The text below was prepared for the Danish Ministry of Culture’s Book and Literature Panel. On 3 May 2016, I was invited to Copenhagen to give a presentation about the state of e-book lending through public libraries in the Netherlands. After the meeting I wrote the text with some updated information. The text was finalized on 26 August 2016 and has been translated into Danish for a publication of the Danish Ministry of Culture. The original English and Danish language versions of the publication in which it was included can be downloaded from this site.
1. The public library landscape in the Netherlands
Since the turn of the millennium, the number of public library organizations in the Netherlands has declined considerably, from 544 in 1999 to 156 in 2015 (Statistics Netherlands, 2016). A policy program called Library Renewal (‘Bibliotheekvernieuwing’, 2000-2008) succeeded in arriving at a limited number of larger organizations through mergers of local libraries. Library organizations are providing public library services in multiple municipalities. The 156 organizations are currently operating
- 782 branches with a minimum of 15 opening hours per week
- 215 service points, opened 4-15 hours per week
- 55 mini service points, opened less than 4 hours per week
- 67 delivery points
- 11 self-service libraries without staff
- 10 book mobiles with 141 stops
Public library membership in the Netherlands is a paid membership, at least for adults. Most library organizations offer free memberships for children and youngsters, but for those aged 16-17 it is common they have to pay a fee. From the age of 18 (19 in Amsterdam), a full membership fee is due, the height of which varies between library organizations and is also dependent on the service level. Typically, libraries offer a choice between three membership options: a regular membership, a cheaper reduced version for incidental borrowers, and a more expensive top version for library aficionados. As an example, in the public library of Amsterdam the corresponding rates are € 35 (€ 25 for 19-22 years and over 65s), € 20, and € 55 (€ 45 for 19-22 and over 65s). What is included in each of the membership versions is dependent on local conditions.
Only one in every eight euros of the total public library budget is paid by registered members.
It is important, however, to stress that the Dutch public library system, as elsewhere, is financed largely by the local, regional and national governments. In 2015, subsidies constituted over 82 per cent of the total budget of public libraries (519.4 million euros), whereas 12 per cent derived from membership fees (the remainder of the budget coming from provinces, other grants and contributions, and on-charged costs; the budget for the national e-book portal is not included in this sum). In other words, only one in every eight euros is paid by registered members.