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Leafing through books

November 15, 2010

Travelers stuck in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport - one of Europe's busiest - now have a better way to shorten layover time. They can stop off at the library and browse through a wide selection of books.

Two travelers looking at a book
Reading as a way to pass the time during a long lay-overImage: Stoepker

It's a daily task that Dick van Tol does with pride: tidying up all the books spread across tables and colorful seats. But his workplace isn't your average library; it's located in the middle of one of Europe's busiest airports - Schiphol in Amsterdam.

The library is situated in the international transfers area, where a whole boulevard promoting Dutch culture has been built. It stands right next to Schiphol's branch of the Netherlands' main museum - the Rijksmuseum.

"The idea was very simple: let's lend books to passengers who go on holiday and they can bring the books back when they return," said Van Tol, of Probiblio, the institution that came up with the idea of an airport library. "But then we realized that, logistically, it gets very complicated."

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport
Amsterdam's airport is a major hub in central EuropeImage: AP

Cozy retreat from traveling

What the organizers decided to do was to arrange the space with a handful of tall shelves containing 1,200 books in 29 languages, most of them in English and German. Passengers can choose from a variety of themes - from photography and architecture to history and fiction - and browse through them, returning them to the shelves before their next flight.

They can also nestle down and relax in the enormous orange and purple chairs while flipping through the books that have caught their fancy.

"Most of the 18 million people who only change planes here don't see anything of Holland," van Tol pointed out. "And this is an opportunity to get acquainted with what Holland looks like. So, we also have - apart from the books - a photo exhibition about Dutch landscapes."

Dutch culture to-go

And that's not all. The library also boasts a multimedia offering, which includes iPads spread throughout the space so that passengers can watch videos and listen to Dutch music. Occasionally, however, users try to hack the system in order to access the Internet and this forces the computers to shut down for a large part of the day.

Still, when they are in working order, users can hear tracks by world-famous DJ Tiesto or rock-chick Anouk, or watch videos. If they don't have time to view everything that catches their eye, they can hook up to a touch screen located in the middle of the library and download videos about Dutch paintings, fashion and design directly to their cell phones.

Library in Amsterdam's Schiphol airport
The library helps travelers get to know Holland - without leaving the airportImage: Stoepker

Something for everyone

For some travelers, the paper part of Schiphol's lay-over library is just as interesting as the digital offerings.

"We've found Russian books for children here," one male traveler said. "It's a good way to occupy the kids if you have time on your hands."

Another traveler said she wouldn't use the library because she always carries a book with her.

But the library isn't just for bookworms. "I've come here a second time now," one man quipped. "I like the ambience, so I come here immediately to relax and unwind. I'm just too tired to look at the books."

Project manager Van Tol, though, isn't deterred. "The books are very well used here," he said laughing - so not everyone just stops by for the comfortable chairs.

Having opened in August, the library is still developing its collection. Users, for their part, haven't taken advantage of the honor system too much. So far, only about a dozen books have been stolen, Van Tol said, and replacing them is cheaper than providing a 24-hour security service.

Author: Cintia Taylor (als)
Editor: Kate Bowen