Building libraries in Finland

…municipalities have the opportunity to receive a state subsidy for library construction projects
Not only is Finland known for its wonderfully modern library services, but also for the beautiful, well-functioning designs in library building structures. Library facilities reflect the concept a society holds about a library as a service and as an institution. In Finland, libraries are esteemed particularly highly, and over 80% of the population per year makes use of library services.

The procurement of new library facilities in the municipalities is, however, always a result of years of effort.When the municipal decision-makers finally decide on the construction or renovation of a library, they naturally want the result to be impressive and of high quality. The best architects in Finland, including Alvar Aallo, Reima Pietilä and Aarne Ervi, have designed facilities for public libraries, so there are plenty of examples for today’s architects.

According to the Act on the Financing of Education and Culture, municipalities have the opportunity to receive a state subsidy for library construction projects. Municipalities can apply for state funding for construction projects with a cost estimate exceeding 320,000 Euro. The same system also applies to the procurement of mobile libraries. The portion to be financed by the state is 25 – 50%, depending on the municipality’s resources. Of Finland’s 430 municipalities, 83% are eligible for the highest amount of state subsidies (50%). Annually, the Ministry of Education approves the unit prices of construction and furnishing for the number of square meters of area to be used. The calculation is done with emphasis on the average of costs from school and library construction projects carried out during the previous four years. This estimated unit price is the basis for determining state subsidies for new building projects. A cost estimate provides the basis for determining state subsidies for purchases and renovations.

The Ministry of Education has a fouryear investment plan, to which the municipalities report each year for their library construction projects. Provincial governments arrange the projects for their region in order of priority. The Ministry of Education draws up a national financing plan each year.

At the end of the year 2001, municipalities had reported 56 building projects and 32 mobile library projects for the years 2003 – 2006.

The state budget includes an annual allowance for funding library investments. The budget for the past five years has been 6 million Euro (VAT 0%). The actual allowance needed is twice as much. This means that municipalities must wait several years before carrying out their projects if they want state funding. Only a few large and prosperous municipalities have carried out projects, in particular, branch library projects, without state financing. State financial difficulties have also caused state subsidies for projects to be paid afterwards, in the seven years subsequent to the completion of the building. Therefore, the task of procuring funds during the construction phase is left entirely to the municipality.

Approximately 460,000 m2 are available for libraries and these premises are primarily owned by the municipalities, while less than 5% of library premises are for rent. More than 80% of our library premises were built or renovated in the beginning of the 1980s, so our stock of library buildings is relatively new. For a long time, construction of libraries consisted mainly of rebuilding. The economic crisis in the 1990s and quick changes in society brought about a new phenomenon in library construction, in that feasible premises in the municipalities’ centres, which had been used for other purposes, were being left vacant. Former banks were renovated into 11 libraries, previous business offices were turned into two libraries and factory premises were transformed into three libraries. School buildings were used for five libraries, a hotel restaurant became a library as did a former wheat mill. All together, the state financed 115 library construction projects in the 1990s. The same trend continued in the early 2000s, and at the moment about 30 libraries are under construction. Renovations to library structures comprise about 65% of the projects, while extensions make up about 15% and the remaining 20% deals with the conversion of vacated premises into libraries. About half of the projects are separate library buildings, about one third are located in school buildings and the rest are in different business and administrative buildings.

Recently, interesting solutions for branch libraries have been presented in the capital region. Helsinki has built the Viikki branch library in the same building as the university science library and lecture halls. The Vuosaari branch library is located in the area’s community centre, while Espoo established its branch library, Kirjasto Omena, in rental premises in a large shopping centre. Vantaa has located its two branch libraries in the same building as educational establishments and a day-care institution.

Of the libraries which were completed last year, worth mentioning are Kuusankoski’s town library (1900 m2) and Ylöjärvi’s main municipal library (2300 m2). This year, work is being completed on Kerava’s town library (3000 m2) and Rauma’s town library (3600 m2).

Translation by Turun Täyskäännös Oy

Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Ministry of Education.