many essentials of the DOK Library Concept Center.
Marijke Timmerhuis, Eric Boekesteijn, and Mark Borneman spent an afternoon at DOK with me and my research assistant. How DOK staff makes decisions and the latitude they are given to test ideas is key to DOK. Let me share just a few examples of the DOK’s staff innovations. In one afternoon, we saw the prototype of a digital story screen (AGORA) [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkwUh2WFCSk - 3rd video on right] that is being tested and “way over budget.” AGORA is a digital touch screen that lets users who come into the library input and share their stories on an electronic storyboard. The first stories recorded will concern a peanut factory that is no longer manufacturing in Delft.
DOK staff also developed an information library system software, called Clientrix, to manage collections, user information, and administrative functions. Within approximately a year’s time, DOK built its own ILS (information library system) because, as Eric noted, “We refused to settle for the existing systems that were not up to our standards, and Clientrix is now bought by other libraries.”
We saw a group of staff having fun coming up with ideas for new library offerings that Eric could not describe because “he did not understand them yet.” An artist was getting ready to paint at the art collection; users could observe if they wanted to. Marijke had an idea about a sleepover for kids in the library that she had heard about from another library. When I asked how long it might take to test an idea a staff member might have, she said it could be tried within 1 week!
What impressed me most about DOK was the ease and encouragement given to staff to try out, tweak, or toss ideas after providing some information about the initiative. With this freedom comes an acceptance by staff members that not every idea is going to work. The staff is outwardly happy, and there is no apparent territorial “pissing” going on. Office space is open to encourage the idea process. Users are even asked for their ideas, and some of these are tested as well.
I believe DOK could be called the “Entrepreneurial Public Library.” How do DOK staff know what they are doing works? In Eric’s words, “Like most libraries, we hold surveys and ask our clients about our library, our services, but also about our products. Furthermore, we see in our library how frequently our products are used. Then there is the interest of other libraries, magazines, etc. Of course, we look into our status of membership and circulation. At DOK, we believe in doing and trying and then afterwards, or on the go, evaluating how the process is running.”
Approximately 28% of the citizens of Delft have library cards. Users interviewed have overall positive impressions of DOK. Check out the video posted on YouTube with the brief intro that then segues into DOK’s ideas about their users and the future: http://www.youtube.com/itivideos#p/u/1/uyS1n1rBJhQ. (2nd video on right.)
Lessons Learned, Lessons Taught
Can or do other libraries get close to allowing this freedom to innovate? Do they want to? Do their users, staff, and governing bodies need, want, or allow risk-taking and innovation, a test-and-learn approach? A number of libraries from different countries, including the U.S., seem to think so and are in discussion with DOK in replicating some of the concepts in their own libraries.
Bibliotheek, Gemeente Rotterdam
The public library in Rotterdam [http://www.bibliotheek.rotterdam.nl/EN/Pages/Welcome.aspx] is vibrant with partnerships, interior features, and programs for a wide range of users. In a discussion of its history, Jan-René Gerritse, information professional at the library, said it’s a very different library now. He noted its shift from a scientific collection to a modern information center. “What good are 1,000 old books to a public library?”
In its footprint, Bibliotheek, Gemeente Rotterdam has a theatre; a restaurant with a full bar; a ticket-purchasing outlet for many other events in the city; an information center for individuals new to Rotterdam; a partnership with an independent music store with 300,000 LP records, 10,000 DVDs, and 300,000 CDs that library card holders can check out;and live feeds from hair dressers in Rotterdam that tie into their youth area’s current theme on “hair and identity.” The staff know the number of library loans is declining and the “library does not have exclusive rights to the title sole information provider.” Their challenge lies in striking a balance between functioning as a “knowledge center and a leading organizer of innovative events.”
The library is well on its way to achieving this balance as the “most popular cultural institution in Rotterdam.” I can see why, with the variety of services and partnerships in one spot that engages the citizens of Rotterdam. The interior is inviting with magnificent lighting. Jan-René Gerritse said when the library first opened, many people asked if it were a library or a light store.
In addition to the central library, there are 23 branches and two mobile libraries. With a downturn in government funding, the library has strategically partnered with public schools to put some branch libraries in a public school. Staff are working on having extended school (after school) programs in their libraries. This library is another example of the Dutch innovation engine working and adding a tremendous amount of value for their users. (More photos on Rotterdam Public Library are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42836283@N02/sets/72157622391679753.)
TU Delft [http://home.tudelft.nl/index.php?id=92&L=1], a leading university of technology, is “dedicated to finding sustainable solutions for social problems. The university’s core tasks include delivering know-how and building knowledge networks in an international context.” TU Delft’s academic library ties into the mission by creating its own software called Discover.
Karin Clavel and her team at TU Delft are developing the Discover library management software. Discover is a custom-integrated search solution, a website [http://discoverbeta.tudelft.nl] built with Meresco open source components and the next-generation catalog for the TU Delft library. It has a look like SpaceTime3D [http://www.spacetime3d.com] with a tag cloud, images of individual documents, and clustering by common fields such as author, publication date, document type, and users ratings.
During the development phase, the team interviewed users, created personas, and made a few interesting discoveries. For one thing, users don’t use or want the “advanced search” features. They want these features already built into the search. So Discover does not have an advanced search area. Karin’s team wants the “system to make the user a better searcher.” Another feature they are developing brings all the databases in house within “one big index” (avoid a federated search) to make search faster. Liesbeth Mantel discussed the library’s persona with its users and said the library staff does a lot of brainstorming to position the library for the various users [http://www.library.tudelft.nl/ws/index.htm]. They think of TU Delft as a “Center of Belonging” for their students, faculty, staff, retirees, business owners, young professionals, or other individuals and organizations in the Delft area.They want the “outside” inside their library. The design of TU Delft is open and inviting, designed for its many types of users.
There are very few rules and the only ones listed are what you can do in the library. Yes, you can drink coffee in the library. What if it spills? “No problem, you just built a little time into your cleaning department budget for wiping it up” and for a few keyboards from time to time, “not a big problem.” There are few silent areas, mostly during exam periods. The staff tests a lot of ideas first (like DOK) to see how they work and are “not too much controlling.” With the openness to their users, they have learned they need to design into their library a lot of power outlets and to have a cafe with good coffee. (More photos on TU Delft, University Library are available on the following link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/42836283@N02/sets/72157622421370431.)
OBA, Amsterdam Central Public Library
Opened in July 2007, OBA created a beautiful library for its users [http://tinyurl.com/ylfyqkc]. The library has more than 700 computers (no time limit for the user, stay on all day if you like); partnerships within and near the library to create a vibrant cultural hub, such as its own theatre, restaurant, radio station, and a partnership with another restaurant on the lower floor; plus rooms for meetings of all levels and sizes.
They have metal keyboards and let the users drink coffee at them, a restaurant on the top floor with exquisite food and a full bar, conference rooms made for business, beautiful display areas, pianos for users to play, and are open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. A fashion designer created the garments the information staff wears so users can find them easily. (A video produced by OBA [http://tinyurl.com/ykfnh9b] shows off some of its features. More photos on OBA, Amsterdam Public Library, are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42836283@N02/sets/72157622546075638.)
Information Science Research in the Netherlands
Speech and Language Technology (SLT) Research
The University of Twente [http://www.universiteittwente.nl/en] is an “entrepreneurial research university.” Researchers at the Human Media Interaction (HMI) group work on improving access to the spoken word and multimedia archives in general, through the application of speech and language technology. The group is led by Professor Franciska M.G. de Jong. (See http://hmi.ewi.utwente.nl/topic/Speech%20and%20Language%20Technology.)
Willemijn F.L. Heeren is a postdoctoral researcher with HMI: “Over the past century, millions of hours of spoken audio recordings have been collected with great potential for example for research, educational purposes, and new creative audiovisual productions. The actual (re-)use of these collections, however, is severely hindered by their generally limited access. This is mainly caused by insufficiently accurate annotations, at the level of programs or tapes (i.e. durations up to hours) instead of user-manageable chunks, such as fragments of only a few minutes or less.”
Speech and language technology (SLT) research is investigating ways to use statistical language modeling as a basis for tools for searching spoken word collections. The HMI speech group uses ASR (automatic speech recognition) software to analyze spoken audio recordings. The automatically generated transcription of the words spoken in the audio recording is not always correct. Preferably, for search applications, word error rates (WER) should be under 25%; automatically generated indexes should not be released to users unless this threshold is met. It remains a challenge for the heterogeneous document types typically found in spoken word archives to achieve better WER scores.
In project Choral, HMI has been working on access tools for oral history collections in the Netherlands. The focus lies on improving the disclosure of spoken heritage collections. The automatically generated transcripts of these collections have time stamps associated with the words and are used to build an index that allows searching of the audio files at fragment levels. An example is the access portal for a collection of testimonies related to World War II. Witnesses of the bombing of Rotterdam in 1940 recorded their personal remembrances [http://www.gemeentearchief.rotterdam.nl/brandgrens].
Virtual Knowledge Studio
The Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS) [http://www.virtualknowledgestudio.nl] supports researchers in the humanities and social sciences. A core mission of VKS is the “integration of design and analysis in close cooperation between social scientists, humanities researchers, information technology experts, and information scientists. This integrated approach provides insight in the way e-research can contribute to new research questions and methods.”
Paul Wouters, program leader of VKS, focuses his research on the broad area of information communications technology (ICT). Currently, Wouters believes future research in ICT will be concentrated in these five areas.
The ramifications of moving from data scarcity to data floods, cloud computing, new methods of data analysis and representation
From data science to computational modeling, taking the risk to try in human research
Visual culture and how we not only visualize data but also knowledge and interests, “Can you see what I know?” [http://vks.cyswik.net]
Telling scholarly stories in ways understandable to other professionals: “What the beep is Cell Journal telling us if we are not cellular biologists?”
- Social neuroscience and the coupling of brains with social dimensions, brain networks where information resides
An area within VKS called Research Dreams [http://www.researchdreams.nl/page/170/en] brings together “all sorts of stories from all fields of knowledge.” It can be added to and “enriched on the basis of submissions by anyone who is interested in developing dreams about the future of research.”
Andrea Scharnhorst’s research transcends the divide between the natural sciences such as physics with the social sciences and humanities. She is interested in the use of mathematical models to better understand the dynamics of knowledge processes in science and beyond. “Scholarly activity, or the social system of science, can be studied in very different ways, with ethnographic observations of ‘scientific tribes,’ with statistical analysis of scientific communication, and with help of new visualization tools ‘mapping the scientific universe.’”
Concerning the heuristic function of models, an important point Scharnhorst provided came from research by Peter Allen [http://www.som.cranfield.ac.uk/som/p2054/People/Faculty/Academic-Faculty-Listing-A-Z/Peter-Allen] of Cranfield University and ties into an atmosphere that allows risk-taking and innovation in scholarly research. Paraphrasing Allen, the more credible the predictions are, the more likely they are not to happen. The power of models lies in the hypothesis which forces us to think in different ways and to generate new ideas. Scharnhorst’s future research will focus on visualizing and modeling the dynamics of knowledge processes. A newly started project, Knowledge Space Lab: Mapping Knowledge Interactively [http://www.virtualknowledgestudio.nl/news.php], will contribute to the new research area of “maps of science.”
Pursuing Tags at Novay
Novay [http://www.novay.nl/en] has an interest in large-scale tagging as the kind of innovation enabled by ICT. Novay’s research in ICT uses “networked innovation” to speed up new discoveries. Companies join forces to create “new value for customers, partners and their own organisations, with ICT as the supercharger of innovation… You give your own people the chance to learn from others and you can permanently speed up the innovation process.”
Rogier Brussee works in the organization of large collections of information, from scientific articles to music files. Metadata and free-form tagging of information items are useful if serving classification or retrieval. To help retrieve valuable sources of information from serious amateurs, i.e., unpaid individuals who are passionate about their interest, have in-depth knowledge on a topic, and generally assign appropriate (good) tags for the topic, one must know which tags are good predictors of the information source and discover the hidden structure and meaning of tags, i.e., the folksonomy.
Brussee, collaborating with Christian Wartena, has quantified the intuition that “a good tag is a good predictor of the information source” and argues that “usage of information by other searchers is a good approximation of its meaning.” By counting usage of tags, researchers can reconstruct the organization, meaning, and predictive value of tags. Brussee and Wartena have also created a system that utilizes such “usage data,” with which individuals can retrieve and recommend tagged information by taking semantics into account.
These links relate to tagging and folksonomy: