Library director Peter Kok: ‘We are the living room and study room of the city’

Library director contributes to inclusive society

During the HUB programme in Tilburg on the second day of CWF2019, a central subject will be the ambition of an inclusive society; a society in which everybody feels at home, regardless of their descent and background. Since the LocHal was opened – the former locomotive hall in the railway zone of Tilburg – the building has been a magnet for both residents of Tilburg and tourists instead of just being a location for the Bibliotheek Midden-Brabant (Central Brabant Library). And that is exactly what director Peter Kok had in mind: a place of inclusivity.

The first part of the programme is held at this location, which has been turning heads in Tilburg, the Netherlands and worldwide ever since its opening. The library in the LocHal was a finalist in the election of the ‘best library in the world 2019’, in part due to its surprising design. Entire generations of Tilburg residents used to work on trains in the old locomotive hall. This piece of industrial heritage is now an inspiring place for many people, even from outside the city. And it is also the spot where the Bibliotheek Midden-Brabant and other organisations have found their new home base. ‘Home’ has everything to do with the ambition of an inclusive society – the theme that will be addressed on day two by participants of the CWF. After the kick-off in the LocHal, three workshops will be held about the themes of Health & well-being, Talent development & work and Identity & human rights.

LocHal finalist in the election of ‘best library in the world’

New phase in the way libraries are perceived

Director Peter Kok describes the LocHal as a ‘new phase in the way libraries are perceived’. Libraries where you have to be silent are a thing of the past. Present-day libraries harbour all kinds of organisations in shared rooms. ‘Tear down the walls’ is Kok’s motto. That’s why you will find many rooms in the LocHal that can be flexibly separated using enormous curtains. A library is of added value to society, says the director. “We contribute to the fact that more and more people are self-reliant and feel like they are a part of society. It is about being involved and, at the same time, making choices independently. An inclusive society means that everybody is involved and everybody is able to be involved. The LocHal is a well-executed public place where all residents of Tilburg feel at home. Since its opening day, this building has been the ‘city’s living room’ to Tilburg residents and a magnet for visitors.”

Programmable library

The LocHal is not a lending library, but a programmable library. Local issues are put up for discussion here. Libraries have developed from places where people consume knowledge and stories to places where people create knowledge and stories. “The greatest creations now come from the residents of Tilburg themselves”, says Kok. With this he refers to the six different ‘labs’ in which activities almost daily take place. The goal of this is to help people develop themselves in an accessible environment. For example, the Schrijflab (writing lab) is meant for the many people who write their own stories or poems. “One in nine Dutch citizens do”, knows Peter Kok. “Writing studios are popping up like mushrooms. Our Schrijflab responds to this trend.”

Libraries have developed into places where people create knowledge and stories

Accessible

There are also labs that are aimed at increasing people’s self-reliance. The DigiLab organises popular iPad consultations. “The other day, a 75-year old woman came by who had asked her son-in-law up to three times how to download photo’s”, tells Kok. “She was afraid to reach out to him one more time and came to see us instead. We are easily accessible.”

We also have courses (such as Klik & Tik) in which people can learn how online banking works, how to arrange a DigiD (for logging in to various official organisations), how the municipality’s website works, or how to schedule an appointment for renewing your driver’s license or passport. Kok: “We are developing into the information centre of the digital government. In the future, the library will be your place to go if you need to sort out affairs with institutions such as the tax authorities. Our employees will provide support and show you around. In two years we will be the place to go for vulnerable groups to get support and become self-reliant.”

‘Homeless people can come here each morning to charge their phones and drink a cup of coffee’

Fuck Up Meetings

More and more people are disconnected from our society, Peter Kok argues. But this is not the case in the LocHal. He sums up a number of examples. “In Tilburg North there are more than 100 different nationalities. The library is the only place where young ethnic minority girls can go to by themselves. Why we open at 8 a.m.? Because the homeless night shelter closes at that time. They can come to the LocHal each morning to charge their phones, read the newspaper and drink a cup of coffee. The Moroccan men who used to meet in the tearoom are now meeting at our place. We also organise ‘Fuck Up Meetings’, a phenomenon that came over from abroad in which someone shares the greatest fuck-up of their life. People are curious to hear how someone has overcome adversities and what they have learnt from this. These meetings are always crowded with 20 to 30-year-olds, which means we are also reaching this target audience. Students and pupils study here, and professors like to come here, as well as grandfathers with grandchildren. We are the living room and study room of the city. Everyone feels at home here.”

Meet Peter Kok at day 2 in Tilburg >

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