Library Or Bookstore: New Netherlands Branch Blurs The Line

Library Or Bookstore: New Netherlands Branch Blurs The Line

New Netherlands library benchmarks successful retail customer experiences to reinvent public book lending.

Dave Pinter, PSFK
  • 6 may 2010

Ten years ago, facing competition from other information sources and dwindling interest, the main library in Almere realized something drastic need to be done to reestablish the branch as an information destination and community hub. They started by surveying their existing members and discovered that some interesting ‘customer profiles’ emerged. Preferring to think of library patrons as customers rather than members, Marga Kleinenberg and her colleagues at the library took a look at how retail stores appeal to their customers. The shops provided inspiration for ways to organize the new library into zones, new ideas for displaying books to make them more browsing friendly, and the creation of displays targeted towards  their frequent visitors.

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A call was put out to architectural firms and Netherlands based Concrete won the commission along with Meyer & Van Schooten architects who designed the building shell. They presented a compelling analysis of different retail channels and how their best practices might influence the design of a new library. The new building is located on a sloped site and there is a 19 foot difference in height from one side to the other of the interior. A series of stepped terraces were created and marked with winding contour lines edged with curving bookshelves. Each of these terraces became a different category zone. For instance there is a ‘High Tension’ zone which caters to information junkies looking for fast sources of information.

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Concrete also rethought how the books were to be displayed and abandoned the traditional linear shelves packed with books only showing the spines. Taking a cue from bookstores, the new shelving system provides for more books to be displayed showing their covers. Duplicate copies of titles are stacked vertically. Customers can grab a copy from the top without other titles falling over which happens in traditional shelving. There are also bins where books of a similar topic can be contained. As much as possible, the designers retained an openness to the new interior. None of the shelving has solid back panels which would create visual walls.

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A range of different seating and lighting combinations are integrated into the shelving and cater to customers stopping by to browse or those intent on spending longer amounts of time with study or research. Large benches encourage a casual atmosphere and lampshades are brought down to signal a scale more residential scale.

Graphic designers Thonik created a series of colorful murals that define each of the category zones. The kids area for instance has a stylized illustration pattern of building blocks. The murals are the biggest color statement in the new space and help to make navigating and finding each of the zones easier for customers.

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