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Library 10: In tune with the times

By Salla Korpela, September 2005

Photo: Salla Korpela

Library 10 in Helsinki was designed to live up to its informational and cultural aims. Chief librarian Kari Lämsä holds a balloon advertising the library's 'Information Gas Station'.

Library 10 is a state-of-the-art library in the centre of Helsinki that acts as a living room and cultural and information centre open to all.

This groundbreaking library opened in April 2005 and soon it was being lauded as an information centre the likes of which could not have been dreamed of by yesterday's champions of popular education. Library 10 offers everyone a route to the information superhighway and the world of experiences, and library users can also create their own material. Read on and found out more about Finland’s most ultramodern library.

Chief librarian Kari Lämsä smiles contentedly. He has every reason to be pleased. He is in charge of Library 10, Helsinki's newest library which was planned with an awareness of the the needs of the city's residents and of the potential offered by advanced information technology The library has already proved its worth: some 4,000 people drop in every day, 60 percent of them young men — a group who are usually conspicuous by their absence from the city's other libraries.

"We want to create a relaxed living-room atmosphere for users combined with an efficient work stations and an intellectual experience. Helsinki is not a warm place in winter but Library 10 has eased that problem and is now a welcome meeting point safe from the cold where patrons can listen to music while they wait inside for friends," says Kari Lämsä.

The library is situated in the main post office building in the heart of Helsinki between the railway station and Mannerheimintie, the capital's main thoroughfare. It's a location thousands of people walk past every day on their way to and from work.

The main rooms of the library are open on weekdays conveniently for 10 hours, 10.00 to 22.00. For extra customer friendliness, the foyer opens at 08.00 hours and has a reading area, a bank of computers, a self-service book return and a pick-up point for reserved items.

Popular culture and music

Library 10's offerings are rather radical, which might explain its appeal to young males. It specializes in music, popular culture and IT. In fact it stocks no general literature or fiction.

"We made this decision because we don't have unlimited space. But we do still serve people who borrow books. Customers can order books and other publications from any of the City Library Department's collections via the Internet. The ordered items are then sent here for the customer to to collect. This has become a popular service and it saves time for busy people," Kari Lämsä explains.

The library's collection contains about 34,000 music recordings plus DVDs, videos, musical literature and sheet music. There is also a section specializing in world music and travel, and a wide selection of Finnish and foreign newspapers and comics that are available on loan or for reading on the premises.

Computers and guidance

The library connects customers with the online world. There are about forty computer work stations available for customers, some for use over extensive periods. Others are partitioned off with a screen to ensure privacy and silence, and one work station has been equipped for disabled users.

Some of the computers are intended for editing written, audio or graphic material and are available for anyone wanting to produce their own publications, and not just in Finnish. The editing program operates in about 15 languages. Customers can also bring their own PCs to the library and construct work stations to suit their own needs by rearranging the moveable furniture. There are Internet connections and sockets for customers' PCs throughout the library, and there is wireless Internet connection.

Customers can borrow additional equipment if they so wish, such items as memory sticks, cables, and scanners. Library cardholders can access databases for which the library pays, sources such as dictionaries and encyclopaedias.

Library assistants are on hand to help anyone in need of assistance with IT and will show patrons how to use the programs or databases. These assistant librarians have time to help because customers themselves handle their own borrowing and returning procedures by using the self-service facilities.

"Our staff do not sit behind a service counter. If a customer asks for help, say, in searching for a particular publication, the library assistant will sit next to the person and search the databases with them. Two pairs of eyes are better than one. At the same time, we are gently instructing customers on how to use equipment and how to search for material," says Kari Lämsä.

Ask anything – the library will answer

The library also has an iGS, an Information Gas Station, that promises to answer any question a customer might ask. The iGS has two self-service data pumps and a library employee is on hand to help customers search for anything they care to ask for, within reason, be it a recipe for a chocolate cake, information on the flight paths of flies, or an intelligible explanation of Einstein's theory of relativity.

The aim of the iGS service concept, which the City Library Department came up with a few years ago, is to bring the world's information networks within the reach of all citizens. The information kiosk that is part of the service can be located wherever people go about their daily routines : in post offices, aquatic centres, trade fairs. Customers can request the information they are looking for over the Internet, by phone or text message, and questions are also answered once a week on the radio. For further information visit the iGS website.

Photo: Salla Korpela
Click to enlarge the picture
Three budding musicians practise in the library's studio.

Lovers of classical music will enjoy the baroque corner, fans of world music can lounge about, surrounded by travel books, whilst pop culture vultures have their own section. Library customers can listen to recordings on walkmans and headsets available on loan.

But visitors to Library 10 need not be content with just listening to music. They can produce somes themselves. The library has studio facilities where people can play, record and edit music or even make a music video. Instruments are available on loan: guitars, and keyboards. The studio is soundproofed.

A library for all

The library has a meeting room available for associations and other non-profit organizations that is equipped with a digital projector and computer connections. The library's stage area functions as a performance space for budding musicians during weekend evenings and the display cabinets have changing exhibitions on musical themes. The library's Internet pages contain information on special collections and include interviews with musicians.

All these services and resources are available free of charge to every resident of Helsinki who has a library card. Casual visitors who do not have a library card can still drop in to read papers and magazines and to get information or send e-mail for half an hour using the 'drop-in' computers. Customers are free to spend time browsing in the library.

"We are not worried about vandalism. All the material and equipment are protected electronically and in the evenings we have security staff to ensure the safety of customers and material. People who are drunk or misbehaving will be escorted out of the building. Besides, Finns are generally honest and respect libraries."

So, if you're in town, drop in at Library 10. You can take a seat on a comfortable leather sofa, rest your weary feet and listen to your favourite music. You can read the day's papers, borrow an interesting magazine, pump out information on ideas for recipes for the day's dinner, check out the evening's cultural offerings, and so much more.

Libraries: serving an appreciative nation


Helsinki City Library
Library 10

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