Muntpunt library reopens in Brussels

Summary

The Muntpunt library is reopening its headquarters in the heart of Brussels. Muntpunt project coordinator Ann Steenwinckel says the library’s two-tiered approach makes it unique.

Muntpunt wants to be a modern library and a guide to life in Brussels

The road to the establishment of Muntpunt has been full of obstacles, but now the Flemish Communications House is open, launched with a festive party last weekend on Brussels’ Muntplein. At first glance, it appears to have been worth the wait.

Muntpunt’s festivities last weekend heralded the opening of a library where, as well as reading or studying, you can meet writers, attend concerts, take cooking workshops or experiment with city gardening. Through intense co-operation with Dutch-language organisations, Muntpunt also provides visitors with practical information on living, working and studying in the capital.

Its impressive appearance belies the struggles related to establishing its headquarters on Muntplein, in the heart of the city. When B-architecten started work in January 2010, the opening was scheduled for November 2011, but infrastructural issues caused a delay of almost two years. Today, the investment of €22 million by the Flemish government and the Flemish Community Commission in Brussels has resulted in a lively meeting place, modern library and bustling eatery. Finally, we get to see what we’ve been hearing about for the last four years.

A tower of books literally forms the axis of Muntpunt, as a central rectangle of book shelves dominates each of the six floors. The floors, each decorated in a different colour, have separate themes revolving around youth, art, fiction, Brussels, science and media. Naturally, there are also plenty of CDs and DVDs to be borrowed. Gaming enthusiasts can immerse themselves in virtual worlds via three games consoles.

All around the spaces are comfortable couches and chairs where you can sit and read. Toddlers are invited to their own room with toys and cuddly animals, where storytellers will read passages from children’s books. For students, there is a special study room with 90 seats and 60 computers, closed off from the rest of the library by a wall made of glass.

Books & beats

The study room is the only place where silence is required. In the rest of the building, chatting and working together is very much encouraged during the numerous activities taking place in this library of experiences. A large event will be the Lezersfeest, or Readers Festival, on 19 October, with activities for a broad public of book enthusiasts: workshops, author meet & greets, readings and debates. The first confirmed guest is arguably Flanders’ most famous author, Tom Lanoye, who will take the opportunity to talk about his new novel Gelukkige slaven (Happy Slaves).

But there will be all sorts of activities all year round. One of the hotspots in Muntpunt is the literary salon – a name that only partly covers its purpose. This autumn, it will play host to book presentations and interviews with well-known writers, but literature doesn’t always take centre stage.

The salon also hosts diverse workshops on topics such as city gardening, beer tasting and foreign languages. For the Chou de Bruxelles (Brussels Sprout) programme, notable Brusselaars first discuss their life and work during an interview session and then invite the next guest who they interview in turn. A little more interactive for visitors in the salon is the monthly games night.

The auditorium, meanwhile, serves as a cinema every Thursday, when you can watch a documentary there for free. Anyone who’s up for a literary party is invited to “books & beats” after work or school, one Friday evening per month. On 20 September, TV journalist Lieven Verstraete will fill the library with his southern vibes and rhythms as his alter ego DJ Satanic Samba.

More intimate are the acoustic performances of both local and international talent, organised twice a month with Brussels’ cultural associations. During the monthly “playlist” events, Brussels’ music experts, like AB artistic director Kurt Overbergh, offer tips on what you shouldn’t miss in the following weeks.

A youth think tank

There is also room for urban art. Young people are welcome in the creative laboratory where they can reflect on life in the city through storytelling, poetry, slam, rap, music and graffiti. During the first workshops of the Listen Up! programme in October, led by the artist Mr Leenknecht, youngsters can experiment with graffiti and poetry as a form of artistic rebellion.

Muntpunt also offers three other lab projects, of which the most remarkable takes place in the Bokaal (Jar), a small room surrounded by glass walls and dedicated to exhibitions and pop-up workshops. The first artist to set up shop in the glass cage is Brussels illustrator Tom Schamp. For eight weeks, visitors can follow the gradual creation of his new book HochHausBuch, which includes designs of apartment buildings. Schamp will challenge visitors to put together their own designs with paper and cardboard boxes, communicating with them via an intercom.

To make sure the events of Muntpunt and its partner organisations are adapted to the needs of young people, they have established a think tank made up of local young people. Last Saturday night, second-year students in Dutch-language secondary school tried out the whole library and devised ideal events to be held there. This is the first of a series of similar activities to be held throughout the year.

Muntpunt is assembling a digital portrait of the capital on a website called “Brussel is… 1,000 lives, one city!”. Via social media tools such as YouTube videos and Instagram images, a diverse community of Brusselaars are writing their personal pages in an online book about everyday life in their home town. You can upload your own contribution at www.brusselis.be.

Muntpunt will also continue its battle against illiteracy by co-operating with associations that send out storytellers to their homes. In June, Muntpunt won the Flemish Community Prize for Local Cultural Policy with its “I Book You” project, an innovative approach to not just raising awareness about illiteracy but getting those with low literacy involved in reading.

I Book You Junior

The team first organised the exhibition 100 Book Covers To Fight Illiteracy, which was displayed outside on the glass windows of the library. International artists had adapted the covers of the books on The Observer's famous 2003 list of “The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time”. For the follow-up I Book You Junior project, Dutch-language schools in Brussels were encouraged to organise a book reading in their classes, with pupils then given the opportunity to draw a cover for the book.

Muntpunt’s communication is primarily in Dutch, but it also caters to English speakers. A majority of the library’s books are in Dutch, but it holds nearly 20,000 titles in English and thousands more in 55 other languages, including French, German, Spanish and Italian. From next year, a language icon on the website will indicate how much Dutch-language knowledge you need to participate comfortably in activities.

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