Humans of LIBER Interview – Hilde van Wijngaarden, Director of the University Library, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam  

Posted: 20-01-2022 Topics: Humans of LIBER
This interview is part of the Humans of LIBER campaign 2022 — which draws upon the pillars of the upcoming LIBER Strategy 2023 – 2027. We feature real people working at research libraries who make up the LIBER community. We believe that by highlighting our community in a more humane manner, we can create genuine connections within and outside of our network. We hope to see our community inspired by each of these personal stories of working at research libraries. 


[This article is a seven-minute read.] 


Photo credit: Oliver Blake

We interviewed Hilde on the 9th of December 2021 at her office at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Hilde’s office is situated on the 15th floor, overlooking the beautiful Amsterdam south. During the interview, she shared details about the university library, her journey as a research librarian, and her life outside of work. And now, over to Hilde: 


Hilde’s Background  

“I have been the director here (at the university libraryVrije Universiteit Amsterdam) for more than four years now. I am a historian in origin. I did my Ph.D. and thought not to continue in research because I wanted to work in a team. So, I transferred to IT and worked for a few years in IT consultancies. IT was something completely different, although being a historian is kind of a data analyst, and there are a lot of connections between IT and history. After a few years, I was looking for a different type of organisation where I could feel more at home. I ended up at the National Library of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek). I worked there for almost ten years in different positions, with most of those positions having something to do with digital archiving, digital preservation…then gradually moving to management. After ten years of travelling back and forth to The Hague all the time to work, I decided I wanted to work in Amsterdam. First, I became the head of the library at the University of Applied Sciences here in Amsterdam. Then I came to the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam four years ago. 

Working at the National Library is quite different from working at a university. The Dutch National Library is very ambitious and takes on many international roles. I thought library work was the most important work ever, for anyone and the whole world. And then I transferred to the University of Applied Sciences, which was very much focused on education. The library comprised of a very small team within a very big university, and I suddenly realised that the library is not the most important work in the world. There are actually people who don’t know about the library and don’t understand what the library does! I felt I must switch to working in a more service-oriented way, looking at what the library has to offer to teachers, researchers, and students. Learning about how a library could support education was very important to me. I then transferred to a general university and the library there is more focused on research. I learned to love what a library can do for education at the University of Applied Sciences, and I took that with me to the general university. I still think the library is not just there for the researchers — it is very much there for education as well.” 

Finding Inspiration and Tackling Challenges 

“I love getting inspired. Especially in work sessions when we are brainstorming and thinking of wild ideas of what we can be and what we can do together, that’s the best thing. The personal aspect of working together is also really important. That is day-to-day nice things like caring for each other, but also having this ambition of saving the world, and don’t be modest about it!”

“That is actually why I like working in the library so much because I really think that is what libraries have in common, and what librarians have in common. They are not arrogant about that. They do think they can save the world by connecting information worldwide. If you have access to knowledge, that’s the way to save the world. 

Sometimes, it is complicated to balance the different parts of the university. The university needs to be financially healthy. The library needs more money and more people as well, but the researchers need their money and their ambition at the same time. I don’t like the financial discussions, but they are very important, of course. Within an organisation, you also have to look at how new work will be organised. Research data support is a new line of work. Sometimes people ask me, why should the library do that? It is because we know about that, and we have the competencies and international contacts to do it. But other departments may want to take home the new work as well. I do want to organise it in a way that everybody benefits, but that can be difficult sometimes.” 

LIBER’s Upcoming 2023 – 2027 Strategy 

“The big ambition I mentioned, of saving the world, translates into a practical role in a trusted hub. ‘Trusted’ is becoming more and more important with censorship, fake news, and commercial approaches to information sharing. So, we need trusted partners that we can rely on at universities and in the country as a whole. The information they keep for you is checked and safe, of high quality, and not a lie. That is why everybody needs a trusted hub. The hub is also for community support. Its community role is becoming more important, and LIBER should offer that community role for research libraries as well. The trusted hub idea is a nice, new addition to the existing LIBER strategy. 

I am really glad that UNESCO recently endorsed the open science recommendation. If it is just Europe or the western world that wants open access, then it is not inclusive and not even neutral, it is exclusive. It becomes way too expensive for developing countries to publish. It is important to support open access in a way that the global south also joins. If we move forward with the way we have started now, especially with the APC (Article Processing Costs) business model of publishers, that will cost too much.

Outside of Work 

“I would have loved to show everybody around here in December 2021 [LIBER’s Winter Conference 2021 was to be held in VU Amsterdam before it was cancelled due to the pandemic]. I’m a city person, so I am very much into what happens in the city, and I am always going to museums and enjoying cultural life here. I live quite near to the Rijksmuseum so I can just walk into it, I love that. There are also smaller institutions like Foam and EYE Film. I like walking around in the city. One good thing about the last two years is that everybody started walking everywhere. I meet my friends, not in the bars but walking through the city. I am also very much into music and singing and I am in a choir. We hope to sing together again soon!” 


If you feel connected to this interview, please tweet about it by clicking on the below tweet (and using #HumansofLIBER)!

The LIBER communications team visits different member institutions to conduct interviews. In light of the current Covid-19 restrictions, we are interviewing member institutions in the Netherlands initially, but we aim to expand the campaign to include our European member institutions once that is possible. If you are interested in being featured, please email us at