June 26, 2019

Transforming libraries for the future

Lotta Muurinen and Antti Sauli

Project manager and planner, respectively, at Helsinki City Library

Libraries have a strong position in the Finnish society as a low-threshold and free-of-charge service open to all. Everyone is welcome to come to library premises and spend time, study, work, hold various events and participate in them. Libraries belong to everyone, as they are funded with tax revenue.

How do we make sure that we stay relevant and keep the position we have gained in people’s daily lives? The trick is not to get stuck in a rut but to be responsive to and follow the currents of societal development.

According to the Public Library Act of 2017, the task of the library is not only to provide reading material to library users, but also to offer premises for various purposes, promote active citizenship, offer a platform for lifelong learning and much more. Modern-day libraries offer a variety of technical devices and spaces for creating culture and artefacts, as well as possibilities to repair and mend your beloved old treasures.

Sometimes libraries are criticised for having digital services ranging from 3D printers to music studios. Why are libraries offering these new services and not concentrating only on storing and lending books? Because these days literacy means much more than the ability to read and write. To be literate and to be able to fully function in the modern society one needs to stay up to date with the progress of technology. Being an easily approachable public service where one can always get help from highly skilled staff, libraries are a natural place for offering opportunities to test and learn to use new technologies.

The task of the library is not only to provide reading material to library users, but also to offer premises for various purposes, promote active citizenship, offer a platform for lifelong learning and much more.

In today’s world, our social lives are increasingly enjoyed and experienced via different social media platforms. The library provides not only the roof and walls for safe and meaningful social interaction, but also number of different events and activities where one can meet people in real life. The library is one of the rare spaces where anyone can loiter and explore without having to buy anything, where everyone regardless of age, social background, gender and ethnicity can meet, interact or just do nothing together.

The newly opened Helsinki Central Library Oodi’s success can be undeniably measured by the staggering number of visitors, loans and new library cards made since its opening. It has also brought the importance of the library as an institution to the limelight.

When Finland’s new government held a press conference in early June to launch its agenda, the audience, consisting of politically active citizens and curious passers-by, were free to ask questions and tell their opinions to the newly formed government. But did this take place in the pompous halls of the Parliament House? No, it all happened in Oodi, where everyone had gathered ­together, under the same roof.

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