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Festive opening of Asian Library by Queen Máxima

On 14 September Queen Máxima symbolically opened Leiden’s new Asian Library. In a Pieterskerk filled with international guests, the queen received the new and richly illustrated book about the special collections of the Asian Library. She also visited the new library and spoke with several researchers.

The queen started the day with a visit to the place that is the focal point of this whole day: the brand-new Asian Library. The Library is a new floor on the roof of the Leiden University Library and houses one of the world’s largest collections on Asia. With a range of study and conference rooms, a film hall and even a conservatory, the Asian Library is a hub for research and education on the region. The queen was impressed with the highly diverse collections. The total collection contains 30 kilometres of ancient manuscripts and books, historic maps, old photos, sketches, prints, and much more.

Gert Oostindie showing Queen Máxima around the library

Queen Máxima is patroness

In the library, historian Gert Oostindie shared with Queen Máxima some of the background to the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), of which the queen is patroness.  Oostindie is Professor of Postcolonial History in Leiden and director of KITLV. The collection of the KITLV is an important part of the new library. The patroness spoke with young scholars who talked enthusiastically about their research, part of which is conducted in Indonesia.  

Voyage of Discovery

In a Pieterskerk decorated in Asian style, Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker presented the queen with a richly illustrated book on the Asian Library. Taking many of the key pieces of the library, 29 authors describe in Voyage of Discovery. Exploring the Collections of the Asian Library how they use the collections for their research. 

Queen Máxima receiving the book 'Voyage of Discovery' from Rector Carel Stolker. Links bibliothecaris Kurt De Belder

Sharing knowledge with society

‘Asia, its peoples, languages and history have been important fields of research in Leiden for centuries,’ Stolker emphasised in his word of welcome. ‘The expertise and collections of famous professors and authorities have made this University a prominent world centre of knowledge on Asia.’ In recent decades Leiden has also taken a strong role in the multidisciplinary study of contemporary Asia. The new Leiden Asia Library aims to share as much of this academic knowledge as possible with society, the Rector commented.

Close-knit network

Stolker also referred to the University’s collaboration with several museums, including the National Museum of Antiquities, the National Museum of Ethnology, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Japan museum Sieboldhuis. The University also has broad cooperation agreements with Asian universities. ‘This close-knit network of academic and cultural organisations makes Leiden University an important hub for knowledge on the region. Bringing together the rich and comprehensive collections on Asia here in Leiden will strengthen our mission.’  

Generous donations

Kurt De Belder, director and chief librarian of the Leiden University Libraries praised the work of many generations of librarians and the generous gifts from donors. ‘Without all these people, we would not have such a rich, diverse and specialist collection.’

Kurt De Belder, director and chief librarian of Leiden University Libraries

Digital access to collection

De Belder thanked the architects Katja Hogenboom and Jasper Felsch who designed a light and open environment with an expansive view of the Hortus botanicus and the Leiden Observatory. But he also assured the audience that a physical visit to the library is not necessary. ‘Given the advances in digitisation, more and more researchers and students throughout the world are able to consult the collection digitally and via open access.’  

European bubble

In his keynote speech Peter Frankopan immediately delved into the distant past. Frankopan is a historian at the University of Oxford and is currently Visiting Scaliger Professor in Leiden.  ‘The Asian Library was actually started in 1609 when Leiden professor and polymath Joseph Justus Scaliger left behind a large book collection after his death.’ He reminded the audience how closely European history is interwoven with that of Asia. ‘In Europe we sometimes withdraw into a kind of comfortable bubble and pretend that we had a leading role in this history, but we should not forget that a thousand years ago the great scholars came not from Europe but from Asia. Moreover, interests in Asia have long dominated European politics.’

Peter Frankopan, historian and Scaliger Professor

Combating ignorance

Frankopan believes that the Asian Library should be cherished: new generations of students and researchers will get to know Asia, partly through the eyes of our predecessors. From the flora and fauna of Ambon to religious manuscripts and Dutch maps of Japanese islands. A better understanding of Asia is crucial, in Frankopan’s view. ‘As Scaliger said, when talking about religion, division and enmity come from one source: ignorance.’ 

UNESCO heritage

After the ceremony, the queen spoke in a private meeting in the Pieterskerk with Dutch researchers and international guests. There was a large Indonesian delegation including two Indonesian princesses and Professor Wardiman Djojonegoro. This former Minister of Education in Indonesia helped the Leiden University Library write successful proposals for the inclusion of heritage items in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This has led to UNESCO recognising the autobiographical manuscript of Javanese Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855) as a rare manuscript.

Queen Máxima greets Princess Bendara, the youngest daughter of Sultan Hamengkubuwana X of Yogyakarta, who attended the opening together with her sister Princess Mangkubumi.

Tour of Asia

It was then time for the start of the Tour of Asia, an exciting knowledge festival organised to mark the opening of the Asian Library. The tour included country updates from Japan to North Korea, workshops, lectures, exhibitions, films, food trucks, rickshaws and musical performances in different University buildings. Altogether a festive climax to the exuberant Leiden Asia Year.

(LvP)