In 2016, it is 550 years since Erasmus was born in Rotterdam, and 500 years since he translated the New Testament into Latin. The Erasmus Bridge was built twenty years ago and Erasmus Medical Centre fifty years ago. Furthermore, the library’s Erasmus collection is the biggest in the world and the themes addressed by Erasmus are still very topical today.

Not a museum

Although the present collection was one of the reasons for the exhibition, the library did not want to present books in display cases accompanied by information cards, like in a museum. “Erasmus was primarily a teacher,” says curator of the Heritage Collection, Adrie van der Laan. “He wanted to get people thinking and that role reflects the task of a public library. We also have an educational task. That’s why we chose to get people thinking by letting them look at themselves and the world through Erasmus’ eyes.”

But some classics needed to be included, so the library is displaying some of Erasmus’ best known works in display cases next to contemporary counterparts. For example, the book Taalrijkdom dating from 1512 is displayed next to the book Taal is zeg maar echt mijn ding by Paulien Cornelisse and the influential The Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Lof der Zotheid is a bit further up, next to modern satire Mind=Blown by Matthew Santoro and Gifjes by Daan Windhorst. “This means we can show the current relevance and timelessness of certain themes like language and satire,” says Van der Laan.

Whetstone for the mind

The Erasmus Experience is based on the ideas of the humanist and philosopher and stimulates you to think about the themes that he frequently addressed: language, behaviour and faith. Through nine statements like “A good society starts with language”, ”I can say what I like” and “War is inevitable”, you give your opinion, after which you talk to Erasmus via the chat. “There are no right or wrong answers and we don’t intend to impose an opinion on anybody,” says Van der Laan. “You need to see it more as a whetstone for the mind.”

Collecting ideas

The exhibition is interactive and starts and ends with a yellow wristband which visitors activate in front of a large screen. “With that wristband, you then load your opinion and you start collecting your own ideas,” says a proud Van der Laan, who has worked with colleagues on the exhibition for over a year. There are three levels that you can reach: thinker, forward thinker and philosopher and when you’ve finished, you add your ideas virtually to the library’s Erasmus collection. Fun fact: the actual collection is behind the wall where you hand in your wristband and add your ideas. Check out (English).