A few train stops after Poland, we found ourselves in Brugge where just a short walk from my hotel through an alleyway…
…I encountered a parking garage serving a smart brick and dark glass and metal edifice. Parked on the cobblestones close by, a small van with the slogan “de Bibliotheek komt naar je toe” (The library comes to you!), indicated I’d found the right place, which a stylish mint and coral sign emblazoned on the rear door confirmed.
Under a sign declaring onthaal (welcome!), I found the main help desk where I chatted with three employees who spoke fluent English. They told me that people switch around and work at different stations, and that you must have a library certificate to work here. It takes one year to get after finishing a three year university course, and some professionals also go on and get higher degrees in librarianship.
The structure has two stories and was built in 1986 then renovated around 2009-10. It’s a roomy place with a funky flair evident in the grape floor and overhead banners and contoured concrete ceiling.
Near a display on vampiers – just can’t get away from them these days ;) – select an item from the bins of graphic novels then lounge in fashion on ebony and violet armchair cubes under a gilded chrome and CFL diagonal light fixture.
By the front entry, a clear Lucite newspaper rack lets you see the entire front page and magazines are featured in an intriguing cream tinted hard plastic blob – a style also seen in the framework enclosing the Pacs, checkout stations and the informational brochures.
Perch on black and white bar stools at high tables to sip drinks chosen from a well used coffee machine or settle onto fuchsia hassocks at the big screen computers. Stand alone lamps providing ambient lighting for all the little reading nooks scattered about.
An independent store selling new books right off the lobby catches the impatient who came for a title that was out.
At the back lies a pretty courtyard where the “Cultuurcafé” occupies a typical Belgian construction. A statue amidst verdant foliage and curved metal seats lends this patio the air of a sculpture garden.
Inside, a convenient chartreuse toned corner allows users to make cell phone calls away from inclement weather and other patrons and an exhibit of one week “sprinters” showcases hot offerings.
The low tiered red legged cases in the huge music and movie section let materials stand face out for easy browsing.
Triangular towers with slots for returns are sandwiched between the shelves where you pick up your own reserves (which cost one euro each to place). Internet PCs are free to members (17 and under don’t pay, but it’s five euro for one year for those 18-65 and 3.75 euro for seniors) and some have word processing. There’s a borrowing limit of eight things with a four week checkout and customers must return materials to the same library.
Besides home delivery for the infirm, HB has daisy books – audio CD Roms played on special machines that can be adjusted to accommodate physical and mental challenges – as well as large print and Braille titles. Online you’ll find tips on how to choose appropriate items for your learning preference.
A solid wood staircase leads to the second level and the Children’s Department where, when I visited in July, I was greeted by a facsimile of the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Rio hovering above a World Cup display with relevant titles, trophies, competitor’s flags, an empty wine bottle and soccer ball decals next to an easel with an up to date scoreboard.
Teens to age 14 and children can use the computers and books are in French and English, and Flemish, of course. Stuffed animals abound and there are mini checkout terminals and sheets of brainteasers for kids below a swarm of cheery bumblebees. Glowing bunnies are scattered about, and plush versions sit next to backpacks called snippertas containing selections of reading materials about animals, sleeping, sports, going on vacation… that cover issues and interests for tots up to age six.
And the vista of medieval rooftops and spires from the windows reminds tech obsessed youngsters not to forsake their formidable cultural heritage.
I asked Sophie from Children’s about a carved wooden piece similar to what I’d thought was a puppet theatre when I visited Fukagawa Library in Japan and she gamely demonstrated Kamishibai, literally “paper drama” for me.
HB makes a point of accommodating teachers – they can borrow extra items with longer lending periods and bring classes in for visits and events such as Literature of World War I and Book Tasting. Third grade classes get to interact with visiting robots.
I like their idea of storytimes using children as storytellers and the session on ancient documents that lets kids test their skills with quills and become familiar with parchments, pigments and gold leaf.
The room is brightly painted with low tables. Lime and cyan elephant stools and wavy chairs providing ample seating are surrounded by board book bins on wheels while floor to ceiling glass panes lets natural rays in. A spacious storytime area has colorful oversize cushions and beanbags stacked against one wall while a retractable partition that keeps noise contained is folded into another.
I was taken by the vivid decor of HB. Over in the adult part, there are curved midnight and pink benches and matching geometric forms show off newly acquired films near lockers for personal possessions. A black rug with plum tinted streaks echoes the shades of purple found throughout the building. I kept discovering unique touches – under a label stating “zonder inspanning zoeken” (effortlessly search), a color coded chart lists subject divisions and they created an outlook onto the cloister from a toasty window seat above an interesting looking radiator.
Along with DVDs, audiobooks and CDs, the library has manga, graphic novels, some older video games, anime, a local history collection and English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese volumes on the international shelves. A pilot project that had been going on for two months is introducing ebooks. Databases include historical archives, foreign newspapers and literary reviews for all ages.
HB has an elevator, selfcheck and free wifi. From the web page you can make purchase suggestions, arrange for a guided tour, propose a program you’ll lead on your personal passion, read library news or link to the Twitter account. Program topics include making jewelry from recyclables and finding out about sustainable foods or creating a climate neutral city. You can attend photo exhibits, author interviews and a Flemish fish celebration!
The facebook page has pictures of patrons at the seaside kiosk and retiring employees. There are promotions for poetry nights and guided walks around the city. Solicitations for volunteers to supervise kids’ book discussions and reminders that they now have ebooks pop up here too.
Frosted plastic end caps join cherry colored frames and blond planks to form the stacks and pictures on the ends show what’s there, e.g. the ouders kinderen (parents, children) icon has a small figure watched over by a larger one and onderwijs (education) shows a child carrying a school valise. Photography uses a camera and the familiar comic/tragic mask indicates theatre. Ingeniously, craft periodicals are housed by the craft volumes and sport DVDs by the sports tomes.
Up here in nonfiction, I got a chance to meet Sabine, who was very helpful. She works in cataloging and one of the smallest branches in the system as well.
Truly the bibliotheek is an enormous asset for this enchanting region.