In Finland, libraries play a strong role for all in society as an open, free-of-charge, low-threshold service. In library facilities, anyone can study, work, organise different functions and participate in them.
Libraries help different people to meet each other and offer practical help in doing things for those who need it. Plenty of pedagogical activities and events are organised for children. School classes visit libraries to learn about their work, how to search for information and to have different kinds of experiences. A range of participatory activities is available for young people, adults and senior citizens alike.
Multilingual Library offers people living anywhere in Finland a chance to read literature in their native language. Many libraries also support the integration of immigrants in different ways.
Case study: Participatory self-service library
According to the Finnish Public Library Act, libraries are obliged to offer premises for users’ different needs. This means that in addition to collections, libraries must provide spaces for working, studying, and civic activities, as well as just for passing the time. Many libraries do offer different kinds of premises, from meeting rooms to makerspaces, and many libraries provide long opening hours so that the library is also accessible in the evenings. Unfortunately, not all libraries can offer long opening hours from the early morning to the late evening. In these cases, one option is to open up the library for its users through self-service opening hours.
More and more libraries join in
A self-service library is a library that can be accessed outside the normal opening hours, usually with a library card and a personal pin-code. The self-service library concept has already been tested for a number of years in Finland, and the number of libraries providing self-service opening hours is rapidly increasing. Of Finland’s 720 libraries, 233 are extending their opening hours with self-service times. In most cases, the library staff is present for a part of the day or the week, but self-service opening hours allow the library users to enter the library even if, for example, the staff resources do not permit the library to be staffed normally until the late evening. In addition to providing access to the library collections, self-service opening hours also support the library users’ active citizenship and open up possibilities to work and study outside one’s own home.
Karaoke nights and NGO meet-ups in Rantasalmi
Rantasalmi municipal library had a project during which they wanted to explore the possibilities of expanding the use of their self-service library. Rantasalmi is a municipality of 3700 people in the Eastern part of Finland in the region of Southern Savo, and it is a part of the Toenperä library network. The staff at the Rantasalmi library had noticed that “self-service library” has often been perceived as merely a synonym for a self-service checkout and return. The library decided to get rid of quiet evenings, and to bring liveliness into the library outside the normal opening hours.
The library premises were opened to everyone, and soon, in addition to the traditional library users, many local associations also found the library space. Before the library began to actively offer their premises for different NGOs, there weren’t really any places for small associations and NGOs to meet. On top of offering a meeting place for NGOs and associations, Rantasalmi library began to actively arrange events and to encourage users to organise events during the self-service time. Some of the activities were very traditional library events, but there were also more experimental services and events. For example, karaoke nights, which were first initiated and organised by the library staff, turned into a regular event and are now ran completely by voluntary library users.
Quite hours turn lively, new customers pour in
In addition to events and traditional borrowing and returning materials, the library staff designed different ways of using the library space as a reading promotion platform during the self-service opening hours. Many different exhibitions were built up from the collections and the library space was turned into a space that provides reading tips. One of the main aims of the project was to increase the active use of the relatively quiet evening hours and weekends. This turned out to be a success, since many new library users who had not previously used the library services were reached through the activities organised during the self-service opening hours.
This was, at least partly, a success, as through activities that were organised in the self-service library, many new library users who had previously not used the library services were reached.