When you think of Finland, your first thoughts probably go to cold weather, saunas, outdoor sports, and Northern Lights, but did you know that the Fins have a great love for books? Finnish people are top of the charts when it comes to worldwide literacy and are among the world’s most prolific library users. It should come as no surprise then, that Finland has finally officially opened it grand €98 million library.
It’s called the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, with Oodi meaning Ode’ in Finnish, and was originally given the green light back in 2015. The library was opened yesterday on December 5, which marks Finland’s 101st Independence Day.
As Finland.fi reports, the City of Helsinki’s director of library services, Katri Vänttinen, said: “Libraries have historically been important to Finns. Beginning in the 1800s, every village had a school and a library, and that created equal access to literacy and basic education.”
“It used to be the library was about equal access to knowledge, but now most of that knowledge is accessible via your smartphone,” she added. “Libraries today need to be thought of as a physical space, a platform for activities such as reading, learning and public discussion. They also provide access to equipment, data networks or expertise. We even have reading coaches who act like personal trainers, but for your reading.”
Each floor of the library serves a different purpose. The first floor is all about people interacting and features a cafe, restaurant, and even a cinema. The second floor promotes creativity and has music rooms, studios, sewing machines, a 3D printer, and media rooms. The third and final floor is similar to a traditional library and boasts over 100,000 books.
“The biggest technical innovation by far is the ‘Cube,’ a room with smart walls,” said Vänttinen. “A person can use huge touch screens to transform the room into almost anything through 3D virtual reality. Artists are already planning to use the Cube for digital immersive art exhibitions, and medical students would like to study surgery there, using it as a virtual operating room.”
The library uses cutting-edge technology and innovation. When a patron returns a book, the item is scanned and then a self-guided vehicle transports it back to its correct shelf space for the librarians.
Oodi is a part of Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries (HelMet), a library system that spans the capital-region cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kaunianen. The data and assets of each library is shared so a visitor can request a book from any of these libraries and have it delivered to their closest one.
Oodi’s location is also in a prime spot. In the heart of Helsinki, it sits within a stones throw of other notable buildings such as Finlandia Hall, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Parliament, the Music Centre, the Central Railway Station and Sanoma House, the HQ of Finland’s largest daily paper. Oodi is already receiving international attention and it is expected that, within its first year, the library will see over 2.5 million visitors.
“Oodi does have a special role as a flagship library,” said Vänttinen. “It is a huge architectural phenomenon in a symbolic location. It also has a special duty to interact with society – not just residents, but also tourists. People might come from far away to experience this building, and it will be their starting point for getting to know libraries in Finland.”
“I’m confident that Oodi will be the most popular meeting place because of its nature as a free space, open seven days a week, centrally located and convenient in all kinds of Finnish weather conditions,” Vänttinen added. “It is simply easiest to say ‘Let’s meet at Oodi.'”
Secret Library Gorgon, whose real name is Mel, told Bored Panda that being a librarian was never her intention but sometimes great things happen without you planning them.
“I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years but I became quite unwell about five years ago and had to leave my product design engineering role and course. I was gutted but I knew that recovery would take a while. I’ve always been a bookworm so I started looking for jobs in libraries and other environments to do part-time while I recovered. I love it so much that I hope I can keep working in libraries permanently.”
After chatting with a colleague about some of the quirks of their job, Mel started posting them on Twitter: “I figured a few of my fellow library assistants would relate. If I’d known how big it would become, I’d have proofread them first!”
“I saw most of the protesters were young. At the sit-in, they only had their phones and were reading from it. I then thought what if I bring them books so that they can read and protest at the same time,” Moalim, popularly known as Kabila, told Al Jazeera news.
The government will share £188,000 of funding through the Pub is the Hub project to help rural pubs diversify their offerings and help bring communities together by expanding their services beyond food and drink. Rural pubs are particularly threatened with fourteen pubs closing every week, and with austerity always at the forefront, libraries and community services are also under threat.