Erasmus+ visit to University of Amsterdam

The Red Room at the University of Amsterdam Library

Over the last few months Library Research Support has received a number of international visitors, from places like the University of Helsinki, University of Amsterdam, and the Czech Academy of Sciences Library, who have all come to visit and learn how our Library supports it’s researchers in open access publishing, digitisation, and research information and data management. We recently decided to reverse this trend and go visit somewhere to gain insights into how other institutions tackle similar problems that we face. The University of Amsterdam was chosen because they are a comparator institution, with a similar profile and size as the University of Edinburgh. The trip was funded by funding from a successful bid to the Erasmus+ mobility programme.

On the 8th March 2018 the Scholarly Communications Team visited the University of Amsterdam Central University Library. Over the course of two days we learnt about the services UvA offer to support open access publication, copyright support, research data management and bibliometrics. The visit was finished with a tour of the Central University Library which is based in the centre of the Amsterdam right next to the Singel canal.

University Library Amsterdam, Photo by Universiteitsbibliotheek Amsterdam CC BY 3.0

The Central Library actually consists of three buildings, all of different sizes and ages, merged together which presents a quite a few challenges – particularly for accessibility and continuity of services. The current library site has a rich history beginning in the 1880s when the library moved in to the Handboogdoelen building (furthest left in the picture above), which was a former home of long-bow militia and incorporated a shooting range. The building next door (central building in the pic above), with a façade from 1600s, used to be a former royal stables (you can see the two large doorways for horses) and was added to the Library complex in the 1940s. Finally, the main building (building on the far right in the pic above) was built in a vacant plot alongside in the 1960s. The buildings are linked together, with short staircases used to account for the different levels of the buildings internally.There is a plan to move the Central Library to a purpose built building in 2020.

The Library has a unique contemporary style which tries to live up to Amsterdam’s reputation as being on-trend, forward thinking and liberal. It was redesigned by Amsterdam-based designers Roelof Mulder and Iro Koers who went for a minimalistic design moving away from the traditional stereotype of a library. An example of this is the Red Room (see first picture above), which provides a self-service pick-up point for closed stack materials. The Library also had many interesting small quirky features, like free-to-use massage chairs, relaxation pods, phone booth cubicles and standing tables. The Library will also be participating in a scientific study to assess the impact of plants used in interior decor to affect the mood and learning capabilities of students. One suite of rooms will be filled with plants, with another devoid of vegetation used for a control group. I really liked the idea of the library building being used as a natural laboratory space to test scientific hypotheses.

relaxation pod at UvA Central Library

The visit has forged friendships between the two institutions which we hope to build upon in the future. We have come home from the trip with a whole new range of ideas to improve the services we currently deliver, but we also have a greater appreciation of our shared cultural similarities and differences.

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