Focus 2014

Rethinking the library

Skillful service design comes to life in Finnish libraries.

Text: Heini Santos
Photos: Kari Vainio, Mika Huisman, Oulu City Library


Do not be fooled by the Helsinki University Library’s lofty new building Kaisa. The design elements extend far beyond architectural eye candy.

The library’s recent two-year project called Intelligent Design carried out a full reformation of the service palette. The idea was to extend the library’s role beyond lending and handling materials and create an environment that supports learning and working. From the inception, students were actively included in the planning, which led to fifteen innovative service concepts now being put into practice at Kaisa.

“We found out that there was a continuous shortage of course books. After observing the borrowing behaviour we realised that people were holding on to books that they were not using – a habit that comes from the long tradition of set due dates. So, we came up with a bonus system that rewards users for returning materials in advance,” explains Mikko Koivisto, the Head of Service design at the service design agency Diagonal.

Another fundamental change in the library culture had to do with sounds. Typically libraries are considered hives of silence. But, in an optimal environment for learning, should there not be dialogue? “We dedicated areas to loud, quiet and silent work. We also created a toolkit for students who want to form a study circle, support for learning, courtesy of the library,” says Koivisto.

The library also features rooms for people who are allergic to electricity or have hearing disabilities. All the services and working areas are marked with clear and visual signs – without library jargon, which puts all users on the same level in terms of access to services. The plan is to combine all the information in a mobile application that allows users to, for instance, navigate to a specific book or even borrow books by using a phone.

Watch the video of how Kaisa house was born:



Booktalk is a way of encouraging children to read. The challenge is to spark the interest of the weakest readers and encourage everyone to develop their reading level. A booktalk session lasts 45 minutes, just like a typical Finnish classroom session, and it introduces about ten books. Although the focus is on the books, the booktalker can also use music, video, or book trailers.

There are 836 libraries in Finland. Altogether Finns make 53 million library building visitsa year and visit e-libraries 57 million times. On average, every Finn borrows 18 books a year.



The bookmobile

If people cannot get to the books, the books must go to people. A 9-litre engine, bold orange design, and a rooftop window. Every two weeks, 70 different stops with 1,300 kilometres in between. Stacked with 4,000 books with a side for music, DVDs and magazines. This is Lohja’s new bookmobile.

In late 2013, this small town in southern Finland welcomed a brand new mobile library featuring modular shelves that can be pre-stacked at the main library, transforming the mobile collection during a pit stop.

“We wanted to emphasise the presentation of the materials, hence the rotating racks for audiovisual materials and separate exhibition shelves. The new bus will actually hold fewer items than the one before but the content can be customised to different target groups. That, in turn, will improve book circulation,” Director of Lohja’s library services Maritta Turunen says.

The bookmobile is a flexible solution to providing services in a country of long distances. It can bring library and information services as well as small cultural events to new residential areas well before other services are built. Most importantly, it visits schools and daycare centres that do not have a library nearby.


See also:

Finland is the guest of honour in Frankfurt Book Fair 2014

Helsinki city library honours the creator of Moomins, Tove Jansson, on her festive year: