This website has been archived. It is no longer updated.


Saami Libraries promote the cultural and civic rights of Saami peoples.

Tuija Guttorm
Sámi Cultural Centre, SAJOS, Inari

Tuija Guttorm
The Saami are the only ethnic group in the European Union that has been classified as an indigenous people. They are an ethnic group constituting an indigenous population and an ethnic minority in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia. A political programme for the Saami was adopted at the Nordic Saami Conference in Tromsø in 1980. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden people have traditionally been considered Saami if they regard themselves as Saami and have learned Saami as their native language, or have at least one parent or grandparent who has done so. What is crucial is the family background, the relationship to the Saami language and through it to the culture, and the feeling that one is Saami.

More than half of the Saami speak Saami languages. Northern Saami is the main Saami language in Finland, Norway, and Sweden, other Saami languages in Finland are Inari and Skolt Saami language. In total, there are ten Saami languages, two of which have become extinct. In Finland and Norway there is legislation which guarantees the Saami the right to use their language with authorities in their own area, but the status of the Saami language still needs to be strenghtened.

The Saami literature
Researcher Rauna Kuokkanen suggests that indigenous peoples have their own ‘oral tradition’ that are not only a people’s ‘literature’, but also a ‘history’ on their own terms. The dominant Western paradigm has ignored indigenous peoples’ systems of knowledge until now. According to Kuokkanen:

“Contemporary indigenous scholars are increasingly demanding the recognition of their knowledges as a part of claiming power within colonial structures and discourses. Indigenous systems of knowledge existed for instance in the form of stories — stories have served as indigenous peoples’ ‘theories’ as understood in the Western sense.”

Researcher Harald Gaski says the foundation of Saami literature is laid on an old oral literary legacy maintained by skilful narrators and singers. Prose literature can draw from an invaluably rich treasure trove of story and fairy tale, while yoik poetry has tremendous significance for the development of modern Saami poetry. Yoik poetry has provided a native tradition from which contemporary writers can proceed in exciting and creative ways.

Traditionally, the yoik played an important role in creating a feeling of unity within the group. The yoik has always been one of the cornerstones of Saami identity. It is all about ‘our people’ and ‘our’ point of view. It is no wonder that church attempted to break the traditional Saami belief system and world-view, says Veli-Pekka Lehtola. He suggests that the yoik retained a rebellious spirit and it was based on a quality of double-meaning, a code. For example, there is a yoik, “The Thief and the Noaidi”, which works on two levels. Saami community understood its content differently than outsiders, i.e. ministers and researches. The contribution of the active Saami politics in the 1970s was the reason why music became part of official cultural programmes.

According to the reseacher Vuokko Hirvonen, Finnish literature is generally comprised of Finnish-language and Finland-Swedish literature, but a third category, Saami-language literature, is often forgotten. By Saami literature Hirvonen means literature written in Saami for Saami readers. An average of ten new titles (including children’s books) is published each year by small Saami publishers.

The rise of Saami literature since the 1970s has raised the profile of women writers and witnessed the birth of Saami-language children’s literature. Women in particular are interested in creating children’s literature in their own language, and at present it is among Saami literature’s strongest genres after poetry. The increase in Saami children’s literature created a demand for suitable illustrations, and Saami visual artists have had the opportunity to use their own cultural background to contribute to the creation of these books. The Norwegian Saami publisher Davvi Girji has made a particular effort to publish and translate children’s literature written in smaller Saami languages such as Inari, Kildin, Southern, and Lule Sámi.

The development of Saami literature from the 1970s to the present reflects changes in the status of traditional Saami minority culture. In the 1970’s and 1980’s writers had personal experience of being torn from their native language, identity, and culture through their education. This collective experience erupted in their writing and in the process a special form of expression was created in their mother tongues. Women’s place in Saami literature was strengthened in the 1980s, and at the same time the spectrum of writing diversified: in addition to children’s literature and poetry, novels, short stories and plays appeared, as did autobiographical memoirs.

Finnish Saami Libraries
Library of Lapland system consists of the city libraries in Rovaniemi, Kemijärvi, and Tornio, as well as the municipal libraries in Enontekiö, Inari, Kittilä, Kolari, Muonio, Pelkosenniemi, Pello, Salla, Savukoski, Sodankylä, Utsjoki and Ylitornio. In addition, some educational institutions and museums are collaborating with the Lapland libraries. These are for example the Provincial Museum of Lapland, the Saami Council, the Saami Museum Siida in Inari, and the art museum libraries in Rovaniemi.

The Saami Special Library in Rovaniemi has an important role in the Library of Lapland system and the Saami literature. The collections are one of the largest in the Nordic countries, about 8,000 titles. Saami Special Library works in cooperation with the National Library of Finland and together these organisations govern the Saami bibliography. Saami Special Library operations are financed by the Ministry of Education and Culture. Operations began in 1990.

Inari Saami Library is a branch library in the municipality of Inari. Unlike the Saami Special Library in Rovaniemi, Inari Saami Library is not expected to significantly increase its collections. However, it has received book donations from the Finnish Sámi Parliament. Eija Leivo, the Library Manager in Inari says that because professional literature and study materials are constantly revised, they can become obsolete on the book shelves. Instead of making acquisitions, inter-library lending is a modern practice in this regard.

Inari Saami Library co-operates with the Saami Archives and Sami Museum Siida, which are both located in Inari. This cooperation has just begun and the results will be surely fruitful.

The Lapland libraries are sharing the same database which means the material is available everywhere in Lapland. They have a delivering system called Rekku (comes from the words resource sharing). Customers can reserve books and other material from the common database in any of the fourteen municipalities and the city libraries and customers can then choose the library from which to retrieve the material. Long distances in Lapland require rapid transport from a library to another. With the help of Rekku delivering system the shipments are handled flexibly with a carrier courier service.

Crossing Library, bookmobiles and SAJOS
The Crossing Library (Johtti girjerádju in Northern Saami language) is a project operated by Inari municipality. Soon Crossing Library will have staff pursuing activities and organising events in the traditional Saami way. The project aims to introduce Saami culture and literature to people. This is crucial because of the lack of knowledge of Library of Lapland services. In addition, literature by Saami themselves is very little known. Crossing Library project offers information to Saami residents about minority languages and minority literature and also promotes reading as a hobby.

The Finnish Lapland libraries are using two bookmobiles which operate as far as Norrbotten in northern Sweden and Finnmark in northern Norway. These bookmobiles (or “library buses”) are important because they deliver interlibrary loans and bring knowledge (books, magazines, records etc.) to the small localities. Saamiland is the home to many elderly people and book mobiles can play an important role in their lives.

The Sámi Cultural Centre SAJOS in Inari is the centre of the Saami culture and administration. The purpose of SAJOS is to create better opportunities for the Saami in Finland to preserve and develop their own language, culture and business activities as well as to manage and develop their cultural self-government and to support the development of their general living conditions. SAJOS fundamentally improves the possibilities of distributing information about the Saami people as the indigenous people of Finland. The Centre will attract national and international interest, and it will become an exciting meeting place of multiculturalism.

Databank Lapponica
The Lapponica databank contains information published in and about Lapland, the North Calotte and the Barents region. Lapponica is produced by the libraries of Lapland with participation of the museums of Lapland.

The Lapponica reference database lists books, newspapers, articles, recordings, video films, cd-roms, microfilms and cards, maps and theses. The database contains Lapland related material dating as far back as the 16th century. Central subjects are the northern nature and its phenomena, regional policy and regional economy issues, local history of the North Calotte region, traditional livelihoods, and culture. Important special subjects are the Saami and the Saami language, reindeer and reindeer husbandry, the Laestadian Movement, and Christmas.

There is also a large amount of information on the Finnish-speaking minorities and the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Fictional literature of the North Calotte region is also well represented. Geographically the database concentrates on Finnish Lapland but also includes reference information on material relating to other North Calotte areas (the northern regions of Sweden, Norway and Russia), and some on the Arctic region in a broader sense, particularly on Greenland and Spizbergen.

  • Gaski, Harald: Song, Poetry and Images in Writing: Sami Literatur. Nordlit 27, 2011.
  • Hirvonen, Vuokko: Sámi Literature: Trends and Travel Abroad
  • Kuokkanen, Rauna: Indigenous peoples’ stories: Our way of being and thinking, 2000. “Girjin — Oaidninvuogit Sámi girjjalasvuhtii,” Responsible editor: Irene Piippola.
  • Lehtola, Veli-Pekka: The Sámi People — The Tradition in Transition. 2002: 108-109, Pohjois-Suomen kirjallisuushistoria, SKS, 2010.
  • The Sámi People — A Handbook. 2006
Learn more!