Happy campers create innovation from cooperation Helsinki Midwinter Darkness Camp

I am not saying that library conferences are boring or drab as such, but still, whichever way you look at it, the Helsinki Midwinter Darkness Camp in January was special. The atmosphere at the Nordic gettogether of coders, IT-minded and innovative library staff was tangibly enthusiastic and electric for the whole of the two-day unconference.

To be able to create something new, it is important to be quick and nimble. Innovation calls for informality. The rules of management do not apply in development work. Jørn Helge B. Dahl from the National Library of Norway talked about guerrilla tactics in library development: you have to surprise and convince. The power of example is elementary.

The Camp offered a new way of meeting like-minded colleagues in an atmosphere where having fun did not rule out being productive. The most important goal was to learn about what others do. Ideas flew around both in social media and the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress meeting rooms where around 40 Nordic library developers met for a two- day gathering.

From Kista Idea Camp to Helsinki Darkness Camp

It all started when the staff of labs., Helsinki and Kista Idea Lab, Stockholm met at the IFLA WLIC congress in Gothenburg. The Kista Lab is a forum for library innovation and collaborative learning, run by the Stockholm Public Libraries and hosted in the Digital Art Center in the inter- nationally renowned Kista Science City, while the labs. is the corresponding Finnish version with a permanent staff of two based at the Helsinki City Library. The initial meeting resulted in Kista Idea Camp where colleagues from Oslo were also present. The Helsinki camp was attended by participants from Denmark as well.

As Åke Nygren, one of the activists behind the Nordic Labs, a growing network of Nordic library labs, noted – the labs are not an official body. Yet. “We are library professionals who are passionate about library innovation. We share a specific vision of making this world a better place by means of an open, collaborative and sustainable technological development within the Nordic library systems”, Nygren says.

Many of the participants were pondering if the Nordic Labs should remain a meeting of individuals, not organisations. Innovation is harder to make happen if you are accountable for results. To be able to innovate you need to be allowed to take risks and test different ways of doing things. Kitty Rönnberg, a first-timer at the camp from Espoo City Library, believes that “many good ideas could die out if you are always obliged to ask permission or accomplish something concrete. At the same time it is a paradox, because when you take risks at work, you need to make sure you have the legitimacy of your organization and work to back you up”.

Gamebrarians and video reporters

The Helsinki camp sprang into action even before it started. Talking shop started on the ferry towards Suomenlinna Fortress (and even the previous night) between campers who originated among others from Mexico City, Espoo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo. After a coffee refill everybody was ready to roll. The facilitators presented the different tracks briefly and participants got to choose their groups. As this was an unconference nobody was bound by their initial choice and regrouping happened during the day.

The staff interested in games and gaming at libraries discussed the Nordic Gaming Day, real time competitions between users in every country, sponsored charity events and user generated reviews. Collaboration between the self-named gamebrarians and the video reporters and editors of e.g. the Finnish library internet tv, Kirjastokaista could result in interviews of the gamers, or video recordings at gaming events. “When it comes to games at libraries there is a lot to be done before games are seen as library material and contents in their own right and not just a throw-in gimmick”, as Heikki Varjomaa from Helsinki put it. The group also took up the question of the missing legal deposit practice of preserving games.

Mobile library in your pocket

The view of mobile library services is rapidly changing as smartphones are becoming more and more common. Some of the campers had been asking themselves – and their colleagues – why the mobile phone could not function as a library card? The library systems of today are closely bound to the physical book collection which makes it difficult to gain visibility in the social web. “The big changes will happen outside and beyond the OPACs”, maintain the staff at labs. Mobile phones could be used in authentication of users, sharing your favourite items on loan with others in social media, lending books further to a friend by taking a picture of the book and registering the loan to the next user without having to refer it to the library. P2P, peer to peer, lending could increase library visibility by making the collections mobile.

Sometimes things move very fast. This was proven during the Helsinki camp when one of the ideas discussed started taking shape and got funding from Denmark on the second day. The prototype of the ‘Peek-a-Book’ application is under way in Aarhus – you heard it here first!

What next?

Right after the camp, the newly founded Facebook group had 136 members, several sub-groups had been set up and a web page published. The groups are exchanging library videos, discussing games collections and collection policies and getting to know each other better. The next Nordic Labs camp will be held in Aarhus, Denmark, in connection with the Next Library conference. Next autumn, the Nordic labs will be meeting again at the Nordic Camp Stockholm 2011.

As Mace Ojala from Finland put it: “I got the (good) feeling that the Helsinki camp was not an unconnected event among hundreds of unconnected events but a meeting of a fresh and emerging community. It was fun and absolutely tremendously useful. We need more of this.”

Kitty from Espoo concurs with Mace: “It was great. There are not enough common platforms for discussion. To meet face to face and do things together is really valuable.”

Päivi Jokitalo
National Library Network Services
paivi.jokitalo AT

Freelance Library Specialist