Ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to the Library Capital of the World. As you can imagine, I say this with a certain amount of pride.
The Hague is internationally known as the legal capital of the world. Our city attracts more than thirty thousand expats who work at multinationals such as Siemens or Shell. But we are also famous for our UN organisations such as the OPCW, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the Peace Palace. The Peace Palace, which houses the UN International Court of Justice, is one hundred years old this year.
We will be celebrating this jubilee in several ways, one of which is the Vredesloop Den Haag, a running event initiated by another organisation celebrating its one hundredth anniversary and which is the largest athletic association in The Hague: Haag Atletiek. I myself will be participating in the 10k run.
But you are certainly not sitting still either. You are cycling through the Netherlands. Actually, you are giving us a preview of the Tour de France! There is no better way to get to know our country. There is no better way to get to know each other. After all, this is actually what the tour is all about: an international meeting of professionals.
Today, you are stopping in The Hague. And we want to receive you properly. We are doing this in the heart of Dutch democracy: the Binnenhof. This is the podium for political debate. This is also the best place to talk about the future of our libraries.
Free, unlimited access to information. For every person living in The Hague. This is the main focus for how libraries in The Hague operate. The library sees this as a basic democratic right. This is why they provide such services as free use of WiFi and free access to more than a thousand international newspapers and documents issued by international organisations such as the OPCW. The library’s information specialists provide help in finding the right sources of information. For every person living in The Hague: young or old, highly educated or not, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
The Hague Public Library promotes itself as the living room for the city, district or neighbourhood as based on the idea of the library being a ‘third place’. It offers a safe environment – the kind of environment you need for free access to information. It offers the perfect place for undisturbed study. It’s the ideal location for interacting with others living in the same district. The Hague Public Library creates no barriers. Our doors are open wide. To people living in our city, for institutions that can offer them something, and for tourists. Our library houses the city’s legal advice centre and the Tourist Information Office. It serves the city and the Municipal Health Service as an information centre. And for people who are unfamiliar with using computers, the library provides targeted training activities and assistance with completing digital forms.
Encouraging media familiarity, language skills and reading for young and old. These are the priorities in our policy. With its training activities in media familiarity, the library is acquainting citizens with new means of digital communication. With its language courses, it is offering immigrants access to the world of information available in Dutch. Not only immigrants but ten percent of ethnic minorities lack sufficient language skills in Dutch.
More and more, the library is becoming a place to work. And I support this development. Traditionally, the library has been a place where citizens find and use information; now it is also becoming an important place for them to generate information. Come and take a look on the fifth floor of the central library sometime. You’ll find dozens of students working here no matter what day you visit. Then you can see what I mean for yourself. Students enjoy the quiet they find here. They also find the information they need for good academic achievement. And best of all: they find each other here.
The Hague Public Library is so much more than a place where books are kept. New challenges lie ahead of us. Challenges I think we should take on. Yesterday, things were good. Tomorrow, though, they’ll be better! With this idea in mind, I am pleased to welcome you. Let’s share our knowledge and talk with each other about the future of the library. To put it in cyclists’ terms, ‘let’s gear up’. The world around us is changing rapidly. So we have to step up our own pace.
But the library is in good condition. So I foresee no problems, only challenges. Let’s take them on together.
Ingrid Van Engelshoven, Deputy Mayor