Library Tour – Off to Amsterdam

Now that I’ve gotten over some of the giddiness that took over me after stealing my first batch of honey from my bees, it’s time to get back to our regularly scheduled program. That means we’ll be taking a tour through another of the world’s libraries. This time, we’re off to Amsterdam.

Now, I know heading to the library isn’t the first thing most people think of when planning their to-do list for Amsterdam. I mean when you’ve got to gawk at the Red Light District, lose your way amongst the canals (seriously, they all look the same) and wonder just how the hell you pronounce “Van Gogh” correctly, who has time to go look at a building full of books?

Well, you should make the time because it is a very cool building.

The Amsterdam Public Library, or rather the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, actually refers to every public library within Amsterdam, but the best of the best is the Central library located just a short way down from Centraal Station. Officially known as the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam at the Ooosterdok, the Dutch shorten this to simply the “OBA at the OD.”

The OBA at the OD exterior.
The OBA at the OD exterior.

To be honest, the place is just okay to look at from the outside. I mean, it’s no Roman-themed Vancouver Library and is a bit utilitarian in appearance. But inside, the place is gorgeous and the decor is quite fun especially in the kids’ area. The building was completed in 2007 and now sees over 2 million visitors a year.

In a word, the place is huge (which you will quickly learn when you try to find the loo). In fact, the OBA at the OD is the largest public library in Europe. The building has over 28,000 square meters of floor space filled with books, movies, games, CDs, more books and a small museum. If you laid out end to end the stuff in the library’s collection that is available for check out, it would stretch somewhere around 28 kilometers (that’s a tad over 17 miles) – and that doesn’t include the thousands of reference items you can’t check out.

Inside the bibliotheek.
Inside the bibliotheek.

Granted, as a visitor, you’re not going to be able to check out anything, but you can spend as much time as you like in the library. For no cost you can browse books, take a look at the museum or read a few of the 2,000 magazines and newspapers (many in English) the library carries. For a small fee, you can use one of the 600 computers in the library without the creepy feeling that is included for free at many Internet cafes.

Even if you hate books or don’t need to check your email, you may still want to duck inside the library and head up to the seventh floor where a huge cafe offers up plenty of tasty meals. You may also want to check the events calendar for one of the 1,200 shows the library holds each year in its 250-seat theater.

You may not think it’s a priority, but humor me and at least consider making a stop off at the Amsterdam library the next time you’re in town.