Free of charge library service guaranteed in Finland
24 Apr 2018, 01:16 ( 26 days ago)
Digitization and internet have not impaired the role of public libraries in Finland. The libraries arrange lending and reading of e-books free of charge, as well that of traditional printed books.
A "no-cost to the citizen" approach becomes mandatory, after a new Public Libraries Act that took effect in 2017 prohibited any charges except if a book has to be ordered from a distant library.
Earlier, some libraries used to levy a waiting list charge for a popular book. A new bestseller meets always a considerable demand. The waiting time may be weeks.
Besides purchasing printed books for the clients, libraries also take subscriptions of e-books, which are then made available for library users for a limited time.
Rauha Maarno, secretary general of Finnish Library Association, a civic organization lobbying for libraries, told Xinhua that Finnish publishers have been somewhat slow in providing e-book format, but the situation is changing.
Libraries have also music and video cassettes or DVDs available. In an effort to familiarize citizens with the latest technologies, 3D printers among others are demonstrated at a overcrowded library opposite the central railway station.
Tuula Haavisto, the culture director of the city of Helsinki and who is also responsible for the public library services, said Finnish libraries were among the first to introduce internet to people in 1990s.
Now that the internet is available almost everywhere, the libraries assume new roles in helping people with their internet usage. "Internet is full of rubbish", said Haavisto, adding that it is important to teach adults how to recognize reliable internet source.
She said volunteers are recruited by public libraries to provide support to people especially the elderly to use internet in their life.
CHALLENGE IN FUNDING
There are well over 700 public libraries all over Finland, catering for the needs for learning or entertainment. Library service is an obligatory responsibility of the 311 municipalities. However, the municipalities are independent entities and the preferences of local decision makers vary and this has resulted in disparities.
Maarno said regional inequality can be detected.
"As municipalities can fairly freely allocate money, some spend more on the quality of their libraries than others," said Maarno. She noted that Western Finland is better off in terms of keeping the local libraries well stocked and offering a wide array of services than Eastern Finland.
During the last two decades in particular, municipalities have been merged, to gain administrative efficiency. Maarno said the larger units have meant that the number of libraries has declined, and mobile library buses have somewhat compensated the loss.
There are about 150 mobile libraries running across Finland, with more than 11,000 stops at schools, elderly houses, and remote neighborhoods.
The need of the growing immigrant population has been met through establishing a special multilingual library in Helsinki. It is funded directly by the Finnish Ministry of Education and sends foreign language books to any library in Finland for lending.
READING PROMOTED AGAIN
Literacy became a civic requirement fairly early in Finland. The Lutheran Church started requiring literacy in its congregational tuition in the mid 18th century. As an incentive, ability to read was set as a condition to be eligible for marriage.
The literacy of the working class in Finland was noted internationally in the late 19th century when Finns started emigrating to North America. Unlike many other Europeans, the Finns were able to read and write, and soon assumed a leading role in the political movements of immigrants in the U.S. and Canada.
Recent researches have found out that literacy and reading is gradually declining in Finland. "There is fight about people's leisure time," said Haavisto, and libraries start actively to promote reading again.
Finnish authorities have also expressed concern with the lack of interest of boys to read. This has been reflected in the poorer success of boys in schools and has been observed in libraries as well. Last week Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, the minister for education, said if someone could find out how to "sell reading to the boys", the problem would be solved.
Downtown Helsinki, the construction of the new central library of Helsinki is in process, and the flamboyant roof structure is visible. It is nearing completion and will open in December.
Located opposite the Parliament building, the flagship named Library Ode, will be a place accessible for everyone. Besides the traditional library function, it will offer space for events and workshops, studios, cafes and restaurants and a cinema.
The new law enacted in 2017 confirmed the widening of the role of libraries. The public libraries are defined as a "space for learning".