Everywhere in the world people are lamenting the impending departure of the library. What relevance does a library have when a simple click online can bring you a world of information? Finland’s Helsinki, however, seems to be living in a parallel world. To celebrate the country’s hundred years of independence, it gifted itself what seems to be one of the world’s most ambitious libraries. The Oodi library was inaugurated on December 5, 2018, and was declared Public Library of the Year by the International Federation of Library Associations a year later. What makes the Oodi Library so special?
In a city of half a million people, 8000 people visit the Oodi Library on average per day. “We overshot our toilet cleaning budget, so many people visit the library!” says Anna-Maria Soininvaara, Director of the Oodi Library. ‘I think we have succeeded—we had three million visitors in the first year and some really positive feedback.” The library is managed by fifty members of staff and three robots. Besides its exterior being an architectural delight from the outside, the inside of the library is a classic example of a quintessentially Scandinavian design—minimalistic, modern, clean, and super stylish.
What makes the Oodi Library so special, however, is that it doesn’t stick to the idea of the traditional library we all imagine—cold, dark rooms and a grumpy librarian telling you to hush up. At Oodi Library, kids run around and play in their ‘book heaven’, the third floor where all the books are stocked. The bookshelves are low in heights they may be accessible for even kids, keeping in line with the Nordic principles of inclusivity and equality.
A key hang out spot, the library entertains over 8,000 visitors on an average on any given day. Photo By: Maris Grunskis/Shutterstock
The key charm of the Oodi Library lies in its idea that the library is a place for information, not just books. A milieu of many activities, the library lets you book special computers and game rooms to spend hours playing video games and even offers up its kitchens for cooking demos and birthday parties for kids. T-shirt printing machines, 3D printers, sewing machines, laminating equipment, laser cutters—you’ll find it all here. The library also acts as patron to the arts by renting out its latest, high-tech audio and video equipment to budding visual artists, so they can shoot movies and podcasts. Meeting rooms and recording studios can be booked by any member of the library. The best part of all of this? All these services can be used for free. All one needs is a Helmet card, which is a library card provided to all citizens in the region. And guess what? The library card is one of the first things given to someone who moves to Finland. Makes sense for a country with an almost hundred percent literacy rate.
Putting it simply, the Oodi Library is cool; it’s a place where teenagers want to hang out and meet up with their friends and in the process, they are automatically immersed in books. “The concept is that of a huge living room space,” Soininvaara says, “and so Oodi becomes the heart of the city.” More than anything, it is a world class public space, where people can spend hours without having the pressure to pay for it. Jobless, homeless, you’d still be welcome in the library. And it is possibly this inclusive spirit which has been successful in ensuring that almost nothing gets stolen from the library, despite the access it grants to everyone, Soininvaara says. Time for other cities to step up their public library game, isn’t it?
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is a student of Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh, and is currently working as an editor with Juggernaut Books. Her debut fiction novel will be published by Penguin Random House in 2019, and finds it too late for her to change her mind about being a writer- its the only thing she knows.
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