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Under the authority of the Provincial Governments of North- and South-Holland and in
collaboration with the public libraries, ProBiblio contributes towards modern and professional
standards of librarianship.

Dutch Public Library System
The Dutch Public Library System comprises three layers of service, related to the three levels
of government.

Local Level
A public library can be found in every town or city. As a result of the process of library
modernization many libraries have merged into so called basic library organisations usually
comprising a number of villages, towns and cities. Libraries are subsidised by the local
government, but are independent organisations, usually a foundation governed by a board of
governors defining their own policies, albeit in close cooperation with the local council.

Provincial level
At provincial level Provincial Service Centres (PSO), PSO’s are subsidised by the Provincial
Government. Their task is to offer support to local libraries on a range of activities.
Currently there are nine Provincial Service Centres. ProBiblio is one of these, serving North-
and South-Holland, the two provinces in the western part of the Netherlands.

Since the process of library modernisation started a few years ago, the directors of the public
libraries in North- and South-Holland have formed a co-operative with project subsidies at
their own disposal, and an important say in the services of ProBiblio.

National level
On a national level the Netherlands Public Library Association, VOB, is subsidised by the
central government. The main task of the VOB is maintenance and improvement of the
national network of public libraries.

NBD/Biblion, the Netherlands Library Service established by publishers, booksellers and
public libraries, is the central non-profit library supplier and publisher.

Since January 2007 the library service to print-impaired people has been re-organised and
integrated in the public library system. Final responsibility lies with the VOB.
ProBiblio; past and present
ProBiblio is a support organisation offering the libraries of North- and South-Holland a range
of services and products which may be found on our website
ProBiblio was founded in 1998 as the result of a merger between the PSO's of the separate
provinces of North-and South-Holland. Its roots go back to 1949, when shortly after the
Second World War the PSO's were founded 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 catholic, a protestant and a general PSO in each province. During the sixties and
seventies these religious divides lost their meaning and organisations merged to form one
PSO per province.
Up to 1987 libraries in towns with less than 30.000 inhabitants were obliged to enter into a
service contract with their provincial PSO, and central government subsidies aimed at local
library development were channelled through the PSO's. From 1987 the Public Libraries Act
was repealed. Central subsidies were decentralised to a local level, and local authorities were
given full responsibility for local library services thereby being no longer obliged to have a
contract with a PSO. However most libraries maintained their service contract with their PSO
and provincial governments continued subsidising the PSO, as a consequence leading to
PSO’s becoming a 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 Service 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

The near future / Library Modernisation
Various reports were published in 1998 and 2000 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 the 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.

As from 2008 all libraries are re-organised into larger organisations and will be completely
independent of ProBiblio.

The role of ProBiblio has changed considerably during this process. Starting from a situation
resembling a central library with branches ProBiblio now is a semi-commercial service
provider for public libraries with only part of its services being subsidised and others being
offered at market prices.

From 1998 the ProBiblio headquarters 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 consists of a round 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.

The provincial subsidies are intended to enable ProBiblio to function as an intermediary for
networking activities between libraries, to create cohesion with other cultural and educational
organisations on a provincial level, and to offer advisory services on many aspects of library
work, ranging from library automation to services for people with special needs.

Historically many of the smaller libraries outsourced their management and financial and
personnel services to ProBiblio. These services are still being offered, but from 2008 onwards
on non-subsidized base only.

Provincial subsidies constitute approximately half the annual budget. The other half of the
ProBiblio turnover is generated from the sale of products and services to the libraries in
North- and South Holland.

On an organisational level ProBiblio is governed by a Board of Governors which primarily has
a controlling and advisory function. The organisational chart of ProBiblio shows a Managing
Director with three sector directors. Just as with all Dutch firms and organisations ProBiblio
has a Works Council with statutory rights regarding policy decisions.

General figures 2006

Number of staff 243

Budget € 18.000.000,--
Provincial subsidies € 8.500.000,--

Services and products
Three different types of services and products can be distinguished:
• Library support services; supporting education, information or cultural activities. Examples
are exchange collections, advice on services for people with special needs, information
and retrieval services.
• Financial and technical services, such as IT services, financial management, bookmobiles
and library transport.
• Services in the field of consultancy, personnel management, marketing and

Library services
The back office services are focused on books and special user groups.
ProBiblio maintains a collection comprising books, cd's, sheet music and other materials.
This is mainly used as a pool for creating exchange collections for libraries, schools and

Special materials are available for children with reading difficulties. Book promotion activities
are usually a joint effort between schools and libraries and are supported by collections. For
support promotion activities and to promote the local library a special mobile library is

Gradually the services have become more knowledge-based. ProBiblio offers specialist staff
to advise on a wide range of subjects; literacy, services to the elderly, working with immigrant
groups, book promotion, collections, music, school libraries, pod casting, new media etc.
Regularly so-called Biebwatches are organised, half-day conferences and meetings on
particular subject to discuss new developments and to exchange experiences and

The Digital Library
Part of the process of library modernisation was the introduction of digital services in public
libraries. Although these services were developed on a national level with subsidies from the
central government and coordinated by the VOB, maintaining them requires the back-up of
provincial and local levels. The joint public libraries in North- and South-Holland together with
ProBiblio have therefore drawn up a Provincial Digital Library Plan. This plan details the
national developments and costs involved in implementing these services in local libraries.

Central in the project is, the national portal for Dutch public libraries. On a
national level this site and access to a number of online databases is now fully operational. In
addition there are specialist websites for literature, for immigrants, a national youth library and
reader’s advice tools and many more. For other projects ProBiblio serves as regional co-
• The Site generator; an easy-to-use tool for development of local library websites,
including a helpdesk service.
• Al@din; the Ask-a-Librarian service which has been running since 2005 and now offers a
chat-reference service as well.
• Zoek&Boek; a system of interlibrary loans which allows the public access from their own
home to the collections of all Dutch libraries.
• The Aqua browser; a user friendly and new catalogue searching tool is gradually being
implemented. This process is nearing completion.
• De G!ds; (the Guide) is a national database with cultural, social, health and other citizen’s
information which can be delivered locally and adapted to a local information tool. This
offers great opportunities for local libraries to present themselves as a partner for local
organisations in managing their basic information.
• Schoolbieb; has recently started and aims to become the national school library.

Most of these plans are already developed and well on the way to being implemented.
The next challenge towards making these plans really work is full commitment of all libraries
involved by making staff and funding available, by a continuing supporting role from ProBiblio,
by continuing subsidies from provincial and local governments and also by far reaching
collaboration between all partners involved on local, provincial and national levels.

Alternative services
Mobile libraries are also part of the ProBiblio services and are primarily used in rural
communities. Due to changing visions on local library development provincial subsidies for
the mobile libraries will cease in 2009. This fact and the rising costs of mobile libraries means
that libraries and councils increasingly wish to limit the opening hours or to cease the use the
mobile library all together.

To offer alternatives ProBiblio is seriously researching the possibilities of alternative library
services e.g. in cooperation with retailing chains and other organisations, thereby making full
use of the opportunities internet has to offer. A number of architects have designed prototypes
of small movable libraries, some of which are on show at ProBiblio. For one authority
ProBiblio designed a library boat which has not yet materialised.

Continuing on the concept of alternative library services ProBiblio developed the concept of
the Beach Library. In cooperation with the local library small libraries are opened along the
beaches during July and August. The main purpose of these libraries is primarily to introduce
people to the many possibilities of a library in a casual atmosphere. The libraries all have
brand new collections and organise reading and other activities. Each year a new electronic
gadget such as an iPod or e-book reader is added to emphasize the fact that libraries are not
just books, and to give people a chance to use such a device. In contrast to normal public
libraries borrowing is free, even for foreign holiday makers.

Another alternative library location that at present is being explored is a public library at
Schiphol Airport, which will not only offer passengers a chance to get acquainted with
Dutch culture, but also offer opportunities for downloading music and books.

ICT services
ProBiblio is strongly committed to creating and maintaining networking opportunities for
libraries. To this aim ProBiblio maintains a large library system for the automation of all library
processes including cataloguing, acquisitions, circulation and membership registration. The
system in use is BICAT, supplied by the Dutch company HKA. From 2004 all libraries are
using a broadband VPN connection to the central library automation servers at ProBiblio. The
connection is also used for internet. This centralised approach facilitates a free flow of books
and a free movement of borrowers between libraries. Interlibrary loans have been a long
established facility in use between libraries.
At present many libraries are working on the introduction of self-service and RFID.
ProBiblio offers advice and practical services to support this process.
The library automation system is increasingly used as a database for marketing purposes.
Lapsed users are activity followed up, and key stock figures are produced for collectioning

Figures ICT services 2004

Participating Libraries 176
Circulation 27.016.437
Available Stock 6.430.429
Available Titles 847.456
Borrowers 1.035.348

Networking is impossible without the support of a physical infrastructure. Interlibrary loans,
rotating collections, brochures, and other mailings are sent to libraries on a weekly basis. For
this purpose ProBiblio maintains its own transport system, consisting of a fleet of nine
delivery vans

Management Services
These comprise financial and personnel services, including pay rolling.
A major area of interest in recent years has been staff development. Librarianship with its
image of dowdiness has failed to attract young people. At the same time library staff is faced
with a rapidly changing profession.
ProBiblio supports librarians in this process by an active personnel management, offering
training and other facilities aimed at higher employability for all staff. On a national level
ProBiblio participates in a newly introduced system for rating staff performance, ‘OBIP+’.

On a national level public libraries are committed to a system of quality management,
followed by certification. To support these efforts two specialist advisors are available,
on a subsidized basis, to support local libraries in this process.

In cooperation with a large Dutch employment agency, RANDSTAD, ProBiblio acts as a
clearinghouse offering employers the opportunity of finding temporary staff and librarians the
opportunity of finding temporary employment. This facility is particularly used by special
libraries and documentation centres. It is not subsidised in any way and functions on a fully
cost-effective basis.

Marketing and Communication
Marketing on a professional level is for many libraries a new skill. ProBiblio can offer help in
making local marketing plans and in organising regional promotion campaigns. In the summer
of 2007 a large campaign, covering all of North- and South-Holland, was launched. Via a
special website,, Allbooksfree, people were invited to join their local public
library directly and at no cost for the first three months. The campaign was a great success
with 7000 people joining. This autumn a new campaign is run aimed at lapsed readers. A call
centre is contacting all these people by telephone and asking them why they no longer use
the library and what improvements they would like to see to encourage them to return.

Each year ProBiblio organises Bibliotheekplaza, an annual one day conference for librarians
and information professionals to meet and be inspired.

Ria Smith