De Leeszaal is a special place in Rotterdam West. Basically de Leeszaal is a library, but in fact it’s much more than that. The place is runned entirely by volunteers, everyone is always welcome for a cup of coffee with a newspaper, a book, free internet and you can participate in a variety of different activities such as lectures, classes and activities for children. This makes de Leeszaal, which is in fact a library, a social meeting point with the theme ‘language’ and for the residents of Rotterdam West.
How does “de Leeszaal” (the reading room), as a social meeting point, has influence on his audience?
people, planet, profit
1. Books in de Leeszaal are free and are not registered. You can thus take the book, based on trust. You can keep them, you can bring them back or bring back a different book then you took.
2. In de Leeszaal, people from different backgrounds, cultures and ages come together. Everyone is equal, a group is never dominant.
3. The interior, the books and the property are all given a second life because they are reused, and have been given to de Leeszaal as free gifts.
What are the needs of the public in de Leeszaal?/
De Leeszaal was started in a need of a large audience. With the closing of some libraries in the neighborhood, a meeting and learning place would disappear. The strength of the concept of de Leeszaal lies in the fact that there has not been determined in advance what the outcome should be. The public was involved from the start. The founders have started the process with two questions to the audience: What does your ideal reading room look like and in what way could you play a part in that? The first answers they got were: We want coffee, and good coffee. The rest of the answers can be divided in 5 themes: learn, read, read out, meet and share. These five themes are in fact the needs of the public that they started with.
Which factors make a large audience feel welcome?
A lot of factors have been taken into account. One of the main factors is that de Leeszaal is a place without rules. People experience freedom because of that. Beside that, the volunteers are from different cultures, which makes visitors feel welcome because they recognize themselves. Another factor is the interior. Through the large windows you can look inside, and when you step through the door, you walk into an open and welcoming area that gives you the feeling of a living room. Beside that, there is a book area, a bar, a quiet reading area, a children’s corner and a cinema, which provides a wide range of activities. There is something to do for everyone.
We organized an interview with Maurice Specht, one of the founders of de Leeszaal. During the interview, Maurice sounded as an intelligent and enthusiastic man, full of his own project. He could talk “for hours” about de Leeszaal. We wanted to know if de Leeszaal has influence on the social behavior of the visitors. Maurice started a long story about the social aspect of the project and we had to find the answer by ourself. Out of the story, we could conclude that de Leeszaal is still developing so it’s not that easy to give an concrete answer on the question.
From some volunteers and visitors, we were told that de Leeszaal isn’t just an addition to Rotterdam West, but also to their social life. They go to de Leeszaal, not just for the social network, but also because of the different activities. Many different activities are organized for many different people. There is something to do for everyone, such as lectures, music, theater, etc. It gives them a sense of familiarity.
One volunteer told us that de Leeszaal is an important addition to her life. She is a refugee and at this place in Rotterdam, she feels welcome. Without feeling obligated to give something back. But actually, she gives something back automatically by coming to de Leeszaal. Her job as a volunteer gives her something to do, a daily activity. Beside that, she got to know people from Rotterdam.
Two similar projects
As previously described, the interior, the books and the property of de Leeszaal are all given a second life. Two examples of project that are also working with a second life of a product are “De Kledingbibliotheek” in Utrecht (a clothing library) and “Shop & Drop”, a platform whose mission is to ensure that more (waste) products are collected for reuse and recycling.
De Kledingbibliotheek has close affinities with de Leeszaal, it’s not based on language and books, but on clothing. We asked them what kind of influence they want to have on the society. They want to create an society that’s no longer about ownership but about sharing the things. If we share, we are closer together, they believe. Their goal is a sustainable society. We need to produce less as we share more, which is better for the environment.
Shop & Drop designed a platform to change the way we face waste separation. With the Shop & Drop mobile application, you’ll find out that separated dropping of waste or disused products is easy and fun. Their motto: Love top shop, care to drop!
De Leeszaal connects with different people form different backgrounds, by listening to their requests. They can also organize an activity by themselves, in the space of de Leeszaal. As a result, they become a part of the organization and there is a variety of activities that attracts a varied audience. They feel welcome!
De Leeszaal is an enrichment of the district itself, and for the residents of the district. Cultures that otherwise would live separate from each other, because their cultures are different, come together in de Leeszaal and find a connection with each other. They experience that the differences of the cultures are positive, and that they can learn from each other. The wellbeing of the district Rotterdam West, and the wellbeing of residents is positively influenced by de Leeszaal.
Before we started our research, de Leeszaal sounded as an utopia, too good to be true! We wondered how this project could be so successful. What we have learned from this research is that it’s important to involve your audience in the project from the start. As a result, you create a connection between the project and the visitors. If you want to reach a wider audience, you must know the needs of the general public. Projects can benefit from the results produced by these cooperation, if they are intended to be a binding factor for the public.