3.4.5: 1725 - 1830 - Institutional libraries

Traditionally, there were college and university libraries, the book collections of the grammar schools, a number of municipal council libraries and the 'public' municipal book collections. Particularly the latter were diminishing in this period, they were hardly used and there was no money to purchase books. Of the university libraries, only the one in Leiden was in fact of international calibre and enriched by the purchase and donation of a number of private scholarly libraries. As a junior librarian, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke went on a study trip in 1820 to the university library of Göttingen, which was then a model library by virtue of its extraordinary collection and good system of cataloguing.

Significant new appearances in the second half of the eighteenth century are the societies and a strong interest in the developments in the natural sciences. Societies flourished, including new types of libraries such as the reading cabinet and the society library, for instance those of the Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen (Dutch society for sciences, 1752), the Maatschappij der Nederlandse letterkunde (Society for Dutch literature, 1766), the Provinciaal Utrechtsch Genootschap (1773) and Teyler's Genootschap (1778). The first librarian at Teyler's was the great scholar Martinus van Marum. Thanks to its extensive exchanging policy, this library was able to build up an extremely important collection of periodicals and essays. The library of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse letterkunde, which grew rapidly thanks to donations such as that of one of its members, Zacharias Henric Alewijn, was to be handed over to the Leiden university library in 1876.

When functioning as actual societies, the reading cabinets sometimes had a reading table with newspapers and periodicals; such cabinets often called themselves 'reading museums'. The most renowned representative of this genre was the Amsterdamsch Leesmuseum (Amsterdam Reading Museum), established in 1800. The book collection was built up from fees and donations. Women were hardly ever allowed into reading cabinets; the membership fees were relatively high.

Researchers and those interested in science met in the scientific societies. The societies often held competitions, acted as publishers by publishing the winning answers, and often had a library. Related to the societies, at the municipal level, more or less specialised professional societies of lawyers, doctors and pharmacists were established and these societies often also had a modest library.

Carried by the enlightenment ideal and the aim to elevate the 'lesser man', the Maatschappij tot Nut van het Algemeen (Society for public welfare) was established in 1784, which began to set up libraries for the common people, mainly in the countryside. These were the predecessors of the modern public libraries. The first public library was opened in 1794 by the Haarlem department of 'Het Nut', at the suggestion of chairman Adriaan Loosjes. Hundreds of readers made use of it and Haarlem's example was followed immediately by dozens of other departments.

Following in the footsteps of the French revolutionaries, the Batavian revolutionaries established a National Library in 1798, which was given the designation 'Royal' under King Louis Napoleon - who also established the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences) with its library. On 17 August 1798, citizen-representative A.J. Verbeek put forward a proposal to turn the abandoned library of the Prince of Nassau into a national library, albeit only for use by the representatives. The Executive adopted the proposal, but decreed that everyone should have access. The more than five thousand books, manuscripts and archival records (including the original 'Act of Utrecht') were housed in three rooms on the first floor of the National Hotel in The Hague. The opening hours were extensive, certainly for that period. The first librarian - the custos - was Charles Sulpice Flament, who had fled France and who produced the first catalogue in 1800, a book comprising 535 pages with 5,482 entries. Under King Louis Napoleon the Royal Library grew substantially. After a brief interval as the municipal library of The Hague, it became Royal again in 1815. The emphasis in collection building was on manuscripts and early printed books, particularly the incunabula.

author: P. Schneiders

Institutional libraries