The development of the public libraries in Finland and the Helsinki area: How Finnish libraries came to be spaces for commons?


Hi, I am researching the development of the public libraries in Finland, more specifically in the Helsinki area. I have read about the participatory process to define the design and construction of Oodi in 2018. But I would like to know more about how Finnish Libraries came to be what they are now as lively public spaces, as libraries of many things, and the participation of the people in this process. I am particularly interested in seeing the libraries in Finland as spaces for commons.
Thank you!



Modern libraries in Finland, the Helmet area, and Helsinki specifically, have been described as living rooms for the citizens. We loan out various material, but also offer services on location, and organize events for and by the city residents. At a Helmet library one can loan out a blood pressure monitor, a radon meter, or a power drill. At the library you can use a computer, a 3D printer, or a sewing machine. Events vary from reading fairy tales for children, to reading groups, to music and movies.

This development has been gradual. While library concerts organized by the library music clubs were crowd magnets already in the 1960s (Laakso 2010, 375), and listening to music with headphones became the most important form of activity in the 1970s (ibid., 377), up until the 1980s, libraries in Helsinki would only loan out books, no other material, and books taken off the collection could not be sold in the libraries. More experienced librarians remember the VHS film experiment of 1981 as the first venture to loan out other material than books. It was a resounding success: the copy of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” would have a thousand reservations. The array of material would widen during the 80s to cassette audio books first for children, and only then magazines could be loaned out of the libraries.

The 90s brought customer computers and the internet. Board games were introduced first on location, and then would be loaned out. Blood pressure monitors, radon meters, and poles for Nordic walking were among the first objects loaned out of the library after the turn of the Millennium.

Workspace or makerspace workshops for various crafts were pioneered in the Finnish libraries by Tampere Hacklab and Helsinki Hacklab in 2010. (Pääskyvuori 2019, 14.) Nowdays you can find hacklab spaces, where customers can work by themselves, but the tools are in common use, in 15 different cities in Finland. Typically there may be a small fee for the material used in the process. The flagship of such operation in Helsinki was Library 10 (Kirjasto 10, Bibliotek 10) first in Lasipalatsi and then from 2005 to 2018 in Postitalo in the center of Helsinki. In 2018, it’s services were transferred to the Helsinki Central Library Oodi.

Library 10 was concentrated on music, recordings and sheet music, and IT functions, as well as audio editing, video editing, recording, and listening. There was a performance space hosting events, and a makerspace, with recording equipment and 3D printers. These innovations have later been adopted in numerous libraries.



Laakso, M. 2010. Kansanvalistajasta kansalaisten olohuoneeksi. Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginkirjasto.

Pääskyvuori, I. 2019. Porakone, ukulele ja mölkky: Lainattavat esineet Vaara-kirjastoissa ja Helsingin kaupunginkirjastossa. Pro gradu- tutkielma. Tampereen yliopisto.

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What about participatory practices? about educational programs? are citizens participating? thank you

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