Welcome to the Vrouwenbibliotheek in Utrecht
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Our chief author Jon Wilkins took pleasure in getting an interview from Marjolein Datema of the Vrouwenbibliotheek (Women’s Library) in Utrecht last week. His essay follows:
I had the good luck to have a conversation with Marjolein Datema, a volunteer at the Vrouwenbibliotheek or Women’s Library in Utrecht. She has a very busy lifestyle alongside her normal day job, so Utrecht is so lucky that there are people like Marjolein and a host of other volunteers who give up their time. Just so we are clear, it is not a library just for women, it is for everyone and everyone should visit such a diverse and open organisation.
She told me that the Vrouwenbibliotheek has always been running as a small operation since it began somewhere during the 1980’s. Later on, but before the internet, it had become a place where older documentation was kept and was subsidized by the Utrecht municipality, but recently in times of the financial crisis they received gradually less funding, and so it became smaller and smaller and had to close in 2009. This meant there was a very fine collection of fiction written by women (novels, short stories, poetry) and non-fiction about women (biographies, history, psychology, art, gender issues, multiculturality etc.), were available but there was no organization interested in taking responsibility for it and looking after the collection as a whole. Together with her partner Marjolein, she offered to take over all the books and to make room for them and put them in her office where the library is now located.
So, in 2010 the Vrouwenbibliotheek started again, and she has been very busy making it work and keeping everything running like the website, the catalogues built by Jonna Lind, reviews, new books, ‘reading groups’ novels and poetry groups.
Unfortunately, there are many Utrecht-people who don’t know that the library exists, so here at UtrechtCentral we are trying to change that!
Useful for our readers to know, says Marjolein, is that the library has English written books (fiction and non-fiction), but the majority are in Dutch, especially the recent ones. As she stated earlier, everyone is welcome to borrow books or to join in with their activities. It means that all fiction is written by women, and the non-fiction is about women.
Because of their modest budget the Vrouwenbibliotheek ask publishing houses for reviews and books and there are several of their own volunteers who write reviews. Marjolein didn’t think foreign publishers were very helpful with such requests.
Opening hours for the vrouwenbibliotheek are:
1st Thursday of the month 10.00h – 14.00h
1st Friday of the month 14.00h – 18.00h
1st Saturday of the month 10.00h – 14.00h
In addition, it is possible to make an appointment (by mail or telephone).
Marjolein also writes the monthly newsletter (on their amazing website created by Jonna Lind at www.vrouwenbibliotheek.nl). She estimates that they have at the moment around 15 volunteers who help with reviews and other things. Apart from the activities above, they join NLdoet every year with spring cleaning. It is always around Women’s Day, when they hold an open house at the same time with refreshments for everyone. What better time could be spent than looking at books at the Vrouwenbibliotheek and relaxing with a drink?
Everyone can borrow books. Annual fees are € 25 and it is possible to borrow single books for € 1. I think that Utrecht has a debt of gratitude to Marjolein and all of her volunteers. Without people like them, Utrecht would have lost the wonderful Vrouwenbibliotheek and a generation of men as well as women would have missed out on this valuable asset.