Accessible library service in Kuusamo

Kuusamo is a city just short of 17,000 in population located in north-eastern Finland near the Russian border. It has an area of 5,809 km2 most of which is forest and waterways. Nature is important to the people of Kuusamo as a source of livelihood: the industries of lumber and tourism are significant areas of employment.

Kuusamo’s library is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The main library is located in the center of the city, and the Bookmobile serves other parts of the expansive area with 260 stops altogether. The bus accumulates 45,000 km and loans out 92,000 works, which is 25 % of the library’s total loans. It is clear that the Bookmobile is popular and provides an important outlet for people living in remote villages. For years, the staff in the Bookmobile has made the library more accessible to people living in remote villages by taking patrons the material they want right to their front door. School children and elderly people use the Bookmobile the most.

When their health begins to deteriorate, many elderly people living in remote villages move closer to the services in the centre of the city. Moreover, the proportion of elderly people in the area is constantly increasing. When a service strategy for the library was being compiled in 2005, one of the areas of emphasis was to develop services for the elderly and disabled.

In 2008, we received funding from the Ministry of Education to use for developing these services. The target groups were elderly people living at home and in institutions and disabled people who are unable to visit the library.

The goals for the project included:
1.To investigate the need for library services in institutions for the elderly and disabled as well as home-service patrons.
2.To find volunteers and train them in using the library in a variety of ways to enable them to function as links between the library and homeservice patrons.
3.To retroactively index the materialmost popular among the target groups into the library’s database.
4.To begin publishing an audio newspaper for the local newspaper together with the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired.

The library hired a project manager to get the project under way. First, we visited the Oulu City Library – Provincial Library to learn about a similar project carried out there. We discovered that we were able to use the various forms the staff there had made and to copy the retroactive key words used for home service onto our own database. Oulu has a mini Bookmobile and staff to take care of home service. Kuusamo, on the other hand, has a 12- meter Bookmobile that is difficult to manoeuvre in the center of the city, and it runs according to a tight schedule. Furthermore, Kuusamo does not have the staff to take care of transportation.

Initiation of home service and library delegates

We decided that the basis for the home service was that it would be free of charge and volunteers would take care of the logistics. The idea was to assign a‘library delegate’ to home-service patrons. The delegate may be a patron’s close relative, friend or other reliable volunteer. The delegate finds the material in the library, borrows it with the home-service patron’s library card, takes the material to the patron and then returns it by the due date.

We started with making a registration form and interview form for the homeservice patron, as well as a brochure about the service. The registration form contains the personal information of both the patron and his/her delegate as well as the consent of the patron to have the delegate in question take care of his/her library errands. Additionally, the home-service patron allows the library to keep a record of his/her borrowing history, which will help the library choose interesting books and material for the patron without sending him/her the same books twice, for example. Patrons can always check the personal information the library has about themselves and if they wish, they can cancel their signed consent.

If a patron would like the library to choose the books or material for him/her, then (s)he also fills in an interview form, which is used to determine the type of books and material that interest the patron. Items on the form include the types of material the patron wishes to have (books, audio books, large-text books, etc.), types of literary genre, non-fiction books, and music. The patron’s profile and borrowing history enable the staff at the library to then choose the right kind of material for the patron, which is put in a ‘Library bag’ and delivered to the patron by the library delegate.

With regard to the library computer system, home-service patrons are indicated separately in the system, which tells the staff that the patron in question is allowed a longer borrowing period (8 weeks) than other patrons, and that they are not charged any fees for reserving books and material or if they return their loans late. Possible notices for overdue loans are sent to the library’s home-service e-mail, and the library staff then ensures the loans are renewed. Otherwise home-service patrons must abide by the same rules for using the library as other patrons.

Library bags

One of our project workers visited 18 homes for the elderly and institutions for the disabled and told about the residents’ possibilities to become home-service patrons, our Library bag service, the library for the visually impaired, and about the audio newspaper. The Library bag is a package of material gathered together based on interviews, which is then loaned to the institution in question. The staff working in the institutions fetch the Library bag at specified times and when the material in the bag has been read, the staff returns it to the library and takes a new bag. Project means were used to purchase sturdy, bar-coded bags, which are loaned out in the same way as books. Two bags for one patron or institution are needed.

Audio newspaper production

During the planning phase of the project, a request was made at the homes for the elderly for an audio version of the local newspaper. Project means were used to purchase a computer and the necessary programs with which speech could be modified for an mp3 file, adapted into an audio newspaper and sent by e-mail to the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired, which would then ensure that the audio files were burned onto a DVD and distributed. Since the library did not have any staff to make the audio, we were able to hire a person from the Finnish Red Cross, who was paid through employment aid, to read the newspaper in the library. Production of the audio newspaper began at the beginning of 2009.

Basic practices

The basic practices for the home service have been created.We have also created a cooperating network between the homes for the elderly and institutions for the disabled, as well as with volunteer organizations for the elderly. We have only a few library delegates for the time being. One important partner is the city’s elderly-care worker who, when making prognosticative housecalls to people 75 years of age, inquires about the interest they may have in receiving home service when their health condition weakens. An agreement has been made with the city’s care unit for the elderly and disabled that in the event an elderly person living at home does not have a library delegate, the public health nurses will deliver library material to the person in question.

A circulating collection has been established in one of the service centres and the librarian goes there once a week. More than 400 items of interest to elderly people were retroactively indexed into our own materials register, which makes them more accessible in searches. All in all, the project has provided the entire library staff with the readiness to answer to the needs of accessible service in the future as well.

Ritva Niemeläinen
Library Director, Kuusamo City Library

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Library Director, Kuusamo City Library