Information, experience and learning centre

Turku’s new main library is a centre of information,experience and learning and a public place open to all. It is also a functional information centre and a real-life work of art. It is a place where new and old, the future and history, knowledge and imagination, busy activity and quietude come together. Information is shared via the collections, exhibits, leaflets and events in cooperation with other information suppliers, intermediaries and library users.

The new library includes three buildings, which are joined to one another: the new building, the old main library and the former office of the prefect in between them. The new section and the prefect were opened to the public in March. The library is open every day of the week and receives about 20,000 visitors a week. The old main library is currently undergoing renovations and its public opening is planned for the beginning of autumn, 2008.

New meets old

The new library was erected in a delicate cultural area, which has buildings dating back 400 years. The tower of the Turku Cathedral, from the 13th century, gleams behind the library roofs.

Turku suffered a catastrophic fire in 1827 and the city centre was almost entirely destroyed. The office of the prefect, constructed in 1818, and part of the official residence of the prefect, constructed in 1733, survived the fire. The buildings have been protected as especially valuable cultural historic buildings. After the fire, the architect Carl Ludwig Engel was appointed to plan out Turku’s city layout and he named the present city block where the library stands Sirius.

In 1903, the main library, which the city received as a donation from tobacco factory owner Fredric von Rettig, was completed in the Sirius block. The Sirius block has three other protected buildings from the 19th century, which the city is currently selling for cultural use. In the 1950s, a telephone company office building was built in the middle of this city section, but it has now been dismantled to make room for the new library building.

“It is a particularly nice lot, challenging and difficult,” says head architect Asmo Jaaksi of JKMM Arkkitehdit Oy. Designers wanted to add harmony to the block by enclosing the open corner that was jutting out of the block. “Another issue was the world inside the block. A small, tight space, much smaller than the market square, was created in the centre of the block. The library courtyard is in this way an open public yard for city residents. Events that change with the seasons dominate the library yard, from summer concerts and dance performances to winter art and fitness events.”

The new main library and the entire library block will be essential elements in 2011, when Turku will be the European capital of culture.

A communal living room

You can stay and enjoy the atmosphere in the library on weekdays and Sundays. There is lots of space for library events and exhibits as well as for patron events, meetings and exhibits. There are reading areas everywhere: armchairs next to the windows and tables and chairs tucked away in peaceful corners along the walls. There is a wireless network throughout the library and laptop computers can be borrowed from the library for use wherever you want to sit. From the library it is easy to pop in at the café, located in the former prefect’s office, which expanded out into the library yard in the middle of the block.

The realm of knowledge

The basis for the division of the space and for the new organization is the interest the library user has in different things and the desire to use the library independently. For this reason, the library has been organized into departments, sections and subject matter groups, according to information content. All material, regardless of how it is used and stored, is located in departments according to its content. Each department has an employee knowledgeable in the information branch in question. Organizationally, the library is divided correspondingly into departments and teams.

The four library departments are intro, non-fiction, art, and children and youth.

Intro is the prologue

Intro introduces the patron to the library’s actual themes. The teams in this department are: reception, news area and custodian.When arriving at the library, visitors first come to the reception, where they are guided in how to use the library and where the bookreturn is. The news area has newspapers and general periodicals in different languages, as well as patron Internet workstations. The custodians manage the exhibit areas and equipment function properly and keep the building in order.

The main hall of the new section is the non-fiction department on the second floor, which is divided into sections. The Society section includes in-depth information about societal, economic and judicial topics. Subject matter groups for Society include general information and communications, society and administrations, law, economy and business, and pedagogy and education. The Peoples and Cultures section provides information about Finnish culture and the cultures of other countries.

The subject matter groups in this section are philosophy and psychology, religions, geography and ethnology, languages, history and biographies. The Nature and Recreation section is the centre for natural sciences, technology, medicine and many different kinds of recreation. The subject matter groups in this section are health, technology, natural sciences and recreation.

The Europe Information in Southwestern Finland, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, functions in conjunction with the non-fiction department. Temporary displays depicting various themes are featured in the non-fiction department’s exhibit area, which is visited by specialists and hobbyists from different branches. The attractive library hall can be used to host large group events.

Saga for children, Story for young people

The children and youth department opens out towards the library yard on the first floor and is divided into two sections: Saga for children and Story for young people. Saga has interesting information, and exciting narrations are held in colourful book houses. It is full of adventure and surprises: zeppelins planets and snowballs on the ceiling, the book theatre’s colourful fairytale forest curtain, and glass cabinets for patrons’ own displays, tractor tyre seats and surprise vitrines on the floor.

The mouse assistant at the children’s automatic book-borrowing machine laughs joyfully when a book is successfully borrowed. The department hosts many events and school children come to the library to Kulttuuripolku (culture path), which is a part of the school curriculum, and day-care children come likewise to library courses.

Young people create the appearance of the Story section. The small collection is always up-to-date; books, comics, newspapers, DVD movies and cyber space offer inspiring worlds in many different languages. The comfort of the sofa is enticing and there is space on the display wall and in different cabinets for young people to set up their own displays. Short films or music videos made by young people can be shown on the movie screen. The Nuorten Turku information centre for youth can also be found at Story. The library and Nuorten Turku’s service can answer all kinds of questions, which are interesting to young people.

A house of art

In 2008, the art department will be moved into the old main library. Literature and art will be located on the first floor and the second floor will house music. The building’s magnificent entrance will be opened up again and library visitors will be able to get to the entrance from the new library building through the news area. From the news area, the visitor will enter into the reading room where he or she can become engrossed in new novels or treasures brought up from the cellar. From there, the visitor can continue to the fiction shelves, poetry room, and art hall or to the foreign language collection. The second floor is divided into a music hall and sheet music hall, and there is a small room for playing music.

The art department has also been divided into a busy centre area, a collections area and more peaceful reading places located off to the side. On the second floor there is also a quiet room for those looking for extra peace for concentration. The first floor rotunda can easily be made into an all-purpose area for events and the music room can be used for mini concerts.

Support from technology

The Turku main library was the first large library in Finland to take the RFID (radio frequency identification) system into use to manage its collection. The collection was labelled for the move, and borrowing and returning books worked perfectly with the new system. The goal is to extend RFID technology in the coming years to all of the city’s libraries.

Great changes were also made to the library’s information system; the entire collection of the main library had to be moved to a new department. At the same time, the information retrieval system was renewed, so that it supports joint information searches by the library user and the library clerk better. A virtual map, which aids in finding material locations, was built into the library system.

Once the old main library is finished, borrowed books can be returned to the book-return machines at both of the entrances. The book-return machines each have a book sorter. There is a 125- meter conveyor that runs between the book sorters under the floor. Books returned to one building which belong in the other are conveyed to the right department in the other building.

A living work of art

The new library opens out into the city environment and is seen from the outside as a living organ. At the same time, the city reaches into the library through the massive windows. The building material used on the library is plaster, granite, and large glass surfaces and aluminium lining. The cement, which was poured in place, is visible through the white paint. The architect’s own ‘helicopter lighting’ lights up the area primarily from the ceiling. The equipment needed for the building’s technology lies beneath the raised floor, and the space is softened by the abundant use of oak on the walls and in the furnishings. The floor is covered by a fully synthetic, anti-static textile carpet with square-shaped sections that are easy to remove to access the floor.

The area for the public is located on the yard side of the library, while the staff ’s working area is on the same side as the street. The library hall on the second floor is an open, vast space. The balcony on the third floor enables library guests to view the library hall from above. At the same time, the city’s many strata of construction open out to visitors.

All of Southwest Finland’s phone lines run beneath the building. This posed special requirements for the designers and builders. Because of the cables, the new section of the library does not have a cellar and an auditorium could not be added to the building.

Interior decorations and furnishings were planned according to the building and as a part of it. Different activities are divided in the open space by furnishings. Beside the windows, there is a sitting and reading area. In the middle of the area there are service counters framed by the collections. The fixtures endure time and will age beautifully; the massive bookshelves and tables are designed to ‘take root’ as part of the building. The furnishings are, on the whole, long-lasting, of high quality and minimalist.

The prefect’s office, the renovations of which were supervised by the National Board of Antiquities and Historical Monuments and which survived the Turku fire, posed an additional challenge for the project. The library’s café, Café Sirius, is on the first floor of the prefect’s office, and the second floor features meeting and group work rooms.

Art adds the final touches to the building

A certain percentage of art was purchased for the building. The head architect and representatives of the Wäinö Aalto Museum and the library formed the work group, who chose five main works of art, and additionally, a smaller work of art for each work room. The artists and architects worked in close cooperation.

The themes of the artworks were ‘time’ and ‘memory’; after all, the Turku library and the literary world have roots dating far back in history, and at the same time, library activities reach far into the future. Located at the main entrance is a work called ‘Visual Vortex – Passage of Memories’ made out of fluoridated acrylic boxes by Hans Christian Berg. On the back wall of the library’s news area, a place where old and new literally come together, Hilkka Könönen’s work ‘Vestigia’ depicts the transformation of a thought. The bronze mittens, socks and boots in Merja Pitkänen’s ‘Esiintymä’ (the occurrence) in the café, look deceptively real. In the main hall on the second floor, Saara Ekström’s ‘Alkukirjain’ (first letter) was inspired by the pages of medieval books. The artworks also include a video work called ‘Aakkoset’ (the alphabet). The staff café gleams with Ann Sundholm’s ‘Hetkinen’ (a short moment) – the ceiling covered with gold foil and objects that bring to mind golden memories.

Implementation and expenses

The head architect for the new library section was Asmo Jaaksi of JKMM Arkkitehdit Oy and the interior architect was Päivi Meuronen from the same office. The main contractor was NCC Rakennus Oy. Arkkitehtitoimisto C&H is responsible for the planning of the renovations to the old library and the head architect is Ari Paukio. The main contractor is Metsämäen Rakennus Oy. Construction for the entire library project was purchased from Turun Juva Oy.

The project in the library was divided into two phases according to the building project. A core group worked on both phases with the support of a varying group of other staff members. Planning of the departments and operations was carried out in many joint seminars and in small work groups. Cooperation between the architects and other planners has been very close.

The total surface area of the library is approximately 8,500 m2, 5,400 m2 of which make up the new section, 2,900 m2 the old library and approximately 300 m2 the prefect office. The project costs 30 million euros with furnishings and fixtures, 27.1 million of which was construction. This also includes protection for the underground phone cables, archaeological excavations of the lot and re-piling work for the old library. The Ministry of Education provided a state grant of 4 million euros for the project.

A complicated project

The main library project has been long and consisted of many phases. As early as in 1985, the city administration appointed a work group to decide about extending the main library to the current lot. At that time, Turku’s phone company was operating in the lot and there were expensive cables running underground that were fixed in place. Other buildings on the lot were under protection and there was no space for additional buildings. Many lot alternatives were explored, until in 1997 a decision was made to arrange an architectural competition for an additional building for the main library on the lot on the other side of the street. A group of four young architects won the competition – Asmo Jaaksi, Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen and Juha Mäki-Jyllilä – with their glassy proposal ‘Chiaroscuro’. The project ran aground due to the different views held by the city and the lot owner concerning the parking lot. Telephone communications became wireless and the incorporated phone company moved to the post office building, where the space requirement of the post office had decreased. Thus, planners were able to return to the original idea of extending the main library to the current lot. Project planning began at the end of 2002 with the architects who had won the competition.

Library visitors, decision-makers and library staff are all satisfied with the end results. The hundred-year-old library building has become a place to visit daily for people of all generations and a symbol of information and education. The new main library enables a reorganization of activities and continuation of cultural heritage in a central location near the river Aurajoki.

Information about Turku City Library

Turku is a coastal city on Finland’s southwest coast with a population of 175,000. It is Finland’s former capital and the capital of its province. The Turku City Library functions as Southwest Finland’s provincial library. The main languages spoken in the city are Finnish and Swedish, but there are many immigrants living in the city and there are dozens of different languages spoken there.

Visits: 2 million
Website visits: 2,5 million
Loans: 3 million
Net expense: s 9 million euros
Bound books in the library collection: 1 million
New acquisitions annually: 55,000
Local community libraries: 14
Library buses: 2

Inkeri Näätsaari
Library Director
Turku City Library

inkeri.naatsaari AT

Library Director Turku City Library