Oodi Helsinki Central Library

I made three visits to Oodi, the new Helsinki Central Library that opened in December of last year. This was my most anticipated library visit ever.

The main front entrance

The front of Oodi on the left side

The rear entrance, catercorner to the front in the above photo

Mark and I went in on our first day in Helsinki. We did not have a lot of time as we got there in the evening around 20:30 but we knew we’d be making a return visit or two so there was no need to rush. The YLE TV network had set up a stage and audience seating outside the front entrance and was broadcasting live. As a Nordic library the emphasis was on wood, specifically light-coloured wood interiors. The shelving was white, which seems to be a trend as the new Halifax Central Library was also all white inside. The stacks were not as high as in my own library system:

The spiral staircases are concentric. If the three people in the photo above were to continue climbing, they would not end up on the staircase immediately above them.

The sides of the staircases are decorated with terms that reflect the library’s support of inclusivity: vegaaneille = for vegans; saunojille = for sauna bathers; mielensäpahoittajille = for those who feel offended; kissaihmisille = for cat people (i.e., cat lovers); viittomakielisille = for sign language users; lapsenmielisille = for childish minds; heteroille = for heterosexuals; valittajille = for complainers; pitkäkyntisille = for thieves; syrjityille = for those discriminated against; sikheille = for Sikhs; kriitikoille = for critics; maastamuuttaneille = for emigrants; auringonpalvojille = for sun worshippers; hiustenhalkojille = for hair-splitters (that is the literal meaning, but Finnish uses the same expression as English to describe someone who splits hairs to mean someone who is obsessed with details, often unimportant ones); konservatiiveille = for conservatives; noidille = for witches; lorvijoille = for slackers (i.e., lazy people); kansalle = for the people; keskimääräisille = for average people; lukutaidottomille = for the illiterate.

I enjoyed speaking to the staff who were all delighted to be working there. Oodi hired fifty new staff. The shelves did not look full, which may have been deliberate in the way the books were displayed to create the illusion of open space, or it may be a reflection of the popularity of the library and its collection. I found an article on-line about the empty state of affairs concerning Oodi’s shelves but this article was from January, only one month after the library opened. It could very well be that eight months after the library opened, the books are still flying off the shelves. There were rows of shelves housing board games but I could not find Scrabble in any language. Perhaps it was already in use.

Mark and I ate our late dinner outside on the upper-level deck which overlooks the parliament building, Eduskunta, and Finlandia-talo (Finlandia Hall). It was windy, and napkins and newspapers from customers who did not clear their tables blew all over the place. That was the only downside of being in such a beautiful outdoor location. It was only after the fact that I discovered that eating our own food at the café tables was prohibited. This is not an unreasonable rule. Fortunately no one told us we couldn’t eat there, even when staff passed by while they were clearing other tables.

Whenever I visit other libraries I always check out the way they do things. I continue to be shocked that in Halifax the reserved books for pickup are placed on shelves with the patrons’ full names on display. Mississauga doesn’t do this, nor does Helsinki. There is a system of privacy in place for the self-serve holds retrieval:

I also like to check out the books in other languages. Finland has two official languages (Swedish is the other, and there was a Swedish collection) and I saw small attractive separated book pods for books in English, French and so on. The indigenous or minority languages of Finland were represented and I was pleased to find books in the three Sami idioms as well as books in Estonian:

There were however very few books in Tunturi Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami. When I was in Joensuu three years ago I took photos of the library’s Karelian collection and when I was in Saskatoon last October I enquired into the First Nations collections at the Frances Morrison Central Library. Later on during this trip I visited the Stockholm City Library where I was impressed by their small Meänkieli collection.

An entire floor of Oodi was devoted to maker spaces in their Urban Workshop. One could use any of their 3D printers, sewing machines, embroidery machines, vinyl cutters, large-format printers or button and magnet makers. Book a private games room and play with your friends on a mounted flat-screen TV. No more noisy kids! There was even a recording studio, full of instruments. All the rooms had at least two glass walls and were of varying sizes for different sized groups:

The children’s area:

Playground and basketball court outside the front entrance:

This is where it all started:

The boarding around the future Oodi site, when I was in Helsinki in April 2016. The signage says “The Central Library will open here in December 2018”. And indeed it did.

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