The year 2021 was the third year that the KB, National Library of the Netherlands, followed the Working with Words (2019-2022) policy plan. We continued working on the strategic priorities set out in this policy: setting the written word ‘out to work’ in society, taking care of the written word, organising the infrastructure for the written word and developing our organisation and networks.

Coronavirus pandemic

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, 2021 was in no way business as usual - for the second year in a row. We became used to working from home and various other hybrid forms of working. The pandemic and the constant changes in the COVID-19 measures made things very difficult for some people. Because of this, the KB introduced two guiding principles in 2021: ‘care precedes work’ and ‘trust is better than control’; important principles when people’s flexibility and resilience are being put to the test. The KB is proud of the results it achieved in this second, very difficult year of the pandemic.

Purpose-driven working pays off

The Public Library Provisions System Act (Wsob) came into force in 2015 and prompted some huge changes. The KB focused even more closely on society and purpose-driven work. Being of value to society is always at the forefront. We are committed to the need for and the opportunities created by digitisation, and we believe in the power of collaboration with the partners in our network. We are starting to reap the benefits of this new working method. Six million people – i.e. 42% of all Dutch adults – used at least one of our digital services, such as the online Library, the Digital Library of Dutch Literature (DBNL) or Delpher.

Smarter, more skilled and more creative

We worked with hundreds of institutions in the Netherlands and abroad in order to increase and streamline our services for a growing proportion of the Dutch public. As the National Library of the Netherlands, the KB is helping to build a smarter, more skilled and more creative Netherlands. The KB and its partners form a bridge between society at large, and the domains of academia, heritage and the public libraries. Not only are we seeing more cross-pollination, but also mutual strengthening in areas such as Citizen Science (academic domain) and Lifelong Learning (public libraries domain). Together with our partners, we are working on joint innovation in the field of Artificial Intelligence for the culture and media sector. And in the Cultural AI Lab, we are studying how prejudices affect cultural communication and artificial intelligence. The connections within and between the domains in which we operate are generating countless new opportunities in society.


Throughout the pandemic, the KB kept its reading rooms open for as much and as long as possible. Researchers had no trouble finding the KB’s printed and digital collections and services. A growing group of interested parties are using the freely available born digital academic publications (which are open access). In addition, increasingly more people managed to find, use and re-use our collections via the ‘The Memory of The Netherlands’ website and Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, we continued expanding our infrastructure for humanities and social sciences, which is based on a dataset of over 130 million digitised pages from books, newspapers and magazines. Thanks to the Metamorfoze programme now being run by the KB, 1.9 million items about slavery were retrieved from the archives and digitised. They were unlocked by the National Archive and published online for researchers throughout the world.

Finally, the KB conducted its own research, much of which took place within various Dutch and international networks. As new moves in 2021, we invited artists-in-residence as well as researchers-in-residence, and we participated in Dutch and international networks and experiments, not only through the KB Lab, but also through the new KB Studio.

Public Libraries domain

The KB has found its place and role within the public libraries domain. Not just as a director of interaction between library parties and an instigator of joint efforts for large-scale tasks, but also as the provider of the successful online Library. A good indication of the changing position of libraries in society during the past few years is the fact that they were not mentioned in the government’s first COVID-19 press conference, but they were mentioned as an essential social amenity in the last one. This is partly due to the enhanced collaboration within the public libraries domain.

In 2021, this collaboration was honoured with the presentation of the Network Agenda. Together with our partners in the network of public libraries, we are making individual and joint efforts with regard to three social tasks set out in the Library Agreement 2020-2023: a literate society, participation in the information society and lifelong development.

Through the online Library, we were able to accommodate numerous Dutch citizens in their growing need for digital and audio books. And we made sure that more and more children felt inspired to start, or continue, reading. We launched the Book & Trip summer campaign for younger readers, and made it easier for people with reading difficulties to enjoy reading. The number of Digital Government Information Points (IDOs) doubled to over 400 within a year. Thanks to our partners, they catered to a clearly growing need, particularly by providing help for matters relating to COVID-19, such as help with the installation of the CoronaCheck app.

Storage and long-term access

The safe and sustainable storage of, as well as the long-term access to, our printed and digital collections was a priority throughout 2021. The plans for new accommodation gradually started to take shape in 2021. In the future, our public building and facilities will be separated from the book repository. Mid 2021 we made a concrete start on the preparations for building the new book repository.

We also reinforced the digital foundations under our New Digital Repository, and were able to complete the technical organisation of our new data centre. This is an important base for the migration of all digital collections and therefore their digital sustainability. The KB is investing a great deal in the much-needed digital transition of its national library remit.

Proud and grateful

The efforts and achievements of all KB staff, working in collaboration with numerous partners in various networks, deserve a huge compliment in more ways than one. The KB is proud of what they have achieved in 2021, and of the fact that they continue to be a source of inspiration and development for so many people. We would like to thank everyone who helped to make this possible.