Online KMWorld CRM Media, LLC Streaming Media Inc Faulkner Speech Technology
Other ITI Websites
American Library Directory Boardwalk Empire Database Trends and Applications DestinationCRM Faulkner Information Services Fulltext Sources Online InfoToday Europe KMWorld Literary Market Place Plexus Publishing Smart Customer Service Speech Technology Streaming Media Streaming Media Europe Streaming Media Producer Unisphere Research

Magazines > Searcher > March 2010
Back Index Forward

Vol. 18 No. 2 — March 2010
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 - Introduction

DOK - DOK Users

DOK - Digital Surfaces

More photos on DOK Library Concept Center are available on the following link:

More videos on DOK Library Concept Center are available at these links:

DOK Library Concept Center Heritage Board

DOK Library Concept Center Heritage Board #2

DOK Library Concept Center 2nd Floor 360 View

American Moments

I only knew the English language; most Dutch knew at least two languages including English.

A vendor in Brugge, Belgium, asked me where I was from. When I told her America she replied, “I didn’t think you were American because you have grey hair. Most of the older American women I see have blond hair.”

During my visit at DOK Library Concept Center they told me a couple of times we would go upstairs and see the “novelties.” I thought, “This is a bit different for a library to emphasize novelties [small inexpensive trinkets] so much, yet this is DOK.” Turns out it was another one of my language problems; they meant novels.

Signage: Twice and in different universities, I went into the men’s room because I thought it was the women’s room.

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: (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: (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) [ - 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: (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 [] 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

TU Delft

TU Delft [], 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 [] built with Meresco open source components and the next-generation catalog for the TU Delft library. It has a look like SpaceTime3D [] 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 []. 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:

OBA, Amsterdam Central Public Library

Opened in July 2007, OBA created a beautiful library for its users []. 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 [] shows off some of its features. More photos on OBA, Amsterdam Public Library, are available at

Information Science Research in the Netherlands

Speech and Language Technology (SLT) Research

The University of Twente [] 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

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 [].

Virtual Knowledge Studio

The Virtual Knowledge Studio (VKS) [] 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?” []

  • 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 [] 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 [] 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 [], will contribute to the new research area of “maps of science.”

Pursuing Tags at Novay

Novay [] 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: 

Just in Case

Many times you can find great ideas and thoughts from other organizations and individuals, but implementing the ideas within another organization will depend upon a host of factors, including the attitudes of those managing the resources, politics, and cultural considerations. Here are a few ideas and thoughts that had value for users, patrons, staff, and management in the organizations I visited.

1. DOK, OBA (Amsterdam Public Library) and Rotterdam Public Libraries charge a nominal annual fee to become a member of their libraries. Do libraries not charging membership fees need to considerer a fee structure for users/patrons? My guess is policies could be set and foundations would help with grants to allow continued access for all, if needed. Individuals could help “pay for my annual membership and one other.” Other governmental entities supported by the taxpayers, such as recreation centers, already charge nominal fees from their citizens. Having a public library with nominal fees is better than closing branches, reducing hours, having long waits, or just shutting down the whole library system.

2. One of the goals of OBA is to let users have the time they want on a computer in the library, so no time limits are set. That meant the new building had to be designed with this goal in mind. To date, OBA has 700 computers available for its users and no time limits.

3. OBA’s metal keyboards let users drink their coffee while on the computer.

4. DOK wants ideas to flourish and will try ideas out (without recrimination if the idea does not work) as early as a week from the onset of the idea to see how it works. This can really motivate people and help generate great ideas by users and staff.

5. TU Delft has few very few rules on what users can’t do. Any rule posted stipulates what you can do in the library. Yes you can drink coffee. What if it spills? “We just make sure we have enough in the cleaning budget for wiping it up.” Replacing a few keyboards along the way is also in the budget.

6. In some libraries all the “information professionals” on the floor had consistent “uniforms” or clothing easily identifiable by their users. OBA had a fashion designer come up with the clothing for its staff so the different age ranges would like the look since it had both a classic and fashionable style.

7. Knowledge is only alive when it goes through your own brain; there is a need for complex materials to be translated into other languages so these can be understood and used to the benefit of all.

8. Rotterdam Public Library has partnered with public schools to have a branch library within the school as a consequence of lesser funding levels coming in from the government. Its youth area has programs for youth up to 25 years of age. It is also working on having after-school programs. As a result, 95% of school children are reached by the Rotterdam Public Library system.

9. As of this writing, the Rotterdam Public Library has no ebooks.

10. When asked about any complaints on noise from users playing the piano at DOK, staff noted that this does not happen a lot. When it does, the piano player is told he or she can play for about 30 minutes more and then need to stop for a while.

Interviews With Users of DOK
By Kristen Greenland and Erin Sterling

I wanted to see what the users of DOK thought about their library. Kristen Greenland and Erin Sterling, research assistants, spoke with several users at DOK. They interviewed women and men ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, with and without children. Three general questions were asked of the users. A summary of the users’ answers appears below each question.

What things do you like most about the DOK Library Concept Center?

Diversity of resources available, including books, music, computers, and gaming

Shelves are low enough for children and adults to reach

Coffee is available within the library and you can drink it wherever you go

The atmosphere, including the design of the building and the layout

New building is not such a dusty library anymore

The design of the building

Customer service is excellent and the staff always very helpful

All of the new technologies

The large video story wall that will be going in soon

Very easy to find what user wants to find

When you search the catalog, it is very easy to tell where the item of interest is in the library

Large space upstairs was great for programs such as choir performance or art display

The magazine selection always has everything the user wants

If you could ask DOK to change three things that already exist in the DOK Library Concept Center, what would they be?

It gets hot in DOK sometimes because of the windows

Don’t like the concrete industrial visible frame inside the building, as it does not seem to blend with all the bright colors

Add more sheet music

More how-to books on hobbies in the nonfiction books area downstairs

Shelves are very high for people in wheelchairs or with disabilities and users can’t reach the top shelf

Front door is difficult to get a wheelchair through in bad weather

Help directing user to the English books section

Several users stated there was nothing they would change about DOK.

What are three things you want DOK to do in the future to enhance the experience for you as a user?

More book themes for children on things like the seasons or holidays

Mailing list, in email format, of the different activities for parents and other events

More books in the easy reading area geared to kids with dyslexia along withmore informative activities

Collaborating with schools, especially schools on the outskirts of Delft, and focusing on making reading more attractive for children

More activities to encourage the love of reading, especially because of the computers and games. Normally the children come, pick out a few books, and then head to the PlayStation and computers. We appreciate the technology, but still want a focus on reading.

More marketing on children’s program activities, such as story times

Promote the materials already in the collections.

Promote the events going on.

More Readings

Helen Blower, “My 49.5 hr tour of the Netherlands”
[ html]

Scott Nicholson, Scott’s Stuff: “DOK Library in Delft”

Scott’s Stuff: “Lessons Learned From Netherlands Libraries”
[ feature=channel]

DOK Delft, “DOK jaarverslag 2008”

Language is Dutch and has visual information of DOK Library Concept Center for those who do not speak Dutch.

xGozzax, “Dok Delft”
No language on video.

Erik Boekesteijn and Jaap van de Geer, DOK Library Concept Center, interview with Michael Stephens

Marshall Breeding. The Systems Librarian: “Library Technology International”

Stephen Abram, “Building Capacity for Change: 25 Technologies Transforming Libraries”

Erin Sterling, DOK Users Interviews

Kristen Greenland, DOK Users Interviews

Anna Warns, Contribution on TU Delft

Elena Tesoriero, Contribution of DOK AGORA video


Contact Information for Dutch Libraries, Universities, and Research Institutes

DOK Library Concept Center
Erik Boekesteijn:

Project Choral
University of Twente, The Netherlands
Prof. dr. Franciska de Jong:
Willemijn F.L. Heeren:

Virtual Knowledge Studio
Paul Woulters:
Andrea Scharnhorst:

Rogier Brussee:

Rotterdam Public Library
Jan-René Gerritse:

TU Delft
Karin Clavel:

OBA, Amsterdam Public Library


Sometimes having a large amount of ideas presented to an organization from “popcorn heads” (people who pop out several ideas without the responsibility of implementing the ideas) can be overwhelming. Leaders are managing dynamic, growing, evolving, organizations with limited resources and can’t implement every, or even many, of the ideas that are presented to the organization. The leaders must pick and choose what is possible. With this in mind, there are a few concepts that worked very well in the libraries I visited and could potentially yield great benefits to some libraries in the U.S. today:

  • Implementation of a fee structure for public libraries.

  • Partnering up within the “footprint” of the library with other organizations such as record stores, ticket outlets, restaurants, after-school programs, branch libraries in public schools, etc.

  • Trying out ideas sooner on a small scale and implementing them quickly if viable.

These ideas would require discussions to determine if they could work for the organization, thoughtful implementation and would not work for every organization.

Lark Birdsong provides information literacy training, web and online search training, and in-depth business research. She is director of the Information Literacy Initiative, at the University of Washington’s Information School and president of Birdsong Information Services. She couples her industry experience with an M.B.A. in finance and accounting, a master in education, and an M.L.I.S. degree from the University of Washington. Her Information Literacy webpage is found at, and her weblog is at
       Back to top