The mobile library has disappeared. But in the Frisian municipality of Wûnseradiel both children and adults will still be able to borrow books. As an alternative, small libraries were set up in school buildings of twelve villages.

‘It is too small’. ‘A top library.’ A book for almost every person. Students of the Christian primary school ‘De Paedwizer’ in the Frisian settlement of Parrega (500 residents) are passionate about the small library in their school. Of these children, 95% holds membership to a Public Library. A special corner in the common room of their school has been set aside for the ‘lytse bieb’. Magazines are on the shelves, and the library contains some 1200 books for lending. The library is open to the public two hours a week. Children may also borrow books during school hours, says managing director Ellen van Albada of Bibliotheken Súdwest Fryslân (Southwest Friesland Libraries). ‘It also serves as a service point. For instance, adults may collect the books they ordered via Internet.’ On Tuesday mornings Miss Pleunie is in Parrega to serve the customers. Books ordered by the students she may bring from the library in Makkum. ‘Students from group 7 or 8 who are working on a project may ring her up and ask her to bring some books on a particular topic’, says teacher Piet van der Meer of De Paedwizer enthusiastically. ‘An excellent service’.
Parrega is one of twelve villages in the Frisian municipality of Wûnseradiel with points of lending since 2005. Primary schools in Arum, Burgwerd, Exmorra, Ferwoude, Kimswerd, Lollum, Pingjum, Schettens, Tjerkwerd and Wons are also set up for such small libraries, as is the community centre of Zurich. The lytse bieb has replaced the mobile library, a remodelled bus that was calling on schools in the country. In 2001, a workgroup set up by the Central Library Service (Centrale Bibliotheekdienst or CBD for short) was looking at alternatives for the uneconomic mobile library. Fewer people in rural areas made use of the service since they became more mobile. They often joined libraries in the bigger centres where they had their jobs and bought their groceries. And yet, the municipality of Wûnseradiel was keen to retain some kind of library service in the country. It had to be affordable though. Thanks to a subsidy from the European Leader programme and the province of Fryslân, a pilot scheme for lending books was introduced at the primary schools in Pingjum and Lollum in 2002 and 2003 respectively. The pilot scheme, dubbed ‘An alternative for the mobile library’, was co-financed by Leader+ with a modest contribution of € 16,500 on the overall start-up costs of more than € 113,000.

Reading close to home

An interim evaluation in 2003 has shown that, thanks to the project, more students had picked up reading books. The libraries also helped to develop the children’s language skills. From 1 July 2005, the municipality of Wûnseradiel decided on setting up small libraries in primary schools. Since the primary school at the settlement of Zurich had closed, the community centre was used as the home for the library. Libraries were set up in consultation with the schools. The obvious location was the multimedia section of the school. ‘It simply works’, knows Dina Eringa, regional manager for Wûnseradiel, Bolsward and Littenseradiel of Bibliotheken Súdwest Fryslân. ‘Miss Libby is well-known at the schools. She gives advice to children who are looking for a particular book. And the schools leave the composition of the collection to us. Sometimes they look for extra readers, at other times they are after English readers for the older students.’
In some of the villages, the number of books on loan saw a spectacular increase. For instance, in Burgwerd books were issued around 1700 times in 2004, the last year the mobile library was in use. This number had risen to no less than 7000 in 2006, after the ‘lytse bieb’ was introduced. The overall number of times books were issued went from 42,000 at the time of the mobile library to more than 49,000 from the fixed library locations.
The library at school invites people to read, says teacher Piet van der Meer. ‘And that is what we would like to promote as a school. For instance, I enjoy watching a young mother showing her toddler a picture book. Being introduced to language and reading prior to going to primary school is most important for developing language skills. That is one reason why children should be able to quickly get a book from the library. Reading should be close to home, as not every person is in the position of travelling to Bolsward or Workum.’
The project is being continued and more schools will be involved. In Wûnseradiel, three points of lending will have a WMO counter on a 2-year trial basis. Thirty smaller settlements within the municipalities of Gaasterlân-Sleat, Littenseradiel, Nijefurd and Wymbritseradiel will also have points of lending this year. Usually in schools, but organisations in the care sector will also be considered. Sneek is planning to set up lending points in schools in the suburbs. ‘Most people prefer to have such facilities close to home, says Van Albada. In any event, the project has set an example for municipalities in northwest Friesland. An organisation by the name of ‘Bibliotheken Noardwest Fryslân’ is in the process of introducing the lytse bieb in a number of smaller villages. Van Albada: ‘A great advantage of the points of lending is the fact that people are able to order books from their home computer and pick them up from the lytse bieb.’ Self-service points of lending are in the pipeline for bigger communities, allowing the customers to automatically feed books into a device.

Dynamics and enthusiasm

Emiel Wegman, area coordinator Noardwest Fryslân van Plattelânsprojekten, thought the ‘lytse bieb’ was a good idea. ‘Even more so if the service point is part of a school or care centre. It provides people with a service of having their books of choice within two working days. It also stimulates young people in their reading.’
As well as money, he believes that dynamics and enthusiasm are needed for a region to sufficiently stand on its own. ‘People must be prepared to take initiatives and have the willingness to set up something together. Also to offer young people more perspective.’ At this point in time the area platform is making preparations for the ‘Jongefriezen foarút’ project, after a model used in Wales. ‘Last year we spent three days on a fact-finding mission in Wales. A most inspiring visit’, says Wegman. Young people are approached in public bars, in the street or on sports fields and asked to develop initiatives in the region, e.g. starting a small business. ‘You may wait for someone to offer you a job, or you may rather think of what you could start up yourself’, Wegman explains. ‘For instance, in this area one may think of growing crops for biofuel.’ In northwest Wales, some 15 years ago young people left the area in droves to seek work in cities such as Cardiff and Manchester. Wegman: ‘Parents even told their children that leaving the area would be in their best interest. In a few years time this trend has changed.’ In the month of May it will be clear whether or not this project will be realised as part of the European Interreg programme. Collaboration with other European countries is both valuable and inspiring, says Wegman.