Beyond 
 the Woods, 
 by the Lake 


With 80 percent of population using libraries, an effective library network and competent staff provide service for active citizens.

Barbro Wigell-Ryynänen
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs
Ministry of Education and Culture


Barbro Wigell-Ryynänen

Book loans in foreign languages, 2011.
Finnish Public Libraries Statistics
Number of bookmobile stops in Finland, 2011.
Finnish Public Libraries Statistics
W
ith a population of only 5, 3 million in the seventh biggest of European countries, Finland has the largest proportion of rural area in Europe. The distance between Helsinki and northernmost Utsjoki in Lapland is 795 miles — often measured in summertime by groups of cyclists and long-distance runners. Indeed, the Land of a Thousand Lakes — in fact, there are around 188,000 lakes, and forests cover more than two-thirds of the land. In more than half of municipalities there are less than 6000 residents, one third of the population lives in one of seven cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants, and a little more than one million in the three cities of the Metropolitan area.

The farming population has plummeted, small-scale farmers seek new livelihoods like organic farming, and urban dwellers counterbalance city life with prolonged stays at their summer houses — preferably with a sauna by the lake. Technology makes it possible to work and study from a distance, and expectations towards services of even the smallest of rural libraries are high. The ongoing municipality reform has reduced the number of municipalities from 448 to 336, including the 16 municipalities of autonomous Åland Isles in the south-west. The government has proclaimed an urgent need for much more radical merging.

How to guarantee, under the circumstances, "equal opportunities for citizens to pursue personal cultivation, literary and cultural interest, continuous development of knowledge, personal skills and civic skills, internationalisation, and lifelong learning", in accordance with the Library Act?

96 million loans
The Library Development Program responded to a national policy paper for developing the regions, bringing forth the importance of professional services of quality also in rural libraries.

The necessity to work as one tight service network, with coordinated production of local, regional and national web services, is emphasised in the national library policies. The network of provincial libraries and resourceful city libraries support the smaller libraries in the area. Additionally, the regional library networks share library systems and catalogues on the web — as well as the benefit of joint competencies and resources for service development.

Public libraries are maintained by the municipalities but state subsidies cover about 40 % of total expenditure. The state grants for construction of new library buildings and for purchasing mobile libraries has resulted in functional and stylish library buildings, some of them beautifully situated, by the lake, and in full-service mobile services covering sparsely populated areas. Substantial state grants are allocated annually for developing contents and user-friendly services on the web and for other projects that meet local or regional needs. The National Library Network Services and the Libraries.fi service, maintained and developed by the Central Library of Public Libraries (Helsinki City Library), produce services on a national level.

With the National Digital Library the Ministry of Education and Culture is creating a unified structure for contents and services of archives, libraries and museums. Through the public interface, users will be able to search the digital resources of all these institutions and use a wide range of services.


The public library service network, comprising 842 libraries and 154 mobile libraries, is very diligently used. In 2010 there was an average of 18 loans per capita; a total of 96 million loans. There were 53 million library visits and 57 million visits on library web sites — the virtual library visits have now clearly surpassed the visits in the physical library. About 40 % of the entire population have a library card and 80 % of the population use library services.

Users value trustworthiness
Libraries are expected to mediate relevant information and knowledge and to create multifaceted online services. A prerequisite for services of quality is a competent and skilled staff. The Finnish Public Library Policy 2015 corresponds to new ways of learning and seeking information, new ways of using the library. Competence and quality are key words. The national Quality Recommendation for Public Libraries is a tool for service development and self-evaluation. The municipality reform has generated an interest in alternative ways of organising municipal services — evaluation has become an important part of municipal management.


The Quality Recommendation points out that library users have their own quality criterions. Users value trustworthiness, accuracy, competence, availability, suitable opening hours, kindness and ability to communicate and meet current needs.

Societal implications and effect are by far more difficult to measure than measuring obliging to legislation or profitability.

In a survey carried out by the National Library 70 % of respondents declared that the public library has enhanced their quality of life, 40 % declared that they have found important material for work and studies and the equivalent that the library has increased their social contacts.

In The role of public libraries in citizens' activities, another survey carried out by the University of Tampere, local residents expressed the opinion that public libraries have best succeeded in promoting equal access to information, in fostering interest in literature and arts, and in advancing lifelong learning and democracy.

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