Fin­land’s ‘ode’ to a new era in li­braries

Viet Nam News - - CULTURE -

With 100,000 books and a fleet of ro­bot li­brar­i­ans, Fin­land’s fu­tur­is­tic new li­brary will mark the coun­try’s 100th birth­day.

Sam Kings­ley re­ports.

What do you give the world's most lit­er­ate coun­try for its 100th birth­day? For Fin­land's politi­cians and pub­lic, the an­swer was sim­ple: a vast, state-of-theart li­brary, a new "liv­ing room for the na­tion".

Twenty years in the plan­ning, Helsinki's cen­tral li­brary of­fi­cially opens on De­cem­ber 5 at the end of a year of fes­tiv­i­ties mark­ing the cen­te­nary of Fin­land's in­de­pen­dence af­ter break­ing with Rus­sia in 1917 fol­low­ing six cen­turies un­der Swedish rule.

It is a huge, flow­ing struc­ture of wood and glass sit­ting on a prime spot in the city cen­tre, di­rectly op­po­site the Fin­nish parliament.

But whereas the parliament build­ing is an aus­tere and im­pos­ing hunk of gran­ite, the new li­brary was de­signed by Fin­nish firm ALA Ar­chi­tects as a wel­com­ing, un­du­lat­ing struc­ture, clad in 160 kilo­me­tres' worth of Fin­nish spruce, draw­ing peo­ple in­side with a "warm hug".

Named Oodi - "ode" in Fin­nish - it is in­tended as a paean to knowl­edge, learn­ing and equal­ity in what was ranked the world's most lit­er­ate coun­try by a 2016 re­port based on of­fi­cial statis­tics.

As the grand open­ing ap­proaches, work­ers are fran­ti­cally try­ing to fin­ish the out­side of the build­ing. In­stalling the flow­ing wood pan­el­ing has proven harder than ex­pected in Helsinki's freez­ing cli­mate.

The in­te­rior, how­ever, largely ready.

While books will fea­ture heav­ily - 100,000 of them - the cut­ting-edge fa­cil­ity also boasts stu­dios for mu­sic and video pro­duc­tion, a cin­ema, and work­shops con­tain­ing 3D print­ers and laser cut­ters, all free of charge for the pub­lic.

It will also house an EU­funded vis­i­tor cen­ter, of­fer­ing in­for­ma­tion on the 28-mem­ber bloc's work and its im­pact on peo­ple's daily lives.

"Oodi gives a new mod­ern idea of what it means to be a li­brary," Tommi Laitio, Helsinki's ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of cul­ture and leisure, said.

"It is a house of lit­er­a­ture but it's also a house of tech­nol­ogy, it's a house of mu­sic, it's a house of cin­ema, it's a house of the Euro­pean Union.

"And I think all of these come to­gether to this idea of hope and progress," Laitio said.

Ro­bot li­brar­i­ans

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One sign of such progress is the build­ing's fleet of book­car­ry­ing ro­bots -- small grey wag­ons which nav­i­gate them­selves in and out of lifts, avoid­ing peo­ple and fur­ni­ture, in or­der to bring re­turned books up from the base­ment and drop them off at the cor­rect book­case.

There, a hu­man mem­ber of staff will place the books on the shelf.

Oodi's plan­ners be­lieve the ro­bot li­brar­i­ans are the first in­stance in the world of self­driv­ing tech­nol­ogy be­ing used in this way in­side a pub­lic li­brary.

The ro­bots will be­come a fa­mil­iar sight to the li­brary's ex­pected 10,000 visitors a day.

Si­lence is not golden

Oodi will have ar­eas walled off for quiet study­ing, but for ev­ery­where else, there will not be a "si­lence" rule in force, as is com­mon in li­braries.

In fact, mak­ing a mess and noise are pos­i­tively en­cour­aged in­side the "nerd loft" - a place to in­spire peo­ple of all ages to come to­gether and cre­ate.

Users can build things in work­shops equipped with cut­ting-edge tools, bor­row mu­si­cal in­stru­ments or play games con­soles.

"We are pre­pared to con­stantly have dis­cus­sions with the users and the staff about what be­hav­ior is wel­come in the li­brary, but it's def­i­nitely a place of noise and all sorts of im­pro­vised ac­tiv­i­ties," Helsinki's head of li­brary ser­vices, Ka­tri Vant­ti­nen, said.

She is par­tic­u­larly proud of the li­brary's de­ci­sion not to sep­a­rate the chil­dren's sec­tion from the adult books.

All are housed on the li­brary's panoramic top floor: a sweep­ing 50-me­ter long space, with glass walls on all sides sup­port­ing a bil­low­ing, cloud­like roof.

"We think that the noise the chil­dren bring into this floor is pos­i­tive noise, we hear the fu­ture, and we enjoy that we have chil­dren's and adult lit­er­a­ture on the same floor with no walls in be­tween," Vant­ti­nen said.

"Acous­tics have been planned re­ally well, so even if peo­ple are shout­ing at one end you can hardly hear them at the other end," she added.

Al­though many coun­tries have been cut­ting back on li­brary ser­vices, Laitio said there were no prob­lems win­ning political and pub­lic back­ing for the 98-mil­lioneuro (US$110-mil­lion) project, thanks to the value that many Finns place on li­braries.

Some 68 mil­lion books a year are bor­rowed by the coun­try's 5.5 mil­lion peo­ple, named the hap­pi­est in the world by the UN ear­lier this year.

"Li­braries in Helsinki are the sec­ond high­est-rated pub­lic ser­vice af­ter drink­ing wa­ter," Laitio said.

"So li­braries are re­ally loved in Fin­land. And if I look at this project, a 100-mil­lion-euro in­vest­ment, I hear zero to min­i­mal protest. Ac­tu­ally peo­ple are re­ally joy­ful and proud." AFP

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