1 March 2023, 09:15
The Salvation Army’s ‘Warm Banks’ initiative, in which several public libraries are participating, was announced late last year in the Netherlands. By doing so, they provide a warm place for people who have difficulty paying the high energy costs. The library as a ‘Warm Bank’ shows that the library is moving along with the times and transforming itself into a warm and cozy ‘people’s library’.
Public libraries are more often given tasks that were previously handled by other socio-cultural institutions. The role of the library is changing and sometimes imposed. The transformation to ‘people’s library’ is accompanied by different expectations, one of which is the living room feeling. Within our international research, I am mainly the ‘fieldworker’ in the Netherlands. Right now, I am shadowing and walking along with different library staff, observing, and writing fieldnotes. I want to discover and capture how the library is transforming: in which direction, how this is being implemented and experienced in practice. One change that stood out was the public library as a ‘Warm Bank’.
The public library in Rotterdam wants to be a living room for every resident of Rotterdam. A living room includes not only literal warmth, but also figurative warmth. Thus, around the holidays, a piano decorated with garlands stood in the hall of the Central Library and a digital fireplace was on display. The library offers the warmth of recognizable staff faces, their helpfulness and kindness. During my second day of shadowing, this was (made) clear to me.
At the counter, an elderly woman is waiting. She has reserved a DVD for her husband and would like to pay so she can borrow it. I am standing a bit awkwardly behind the counter. She greets me kindly and I smile back. ‘Is this your first day?’, she asks. ‘Something like that’, I thought to myself, and I ask her if it shows. She smiles. I explain that I'm walking along because I'm researching the library. She tells me that she finds the library a nice place and that the staff is very friendly. “You're in a good place,” she says.
After a while, the woman is still standing at the payment machine. We decide to go there. When we get there, we see that she is having some difficulties. We find out that she forgot to press “yes” when she is asked if she wants to pay by card. She is glad we took a moment to come and see her, and then she says for the second time, looking at me, that the staff is so friendly and helpful. [Fieldnotes]
With its warmth, the library attracts people who have nowhere else to go and provides a living room for those who don’t have one or can’t get their own hot enough. However, I notice that what we mean by living room is different for everyone. Many visitors create their own little living room in the library, their mini ‘third place’. They “even bring their own beer,” says the librarian. Eating dried fish (dining room) and sleeping (bedroom) are not allowed but do happen. “The library is indeed becoming more and more of a warm and cozy place,” the staff member says. “But,” she continues, “the warmer and cozier it becomes, the more people stay, including people who are less pleasant.” Like many, this librarian prefers to be at home when she must choose a warm place, “it can be cold here too,” she says, especially in places where it drafts. The library’s “Warm Banks” demonstrate the transformation to ‘people's library’ and that the living room feeling is successful, despite the fact that a living room does not mean the same thing to everyone.
Translation of Dutch column in monthly magazine Bibliotheekblad (2023-3)