10 October 2017

Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB)

The KB library entrance (“Prins Willem-Alexanderweg – Den Haag – 2007” by StevenL from Panoramio, reproduced without modification under the CC-BY-SA license).

The KB is the national library of the Netherlands, and one of the two institutions in the Hague to house Carolingian manuscripts (the other is the Museum Meermanno, a short walking distance away). While “Koninklijke Bibliotheek” literally translates to “Royal Library”, the official English name of the library is actually “National Library of the Netherlands”, which can occasionally be misleading in English-language secondary literature and lists of manuscripts (e.g. duplicate entries as “Royal” and “National” libraries).

The KB manuscripts are included in the general online library catalogue, but the search interface has a number of serious limits when non-printed items are involved (e.g. most searches by shelfmark do not work). It may be easier to use the search interface of the Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections website, which links to the same catalogue records as the library catalogue. The KB also maintains an online bibliography of publications on their manuscripts.

General practicalities and getting there

It should be noted that the official Dutch name for the Hague is “’s-Gravenhage”, although the alternate form “Den Haag” is far more common in everyday use (including railway station names).

Virtually everyone in the Hague speaks quite good English. The currency of the Netherlands is the euro; I should mention that during my short stay I encountered quite a few automated vending machines which only accepted chip & PIN credit/debit cards (i.e. they did not accept cash, nor any other type of card such as “chip & signature” or “swipe & signature”). Power supply is 230 V, using the same socket type found in Germany (type F, aka Schuko), which also fits Europlug plugs.

The library is conveniently located about 200 meters from Den Haag Centraal train and bus station. Getting from the station to the KB is extremely easy, as can be seen from the map on the library website. High-speed trains (from Brussels and Paris) stop at Den Haag HS instead, a dedicated station some 2 km away (you can walk from there or take a tram). There are frequent trains from both stations to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (one of the main air hubs in Europe); the trip takes about half an hour, making one-day trips to the library possible, if potentially expensive.

Within the library

The library is housed in a large building complex together with a number of other cultural institutions. There are multiple entrances to the complex, but assuming you take the most obvious one coming from the station you should find yourself in a hall with an information desk on the right. You are still within the common areas of the complex, as the library proper is upstairs (entrance to the left of the flight of stairs). Before going upstairs, you will have to leave any coats or bags in the lockers which are situated in the basement. Lockers are just wide enough to accommodate one piece of carry-on luggage (slightly above 20 cm thick), but this is a somewhat tight fit (height and width are less of a problem). There are larger left luggage lockers at the station, but they require a chip & PIN credit or debit card. The library provides baskets, rather than the usual transparent bags, to carry your notebook, etc.

In order to access manuscripts, you will need a membership card, which costs €15 (half price for students) for a year. You need to present a passport (I presume an EU/EEA ID card would also work) and proof of address at the entry desk, plus proof of student status if you want to benefit from the discount. What exactly constitutes proof of address is not very clear, but in my case a bank statement seemed to suffice.

Requesting and accessing manuscripts

Manuscripts are accessed in the special collections (“bijzondere collecties”) reading room, on the upper floor of the library. One can normally request material (including manuscripts) no earlier than 7 days in advance of your visit. In practice, this means you can only get an official confirmation the manuscript is available (e.g. not under restoration, etc.) a week or less before your visit – which may obviously be a problem if you need to plan the trip (and/or secure funding for it) weeks or months in advance. In such a case my suggestion is to write to the manuscript curator in advance and ask whether the manuscript(s) will be accessible on your planned date.

I encountered no difficulty in accessing manuscripts. In particular, I was not asked to provide any letter of reference, nor to explain why I wished to access the original manuscripts rather than rely on facsimiles. Regulations for handling special collections material are only provided in Dutch, but they are not particularly unusual, and the (very helpful and friendly) reading room staff can translate them for you.

Wi-fi is available throughout the library. Self-service photography of manuscripts is allowed, without flash and for personal use only; photography intended for publication requires authorization (and payment of fees). I should mention that lighting in the special collections reading room is remarkably soft, and there are no table lamps. This is no doubt intentional (I assume for conservation purposes), but in my opinion it makes the room not bright enough for a proper examination of codicological details (e.g. dry ruling). The library website states that a watermark lamp, a UV lamp, and a tripod for photography are available in the special collections reading room, although I have not requested/used any of these. Pencils, rulers, magnifying glasses, etc. are also available.

By Alessandro Gnasso.

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Den Haag, Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB)
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