Close encounters: Three Finnish library projects make a difference

Getting Netted, One Click Away from Knowledge and Spaces and Contents of the Information Society are three Finnish public library projects funded by the European Social Fund where meeting the users on their home turf is the starting point.

While Getting Netted reaches out to user groups who are in danger of being marginalised from the information society – and from the services of libraries – One Click Away From Knowledge aims at serving those living in peripheral areas and enabling their participation through social web and Library 2.0 solutions. Spaces and Contents of the Infor- mation Society has been actively engaging local users in creating contents online. All projects encourage lifelong learning and active citizenship through libraries.

Getting Netted!

During a seminar, 40 kilometres from land in the local archipelago, the staff from Vaasa City Library and the Datero Foundation (IT Centre for Special Groups) started discussing how they could make it easier for the print disabled and people with difficulties in reading to enjoy books. The result was Books for the Ears, a bilingual audio book circle in the city with a 25% Swedish-speaking minority. Books for the Ears is mainly geared for people with reading difficulties but anyone interested in talking books is welcome. Topics have included biographies and stories of dogs. To lower the participation threshold, it is ok just to listen without taking part in discussions.

In Seinäjoki, the library students from the University of Applied Sciences teamed up with the city library to start a course in IT skills for a group of long-term unemployed locals. The students first interviewed a focus group of five participants. On the basis of the discussions an outline was drawn up: the basic skills in using the internet and a PC, information retrieval, online job search advice, use of e-journals and more leisurely contents were on the agenda. In the end, the small group had e.g. learned how to save files on a memory stick and how to fill in a CV online, the students gained valuable experience in guiding a small groupand the library got new users.

Another library actively working within the frame of the Getting Netted project is Turku City Library, where one of the target groups has been mental health rehabilitation outpatients. The library collaborated with IT students and the local mental health association, ITU. The participants wanted to learn about email, photography, music, Facebook – the list was long. In the end, the newly founded library club met once a week for three months, sometimes with cakes and drinks. Taking photographs, making a photo comic strip and organising the participants’ photos on a computer proved to be a brilliant idea – going through the pictures together was fun for all involved. The boundaries between work and personal life, the professional and the personal, often became blurred which requires reflection and discussion within the staff at the library.

Other user groups targeted in the Getting Netted project include prisoners who record good-night stories on CD for their children, laid-off dock workers, a drug and alcohol recovery group and groups of women recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The common thread has been to meet the users more regularly on their ground to lower the threshold of using public libraries, to co-design services with users, not just for them.

One click away from knowledge

Sometimes the most important results and the best practises stem from between the lines of the project outline. Testing the remote use of the library system at different events, lending out materials, making requests, issuing library cards, around the region got surprisingly good feedback and coverage in the local media. Whatever the happening, the library is sure to have material and information on the topic.World Championship on Boletus picking – check, the local harvesting festival – check, workshop on teaching and learning methods for teachers – check. The project also doubled as library marketing when library patrons and non-users could meet the staff at shopping centres, study circles, school lobbies and community houses as part of their everyday life activities.

Spaces and contents of the Information Society

While the projects have had people of working age as their main target group, the oldest participants in the regional Häme Wiki workshops were over 90 years old. The wiki is one of the three central services developed in the project in Hämeenlinna which is one of the three regional central libraries taking part in the project. The Virtual Path,, presents cultural services and destinations using Google maps. The maps are enhanced by pictures and sound, by stories, anecdotes and videos. Anyone can add their own suggestions and add-ons, which also goes for the wiki. Users are encouraged to send in their recollections and memories of landmarks, persons or events in the area. The third service created within the frame of the project is an editing and digitising service at the library where the users can work on their own materials such as old photos and films, c-cassettes or other recordings.

Publishing on the internet can be exciting but also a little scary when you do it for the first time. All the details do not stick in the memory right away as was the case with the 80-year old lady who couldn’t remember how you saved your photos in the wiki. Being resourceful, she sent an email with the photos attached to the wiki administrator with apologies for her poor learning skills. The feedback for all the services has been positive: “This information cannot be found anywhere else. Small is beautiful and important, also in a global setting.”

New way of doing things

Some new questions were raised during these projects. How do we make work, projects and services meaningful for all involved? How can we best engage the users themselves? How do we find the groups and partners who would gain from the services? Do we need to categorize our lives strictly into work and leisure spheres? If so, where do we draw the line? While there are no one-size-fits-all answers to the questions, discussing the issues is a step forward.

All the projects have resulted in new community partners, new users, new services and new forms of working with the public. The most unforgettable outcomes do not have to be larger than life: “The moment when you felt you’d created a relationship of trust with the group was a fantastic feeling”. The same goes for the times when a non-user wanted to have a library card. It is not only about getting ‘netted’, instead, it is all about getting networked, with people.

Getting Netted:
One Click Away from the Knowledge Society: 9586&cmd=download
Spaces and Contents of the Information Society -
Virtuaalipolku/Virtual Path:
Häme Wiki:

Päivi Jokitalo
Freelance Library Specialist
pjokitalo AT

Freelance Library Specialist