4.4.5: 1830 - 1910 - Institutional libraries

In the history of libraries the years 1880-1910 constitute a dynamic era of innovation, the preceding fifty years were characterised mainly by consolidation and a - relatively modest - growth of the collections.

First of all the period 1830-1880. The Koninklijke Bibliotheek developed into a centre for the study of incunabula, especially by the librarian Johannes Willem Holtrop (librarian from 1835 to 1869). The most important university library remained that of Leiden, which university was officially recognised as 'first high school' with priority over others. Especially under librarian Jacob Geel (librarian from 1833 to 1858) the collection was enriched through purchase or by donation of scholarly libraries. Part of the books from the discontinued 'high schools' of Franeker and Harderwijk found their way to Leiden.

Under the influence of professionalisation in certain trades and from a growing nationalism - especially in the form of love for and interest in their own province - a number of new libraries were founded around 1850, such as the library of the Vereeniging ter Bevordering van de Belangen des Boekhandels (Association for the Promotion of the Interests of the Book Trade) (especially due to the commitment of Frederik Muller), the public library of Arnhem, the provincial libraries of Friesland and of Zeeland. Co-inspired by the English Public Library Act of 1850, young liberals in Rotterdam founded the Rotterdams Leeskabinet (reading circle).

Among the popular libraries the 'Nutsbibliotheken' (public welfare libraries) remained the most important ones, but under the influence of compartmentalisation, numerous confessional popular libraries were founded as well, such as those of the Christian youth associations and the Roman Catholic parish and Saint Vincent libraries. The popular libraries did not have a reading room, they were purely lending libraries, usually with a collection of a diverting nature of about a thousand books.

Around 1880, an innovative process began under the influence of a complex series of factors such as the ever increasing book production, economic growth, the specialisation within the sciences and the increasing education of the population. The government became more involved in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and the university libraries, as appears from the actions of Victor de Stuers, the head of the Arts & Sciences department of the Ministry of Home Affairs from 1875 to 1901.

From 1895 to 1921, Dr. W.G.C. Bijvanck was the librarian of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and wanted to turn it into a more dynamic, open cultural institution. Among other projects, he had small bibliographies compiled about current topics and he founded a Documentation department which prepared a running bibliography of articles published in Dutch magazines. These activities brought him into conflict with the Ministry and with fellow-librarians who emphasised a good catalogue apparatus.

The growth of the collection of books in scholarly libraries, and in particular the university libraries, required a new form of catalogue and a more accurate description of titles. An index card catalogue replaced the catalogue in the form of a book with supplements, opening hours were extended, the purchase of current literature became more and more important. Dr. P.A. Tiele (1834-1889) is considered to have been a major innovator of the scholarly library. He started his career as an assistant to Frederik Muller, was employed by the university library of Leiden and spent the last ten years of his life as librarian of the university library of Utrecht.

Around 1900 the 'reading room movement' started, the aspiration of a number of pioneers, under the enthusiastic leadership of Dr. H.E. Greve (1878-1957) to establish, after the English-American example public libraries and reading rooms in the Netherlands as well. The first of these were founded in Utrecht (1892) and Dordrecht (1899). In 1908 the six 'reading rooms' then in existence united themselves in the CV, the Centrale Vereniging voor Openbare Bibliotheken en Leeszalen (Central Association of Public Libraries and Reading Rooms). The CV received a - very modest - government subsidy and became the motor of the public library expansion which, although under the umbrella of the CV, were separated strictly into general, Protestant-Christian and Roman-Catholic sectors.

author: P. Schneiders

Institutional libraries