The story of the new Central Library

Client Central Library Rotterdam/ Municipality of Rotterdam

Partner Vuurrood

Nomination Sabre Awards

After its grand opening 40 years ago, the Central Library of Rotterdam is now in need of modernization. As part of the renewal of the iconic building in the centre of Rotterdam Bijl PR was asked to launch a communication and participation project, introducing the regeneration to various target groups based in Rotterdam but also and including them in the story of this renewal. Vuurrood was responsible for the graphic design of the communication.

The Central Library was opened in 1983. Now, almost forty years later, it is time to modernize the building and make it future proof. The library’s objective? To remain the city's living room: a place where every Rotterdammer feels at home. The renovation is a long-term project that will have a major impact on visitors of the Central Library, as well as local residents, investors, employees and vendors from the adjacent market.


The assignment from the Central Library/ Municipality of Rotterdam was as follows:

  • Create awareness among a varied group of residents and involve them in the renewal of the Central Library.
  • Start a conversation about the modernization of the Central Library of Rotterdam.
  • Use communication to support the entire process: from the selection of the five design agencies to the announcement of the winning sketch.
  • Also involve people who don’t normally come to the library.

The starting point of our strategy was to share the new library’s story. What does the library mean to residents before the modernization? What should the function of the library be in the future? Why is modernization necessary? The focus during the campaign was on preserving the historical value of the library. A library is so much more than books, although a book is a library’s most recognisable symbol. Using the book as a symbol in our campaign gave us the opportunity to involve people who are not familiar with the library in this modernization.

For both the Central Library and the city of Rotterdam it was essential that the campaign was inclusive as possible. The Central Library is a place for everyone regardless of their origin or level of education. With that in the back of our minds, our communication strategy was based on appealing to the broadest possible target group. During the campaign we engaged in one-to-one physical conversations with residents who struggle with the Dutch language and have limited digital skills. This way, we removed any barriers for participation.


The campaign started during the corona pandemic, which meant we had to deal with constantly changing measures. Throughout the campaign, we moved quickly and made sure everything went according to government guidelines.


In the first phase, we publicised the plans for the modernization through various communication channels. The aim was to create more awareness for the renewal of the library. During this phase we involved people from Rotterdam in the process. We asked them what type of place they thought the renewed library should be. To achieve the best end result, this valuable input was passed on to the five selected design teams.

The participation took place both online and physically. The website formed a central point, with all channels referring to it. On the website residents were asked about their expectations and wishes for the renewal of the library. Physical interaction took place by placing a life-size book and mobile book house in the city. Using these eye-catchers as a conversation starter, a city panel interviewed passing public on the modernization. In total, we collected more than 5,200 responses through various channels and sources. Together, these formed a recommendation for the design firms who started working on their designs and took into account the advice from the city.


In the second phase, we presented the five sketches for the modernization. For three weeks, these designs were exhibited in the Central Library and online. During these weeks Rotterdammers could share their opinions on the five designs. The physical book house was also active during this period to inform citizens and provided the public with a place to share and submit their opinions. We collected all of the responses from the residents and summarized them in a final advisory report for the judging committee. This committee chose the winning design. The decision was made by taking the residents’ feedback into consideration as much as possible. More than 3,400 responses were collected on the streets, in the library and online. A great result which is of great importance in the run-up to the final phase of this project.


In the third and final phase, the winning design was announced through a press release and publications on owned channels. This results in several local and regional publications.


We are proud of the successful communication and participation project for the modernization of the Central Library of Rotterdam. We spoke to a broad target group in an accessible and personal way. In a short period of time, July – December 2022, the campaign reached and engaged with many residents of Rotterdam despite a lockdown due to corona. Involving Rotterdammers allowed us to bring their opinions to the design teams and the assessment committee. All in all, we achieved great results:

  • We created more awareness for the renewal of the Central Library among the residents of Rotterdam.
  • We spoke to a broad target group in an accessible and personal way, including people who would not quickly visit the Central Library.
  • We collected more than 9,500 responses from residents of Rotterdam through various physical and digital channels.
  • The total campaign reached more than one million people.

What a cool project to be part of. It was great to involve Rotterdammers in the renewal of 'their' Central Library and to hear what it means to them. The challenge was to execute this project in a short amount of time. It was interesting to see the project gain more momentum every day. We are very proud of the result: a sustainable campaign that can involve Rotterdammers in the story of the library's renewal for years to come.

Carina Kortenoeven
Carina Kortenoeven