Arts, Culture & Media

The library at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

If you're a frequent traveler, then you know that most airports look more like shopping malls these days, offering you more and more ways to part with your money. But Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is trying something different, by opening a library in one of the airports busiest waiting areas. More than 45 million travelers pass through Schiphol each year. And many of the international passengers have lengthy layovers. Sure there are the usual range of shops and hotels, bars and restaurants. But there is also a mortuary at Schiphol. If you want to get married, you can arrange that as well. For these reasons, Schiphol bills itself as an "airport city," with all of the services for residents, but without the actual residents. A few years ago, Dick Van Tol approached Schiphol developers with an idea. "We told them that if they're going to be an 'airport city,' then they had to have a library." Van Tol is a librarian, working with an organization called ProBiblio, which supports libraries in the western part of Holland. Holland Boulevard Schiphol officials thought a library would be a good idea, and they knew just the place to put it – the long corridor connecting the two main waiting areas for international travelers. It is called, appropriately, Holland Boulevard. "On Holland Boulevard, everything is focused on the Dutch feeling," says Schiphol developer Maryan Brouwer. "There's a Dutch living room feel, with Dutch food and drinks." "Even the music and the colors are all about Holland," Brouwer says. The national color, orange, is prominent throughout the corridor. There is a small Rijksmuseum shop on Holland Boulevard as well. In fact, the library occupies an open, 300 square foot space right next to the museum shop. The books are kept on soaring bookcases cast in bright colors. A 'showcase for Dutch culture' There are around 1,200 books currently offered for travelers to pick up and read. Most are books by Dutch novelists and poets translated into 29 different languages. There are also books about Dutch history, design, art and architecture. "We want to be a showcase for Dutch culture," says librarian Dick Van Tol. "The aim is to not wait until people come to your library, but to get the library to the people. That's the main thing. We want the library in the neighborhood where a lot of people come together." In a nod to modernity, Van Tol points out the nine iPads bolted down at various seats and tables in the library. The iPads are connected to the Internet, but the only site you can reach is the library's site, where you can find videos, photos and music clips about Dutch artists, architects and designers. There is also a download station where you can put some of the museum's materials on your mobile phone, and take them with you. The music and the books, for now, are not part of the download offerings due to copy write issues. 'We give trust to the people' Van Tol says it's hard to estimate how many people have visited the library since it opened last summer. But, he notes, the iPads alone have had around 900,000 page views logged, and the guestbook comments are uniformly complimentary. "I've already told all my friends on Facebook about the library," says Katie Hornstein, an American currently living in Paris. She points to the book on Dutch artists by her laptop. "Normally in an airport you buy things, but here you can consume culture and enlighten yourself while you're traveling. It's a little enclave of culture in a place where you wouldn't expect it." It costs a little more than 400,000 dollars a year to run the library. The Dutch government currently covers most that cost. Just to be clear, you cannot check out the library books, but you are free to carry them around the terminal and read them at your leisure. "We give trust to the people, and we think we get it back," says librarian Dick Van Tol. "We've been open six months, and only a dozen books have been taken. I can tell you that around 70 books have been left behind as donations. Schiphol bookstores are not worried about the library cutting into their business. The library does not exactly carry the latest New York Times bestsellers. But, Van Tol notes, it does serve as a fine introduction to some of Holland's finest novelists and poets.

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