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ProBiblio is part of the library networks in North- and South-Holland and contributes
to the innovation and rationalisation of libraries.

Public libraries can be found in every town or city. All are subsidised by the local
government. At provincial level there are Provincial Library Centres, subsidised by
the provincial government, whose task is to offer support to local libraries on a range
of activities.
Currently there are nine Provincial Library Centres including ProBiblio which serves
North- and South-Holland, the two provinces in the western part of the Netherlands. A
further facility subsidised at provincial level is the WSF library function, whereby large
city libraries are subsidised to support surrounding libraries with collections and
services that are aimed at a near academic level. In the area served ProBiblio four
such libraries are operational, the public libraries of Rotterdam, The Hague, Haarlem
and Amsterdam.
At national level the Dutch Library Association, the VOB, is subsidised by the central
government. The main task of the VOB is to maintain and improve the national
network of public libraries.
A further organisation, NBD/Biblion, the Netherlands Library Service established by
publishers, booksellers and public libraries, is a central non-profit library supplier and

Past and present

ProBiblio is in fact not really a library! It is a back-office and a support organisation
offering the libraries of North- and South-Holland a wide range of services and
products. All of these can be seen on our website,

ProBiblio was founded in 1998 as the result of a merger between the Provincial
Library Centres of the separate provinces of North-and South-Holland. Its roots go
back to 1949, when shortly after the Second World War the Provincial Library
Centres were created to improve the library services in rural areas. As was the
custom in those days the predecessors of ProBiblio were organised according to
religion, a protestant and a catholic library centre in each province. During the sixties
and seventies these religious divides gradually lost their meaning and the
organisations merged to form one organisation per province.
Up to 1987 libraries in towns with less than 30.000 inhabitants were obliged to have a
service contract with their Provincial Library Centres, and central government
subsidies aimed at local library development were channelled through the Centres. In
1987 central subsidies were decentralised to local level, and local authorities were
given full responsibility for local library services. As a result libraries were no longer
obliged to have a contract with their Provincial Library Centre. Most libraries,
however, maintained their service contract, and provincial governments continued
subsidising their Provincial Library Centre. This led to the Provincial Library Centre’s
role of back-office for all libraries in their area.
An important factor in this development was the fact that in many provinces at that
time large investments were being made in library-automation and co-operation on
interlibrary lending and staff development. The general idea emerged that local
libraries would benefit from working together in regional or provincial networks.

During the nineties with the emergence of ICT and internet, and the changing role of
libraries, the Provincial Library Centres of North- and South-Holland felt that a larger
organisation was needed to meet future demands, and in 1998 the two organisations

merged to become ProBiblio. Both provinces continued to subsidise the new
Although over the years many libraries in larger towns and cities started to make use
of ProBiblio the main focus was aimed at smaller towns. This was stimulated by the
fact that it was financially attractive for libraries in small towns to outsource their
management to ProBiblio. Although these libraries did have their own independent
library authority, responsible for budget and policy, the library director and staff were
both on the payroll of ProBiblio. This situation meant that the relation between
ProBiblio and these libraries in many cases resembled that of a central and a branch
library. With the process of library modernisation that started a few years ago, small
local libraries had to merge into larger organisations, fully responsible for their own
management. This process is almost completed. ProBiblio is still in the process of
adapting to the new situation in which our role will be more of a knowledge centre
and supplier of services and products for libraries.

Since 1998 ProBiblio has been based in Hoofddorp, nearby Amsterdam Airport. The
building, which was purpose built for ProBiblio and designed by Atelier Pro Architects,
expresses the transparent culture and organisation that ProBiblio aims to be. The
headquarters comprises a circular building containing all collections and a
rectangular building for office space, both buildings connected by a light and
transparent triangle which is used as a meeting place for staff and visitors.

Facts and organisation

Six million people live in the area served by ProBiblio. This is 36% of the total
population of the Netherlands. There is a great diversity in the social environment
varying from the large cities Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague to the small
villages in the mainly agricultural north and southeast; from mundane seaside resorts
along the coast to modest quiet villages along the Bible Belt.

ProBiblio is subsidised by the two provinces to almost half the annual budget.
The other half of ProBiblio’s turnover is generated from the sale of products and
services to the libraries in North- and South Holland.
This last applies to both products offered at cost price and subsidised products.
The ProBiblio products offered at cost price have been agreed as being the
responsibility of the local library organisations. These products relate to the general
running of the organisation such as personnel management, salary administration,
financial management and automation. In these area’s ProBiblio is therefore in
competition with other suppliers. Good quality products at competitive prices are
therefore essential.
The ProBiblio products subsidised by the provinces of North and South Holland
concern services that contribute towards the network of libraries in the two provinces.
Such services are the transport of media between libraries, setting up and
performance of benchmarking, advice to libraries over their role and marketing
possibilities, regional collections policy, and ICT projects.
Two organisations of library directors, one in North-Holland and one in South-Holland
have an advisory function over the allocation of provincial subsidies, particularly over
the subsidy allocated directly by the provinces and aimed at the library modernisation

In 2005 a number of changes have taken place in the organisational structure of

ProBiblio. The organisation has now one statutory director responsible to a Board of
Governors. The statutory director is chair of the management team meeting in which
a further three sector directors participate. In addition to management of the

departments within their sector, each sector director is also primary account manager
for a designated number of libraries.

As is the case with all Dutch firms and organisations ProBiblio has a Works Council
with statutory rights regarding policy decisions.

General figures 2005

Staff 245
FTE’s 198

Budget € 18.000.000
Provincial subsidies € 8.500.000

Various reports have been published in since 1998 concerning proposals for the
strategic development of public libraries. The decision was eventually taken for a
process of modernisation of public libraries stretching out over a number of years.
In December 2001 a covenant, the Umbrella Covenant for Restructuring Library
Work, was signed by local, provincial and central government representatives,
effectively setting in motion a process of modernisation which is still continuing.
Essential in this process is the creation of a new structure of libraries based on the
concept of stronger local and regional collaboration, leading to so-called
‘Basisbibliotheken’, Basic Library Organisations. Each year the central government
allocates funding to stimulate the modernisation.
The provinces of North- and South-Holland have drawn up Road Maps towards
implementing library modernisation for the coming years. These plans have been
made in close collaboration with the local councils and libraries and contain
strategies for new development and financing.
At a local level the council and the library must create their own local agenda for
Since local libraries will become much larger and more professional organisations
and not all of the ProBiblio services will remain subsidised to the same level as
before 2006 our role will change considerably. At present we are still involved in
discussions with the provincial governments and local libraries to redefine our future

The provincial subsidies are aimed at five well defined programmes:

• ICT and the Digital Library
• Cultural programming
• Professionalisation at all levels
• Quality management and benchmarking
• Profiling the public library as a cooperative partner for other organisations in the
field of education, culture, and community information.
In this process ProBiblio is expected to make the transition from a supplier of
traditional back-office services focussed on books and bibliographic services to that
of a knowledge centre aimed at innovation and modernisation of the public library
service in North-and South-Holland and supporting local libraries with a range of new
management services.

From mission and programme to service and products
Highlights over the past few years have been:
• The change-over to a new automated Integrated Library System, Bicat, which
gives local libraries more possibilities of introducing their own parameters.
• The introduction of RFID and Selfservice in many libraries
• Implementation of the Digital Library, This is the National
Public Libraries Portal which includes many services operated jointly by all
Dutch libraries, for instance the Ask-a-Librarian service, Al@din, the virtual
school library, and the interlibrary loan service, and
Zoek&Boek. ProBiblio is responsible for introducing and managing the
services in North- and South-Holland.
Cultural programming
• An ongoing curriculum of services aimed at supporting local libraries in the
field of school libraries, social inclusion, cultural diversity, literacy and
computer literacy.
• Researching, pioneering and implementing new library facilities for small
villages as an alternative for the mobile library.
• Introducing Easy Reading Plaza’s in local libraries as a resource for children
and adults with reading difficulties.
• Introducing ‘OBIP+’, a system for rating staff performance.
• Organising expert meetings for exchanging knowledge and experience.
Expert meetings have been organised on music, library services in small
villages, literacy, social inclusion, senior citizens, the digital library etc.
• Carrying out research and benchmarking
• Introducing marketing for local libraries and supporting national publicity
campaigns, such as the Nederland Leest Campaign, whereby during 2 weeks
everybody in the Netherlands is encouraged to read and discuss the same
• The Beach Library. Special, attractively designed, free to use libraries in a
number of seaside resorts, only open during the summer season. Aimed at
attracting new people to the public library service and improve on the dowdy
image of public libraries.
• An ongoing process of financial administration for public libraries.
• Introducing a formal system of quality management as agreed on a national
level between Dutch public libraries
• Maintaining a transport system to facilitate the actual working network of
interlibrary loans, rotating collections, brochures, and other mailings.
• Bibliotheekplaza. A special website for libraries to present local initiatives to
the wider audience of colleagues in other libraries.
• Two software packages have been developed, IP and de GIDS, to facilitate
cooperation at a local level with other organisations and agencies and to
improve the availability of community information.

Ria Smith