Close  
  • share this

Finland’s ‘ode’ to a new era in libraries

/ 03:47 PM December 03, 2018

A staircase of Helsinki’s new Central Library Oodi is seen during a preview on November 30, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. The new library will open its doors to the public on December 5, 2018, a day before Finland’s 101st birthday. AFP

HELSINKI — What do you give the world’s most literate country for its 100th birthday? For Finland’s politicians and public, the answer was simple: a vast, state-of-the-art library, a new “living room for the nation”.

Twenty years in the planning, Helsinki’s central library officially opens on December 5 at the end of a year of festivities marking the centenary of Finland’s independence after breaking with Russia in 1917 following six centuries under Swedish rule.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is a huge, flowing structure of wood and glass sitting on a prime spot in the city center, directly opposite the Finnish parliament.

But whereas the parliament building is an austere and imposing hunk of granite, the new library was designed by Finnish firm ALA Architects as a welcoming, undulating structure, clad in 160 kilometers’ worth (99 miles) of Finnish spruce, drawing people inside with a “warm hug”.

FEATURED STORIES

Named Oodi — “ode” in Finnish — it is intended as a paean to knowledge, learning and equality in what was ranked the world’s most literate country by a 2016 report based on official statistics.

As the grand opening approaches, workers are frantically trying to finish the outside of the building. Installing the flowing wood paneling has proven harder than expected in Helsinki’s freezing climate.

The interior, however, is largely ready.

While books will feature heavily — 100,000 of them — the cutting-edge facility also boasts studios for music and video production, a cinema, and workshops containing 3D printers and laser cutters, all free of charge for the public.

It will also house an EU-funded visitor center, offering information on the 28-member bloc’s work and its impact on people’s daily lives.

“Oodi gives a new modern idea of what it means to be a library,” Tommi Laitio, Helsinki’s executive director of culture and leisure, told AFP.

“It is a house of literature but it’s also a house of technology, it’s a house of music, it’s a house of cinema, it’s a house of the European Union.

ADVERTISEMENT

“And I think all of these come together to this idea of hope and progress,” Laitio said.

Robot librarians 

One sign of such progress is the building’s fleet of book-carrying robots — small grey waggons which navigate themselves in and out of lifts, avoiding people and furniture, in order to bring returned books up from the basement and drop them off at the correct bookcase.

There, a human member of staff will place the books on the shelf.

Oodi’s planners believe the robot librarians are the first instance in the world of self-driving technology being used in this way inside a public library.

The robots will become a familiar sight to the library’s expected 10,000 visitors a day.

Silence is not golden 

Oodi will have areas walled off for quiet studying, but for everywhere else, there will not be a “silence” rule in force, as is common in libraries.

In fact, making a mess and noise are positively encouraged inside the “nerd loft” — a place to inspire people of all ages to come together and create.

Users can build things in workshops equipped with cutting-edge tools, borrow musical instruments or play games consoles.

“We are prepared to constantly have discussions with the users and the staff about what behavior is welcome in the library, but it’s definitely a place of noise and all sorts of improvised activities,” Helsinki’s head of library services, Katri Vanttinen, said.

She is particularly proud of the library’s decision not to separate the children’s section from the adult books.

All are housed on the library’s panoramic top floor: a sweeping 50-meter long space, with glass walls on all sides supporting a billowing, cloudlike roof.

“We think that the noise the children bring into this floor is positive noise, we hear the future, and we enjoy that we have children’s and adult literature on the same floor with no walls in between,” Vanttinen said.

“Acoustics have been planned really well, so even if people are shouting at one end you can hardly hear them at the other end,” she added.

As vital as drinking water 

Although many countries have been cutting back on library services, Laitio said there were no problems winning political and public backing for the 98-million-euro ($110-million) project, thanks to the value that many Finns place on libraries.

Some 68 million books a year are borrowed by the country’s 5.5 million people, named the happiest in the world by the UN earlier this year.

“Libraries in Helsinki are the second highest-rated public service after drinking water,” Laitio said.

“So libraries are really loved in Finland. And if I look at this project, a 100-million-euro investment, I hear zero to minimal protest. Actually people are really joyful and proud.”

Read Next
Don't miss out on the latest news and information.
View comments

Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.

TAGS: Europe, Finland, libraries
For feedback, complaints, or inquiries, contact us.



© Copyright 1997-2018 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.