Finnish policy on staff qualifications and recruitment

The aim of the Ministry of Education andCulture is to raise the level of the library’score expertise. The revised requirementsfor qualifications call for an increase in thepercentage of highly educated library staff to 45 %. According to the quality recommen- dations being drafted in the Ministry, the prerequisites for quality services include an ample amount of staff, an extensive level of general knowledge, a high level of expertise and systematic, goaloriented development, management and recruitment of staff.

The foundation of activities lies in the quality assurance of services, including customer service. The underlying factors are the increase in the level of education in general, increasing demands and the shift in learning processes and teaching methods toward an emphasis on independent information management.

The basic mission determines the type of staff

More and more, the work carried out in libraries is marked by comprehensive information management, which traditionally refers to the organization of information and consultation that promotes information retrieval. In the future, services will be based on the refining, applying and combining of information to generate added value for the patrons. Finding quality information in the masses requires expertise in advanced information retrieval and the evaluation of information.

The task of instructing municipal residents, learners of all ages and teachers in information management will be one of the core duties in libraries in upcoming years. There are only a few school libraries in Finland. Teachers possess master’s degrees, but their training lacks instruction in information retrieval. The aim is to develop public libraries into inspiring learning environments.

At best, library activities support the entire cycle of information use, from acquiring information to the utilization of it and further to the creation of new information. Through their online services, developed libraries utilize the opportunities rendered by ubiquitous technology and become an integral part in the community’s life.

A good library institution creates a good society

The ability to see the library’s position in the larger picture and to react quickly to societal changes as well as the high level of education in the field are the prerequisites for its success. Education, lifelong learning and the valuing of knowledge and information place libraries in a context according to which society and libraries have been consciously developed in the last decades. Learning and applying information is still seen as a precondition for Finland’s competitiveness.

Libraries that have an up-to-date information management infrastructure and that offer personal consultation boost the competitive edge, success and well-being of the regions. Quality library and information services on location and on the internet have an impact on the positive, sustainable development of society. The ability to cooperate and the skill in identifying and evaluating the needs of citizens are necessary for the development of the library institution. It is good to step away a little, contest issues and find new types of solutions.

Qualification requirements, recruitment and management

It is my experience that obtaining funding in municipalities for technology and new innovations is easier than for skilled staff irrespective of the time period and economic situation. The qualifications requirements were included in library enactments very early on as was the requirement that 2/3 of the staff should have training in the library field. Libraries had to have at least one man-year for every one thousand residents. All of this was necessary because there were more than 350 small municipalities.

The premise behind the qualifications requirements for the year 2010 is the desire to bring to a halt the dissolving of job positions requiring higher education or the lowering of the educational requirements for those positions. Not only was there an economic downswing taking place, but also municipal reforms and the retirement of the socalled baby boomers. There was a similar situation in Finland during the recession of the 1990s. At the time, the 1993 library decree was in force from which nearly all of the regulations pertaining to staff had been removed. With the help of the Parliament, the qualifications requirements and master’s degree required of directors were included in the 1998 library decree.

Recruitment is the director’s most important duty. Each recruitment situation is a building block for the library of the future. Staff is not recruited merely for the present situation, but for upcoming duties. Among other things, it is the director’s job to make the library’s basic mission crystal clear and to commit the staff to the common goals.

Quality and flexibility in field-related education

Offering studies in the library field at university level, beginning in1971, provided an opportunity for interested students to receive extensive, overall training. For the most part, graduates have found jobs as directors, supervisors and specialists for demanding duties. Students can complete a three-year bachelor’s degree or a five-year master’s degree in information research. There are also doctoral programs in the field.

A three-year programme in the library field at the university of applied sciences level was not offered in Finland until the 1990s. Education at this level emphasizes not only the core expertise needed in the library field, but also considers the needs of the working world. A two-year programme for library clerks began in 1981. In addition, staff already working in the library has the opportunity to qualify as library clerks by completing a vocational degree. Students can smoothly progress from one level of education to the next. All of the levels of education offer contact teaching as well as online and remote teaching. This is the only way to acquire up-to-date training in all parts of the country in a sparsely populated country such as Finland. A person who has acquired solid vocational education needs continuous updating. Further education is offered locally, regionally and nationally both in a university setting and online. A perpetual problem is, however, that not everyone wants to participate in further education.When drafting quality recommendations, the recommendations for participating in further education are also revised.

New generations

Good service involves exceeding the customer’s expectations. Even though the Ministry of Education and Culture emphasizes higher-level education in the field, it does not mean that the same services and expertise need to be offered in all libraries and locations. Creating self-service, online and multiservice libraries is an equally good way to produce services.What is most important is that the patrons know where and from whom they can obtain the services and expertise they need. Library services and expertise must be made transparent.

That, which is done, should be done consciously to avoid being driven into a situation without a plan. Not doing something is also a form of action when building the future. Library staff will be renewed in the upcoming years. In just a few years, there will be new generations in the libraries, and for these generations network skills and digital services are self-evident. To safeguard the period of transition, the 2010 qualifications require- ments may no longer be feasible. The way in which institutions of higher education answer to the challenges of the future also has an impact on this issue. Then we will also see how well libraries answer to the goals presented here.

Kirsti Kekki
Counsellor for Cultural Affairs,
Ministry of Education and Culture

kirsti.kekki AT

The author has worked as a human resources
manager and supervisor, among others,
in municipalities of various sizes as well as in the
State Regional Administration

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Counsellor for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Education and Culture Compiler of library legislation and writer of library policies and strategies