Why libraries and Finna.fi are such a good match?

Finna.fi front page, screen shot
Finna.fi front page. The service is available in Finnish, Swedish and English.

Finna.fi is an extraordinary creation that gathers together search services and materials from libraries, museums and archives of Finland. Currently it covers close to 400 partner organisations, all providing materials for anyone to search and explore. Finna is also a widely used user interface template.

Finna.fi was officially launched in 2013. From the start, the priority was to integrate all existing online services: for instance, you can also renew loans and request material from different libraries in one place – Finna.fi. In general, the sharing of goals with partner organisations, as well as user-centred service design, have been key aims for Finna developers. 

Finna has unified the field in a trailblazing manner. It has become a unique, cross-sectoral place for cooperation and development, holding up a grand national infrastructure for science and culture.

Public libraries have had a strong footing in Finna.fi services. The Chief of Development of Finna.fi, Erkki Tolonen, tells us more.

Erkki Tolonen, Chief of Development of Finna.fi, National Library of Finland.

Strong cooperation from the start

Public libraries in Finland have discovered that, once again, it pays off to join forces and share experiences. Finna is a concrete example of achieving more – and saving money – when working together. 

The remarkable representation of libraries in Finna.fi – and the overall success of Finna.fi – has long roots. 

“One might say that, by international standards, Finnish libraries have an uncharacteristically strong cooperation, and there is a long tradition behind it. There was a solid foundation which to build upon,” Erkki Tolonen says.

The expectations were there, too, as the library professionals had been striving to combine the digital and physical collections in a more advanced, seamless interface. The dream of a “one-stop-shop” for library users was – and still is – there. 

“When compared to museums and archives at that time, libraries had more online customer services in place. As we were developing Finna.fi, as a part of the National Digital Library project starting in 2008, we actually did not have much choice: we needed to test integration and other things with the existing e-services and APIs – and libraries had more ongoing." 

For instance, the national Library directory, which brings together the schedules and locations of all Finnish libraries, was there before Finna, and now when they’ve integrated, there are much more possibilities for both users and use of Finna.

“Moreover, Finna.fi also offers new possibilities for public libraries: when a vast amount of library collections – whether from public, school, specialized etc. - join with the materials of museums, archives and universities in one place, they can be jointly used. This brings benefits to website development, too, as the understanding of users is much wider. For example, the Eepos library of the Ostrobothnia province has benefited from the development of museum imagery retrieval, so that the local Porstua image collection can be searched and presented via Eepos’ own online library”, adds Tolonen.

Finna is also a widely used interface

Another pioneering factor is that, in addition to the national interface Finna.fi which aims at simultaneous discovery and delivery, Finna also offers a free web platform for client organizations. Any affiliate organization can build its website on a Finna interface. The visuals and other details can be tailored to the tastes of the client. 

“This feature, I think, has more or less exploded the popularity and coverage of Finna – we currently have around 400 organizations onboard in total. Furthermore, around 2/3 of public library websites in the country are using a Finna online library interface. We also offer technical support and regular tutorials for library staff, in order to aid smoother deployment.

Why is Finna.fi unique?

As the entire set-up is rather complicated, Erkki Tolonen continues to explain the uniqueness of Finna in a worldwide context.

“There are, of course, other similar GLAM sector initiatives, such as the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), and several other national developments connected to the European Digital Library process, i.e. in Germany. However, these are typically focusing more on the digitized, freely available cultural heritage of museums and archives, than library collections.” 

 “What really sets Finna apart is that Finna offers participating organizations the opportunity to build their own customer interface, for free, with the tools and tech support provided by the Finna service. Of course, another key difference is that in Finna, library materials play a key role”, he points out.

What features of Finna would you like to highlight?

One rather obvious selling point, especially for international audiences, is that Finna.fi offers free and easy access to a very good coverage of Finnish museum, archive and library collections. All interfaces are also available in English.

In addition, Finna connects with Europeana and many other sites, thanks to its focus on reuse, integrations and APIs.

“International IT developers are probably keen to know more about reuse and open access APIs, a key feature which enables retrieving and embedding materials into other sites. Finna has been constructed by using VuFind and other open-source software. Our aim is that the source code is freely available to all,” Erkki Tolonen says.

Finna.fi covers museums, archives and different libraries, but public libraries have probably been on board most actively. Would you know – or guess – why?
The deployment of Finna as a web interface has been hugely popular, as it is cost-efficient and has a genuine goal of user friendliness and constant improvements.

Tolonen continues, “I already pointed out the existing good cooperation between Finnish libraries and the motivation to be a part of Finna and develop it further.
Perhaps one factor is that public library professionals have a sound everyday contact with their customers. They can highly respect the aspiration of positioning the customer first, and the idea of client-centred design, which is at the core of developing Finna.fi.” 

“We at the National Library have also been welcoming public librarians to be a part of our development work, e.g. through regular workshops, so that we can find the best ways of improving the Finna web interfaces.”

What happens next with Finna?

Main points: 1. Together we achieve more 2. Providing the best user experience 3. Promoting access to information and lifelong learning.
Finna Vision 2020-2025 in a nutshell.

Constant improving of the Finna web interfaces, together with libraries, archives and museums, will continue, assures Tolonen.

“At the moment, the collaboration with public libraries focuses on how to find events, services, premises and equipment in libraries. I’d also like to point out the new Finna Vision 2021-2025, launched this spring, where one key focus area is lifelong learning. One of the aims here is to make Open Educational Resources discoverable, i.e. by integrating Finna into the national Open Learning Materials project (aoe.fi). 

Finna Classroom will also be further developed. Finna Classroom is a new flagship cluster of resources and cooperation of teachers and cultural heritage organizations, and, simultaneously, of creating better tools for curating content for learning”, he continues.

”For public libraries, the Finna Vision also has many other things to be excited about: Intelligent search tools and seamless access to digital content creates a better user experience, not to mention the important and challenging ones.