Ministry of Education and Culture sets National Library policies

The aim of the Ministry of Education and Culture is to safeguard citizens’ access to knowledge and culture in the entire country irrespective of where one lives. The Ministry specifies the direction and purpose of Finnish public libraries through library policies, strategies and library legislation. These set the foundation for decisions concerning the focus of the state funding to be granted. State programs define the general volition, which is reified by both regional and local municipal library and information strategies as well as by the Finnish Library Association and the Finnish Public Library Council. It is the goal of all of the abovementioned to safeguard equal opportunity to education. It is important to clear the path for the future of the library and to make it visible before someone else does.

How is policy manifested?

Clearing the path for the future of library services calls for the ability to see things as a whole, to focus on what is essential, as well as for knowledge of the history of the library field. The Ministry of Education and Culture as a place to work offers insight on upcoming national and international political plans, which are not yet public at the time the groundwork for strategies and legislation is being laid. Obtaining information concerning the alternatives to future prospects others have suggested is also easy. This provides an understanding of the direction in which society and communications technology is being developed.We can seize upon things we believe will work.

Persistence, quality and the right timing are the guidelines for the measures  taken in the Ministry. Although governments and parliaments come and go, we have strived to ensure that policies consistently anticipate societal changes.We do not merely record the existing situation; rather we bravely look into the future. This is indeed possible by making the future of the libraries ourselves even if there is a risk that not all of the measures we take are the right ones.

Trust in one’s own vision

When a writer has a strong vision of future changes and of residents’ future needs of information, he or she must have the courage to act against that which is considered common belief if necessary. In past years the norms have once again been the object of repeal and specialised expertise downplayed. An amendment to the Library Decree in 2010 increased the qualifications required of library personnel and set a minimum number of personnel with a university education. The significance of core expertise in the library field was also emphasized.

Identifying the needs of non-patrons

The library experts involved in the ministry and state regional administration work outside the library in an environment where they learn to respond to the questions of non-patrons and to assess the status of library services from the perspective of the municipal residents and patrons. This is extremely important. Busy politicians, ministers and members of parliament do not have time to read or listen to long, drawn-out justifications; rather, they must be told about very complex issues as clearly and as concisely as possible.

There are non-patrons in authoritative positions in the government who do not have time to visit public libraries or who have not visited a library in a long time. Working with these people is the most productive as regards the development of services. The understanding library personnel have concerning the needs of residents may not always be the same as that of the residents. This may be confusing to someone working in the library in a situation where, year after year, the library is seen as the municipal’s most popular service and where the number of loans and visitors is still very high. In 2009, the number of loans was ca. 18.6/resident, visits 10.3/resident with nearly the same amount of online visits. Online visits are increasing at a rapid rate.


The ministry’s political programs pertaining to library operations have been scheduled such that the central message in them coincides with each of the Finnish Government’s new programs. The existing text in the current government’s (2007-2011) program originated in the Library development program 2006-2010, which states that the role of the library as a local service and a multi-service system to promote learning, information management and culture among the citizens will be reinforced.

The text in the document of the previous government coincides with the Library Strategy 2010 compiled by the Ministry of Education and Culture and it states that the availability of diverse, high-quality information and library services will be safeguarded in the entire country utilizing the proposals in Library Strategy 2010. The basic library services will remain free of charge. Further, the government program for 1999-2003 stated that the public library is the foundation of national educational and cultural resources, which supports the educational aspirations of the entire population.

Trust and cooperation

In a small, sparsely populated country, it is important that those working in the library field possess similar objectives for developing services. In this way, decision-makers and politicians obtain a reliable understanding of the profession and the desire to promote the aspirations in the field. Contradictory messages from those working in the library field would quickly deflate decision-makers’ interest. Functioning cooperation between the state, municipalities, library associations and library experts who organise training in the library field is essential for the production and distribution of quality services throughout the entire country.

National development has required that the people, working in the state regional administration and field-related ministry, possess university-level education, which enforces committed and persistent work. The way(s) in which the ministry and municipalities are able to turn their objectives into concrete measures and financial resources is crucial in an environment where the competition for appropriations is tough. There is an advantage in Finnish ademance and implacability, although one may have to wait for results as many as 10-20 years.

What are the advantages of the ministry’s nation-wide policies?

The purpose of legislation and programs is to provide library directors with tools and guidelines that they can utilize in their own realm of activity, e.g. when justifying the need for financial resources and staff to municipal decision- makers. Continuously briefing municipal and state decision- makers is increasingly important in a society experiencing hectic transition. National strategies provide support for libraries by offering various alternative concepts. Library legislation and state financing safeguard the quality of library services and availability in situations of transition in society and in the accelerating pace of digital development. The Ministry of Education and Culture is preparing the state budget according to library policy. Those who are working in the state regional administration distribute part of the state’s financing for development. In Finland, neither provincial libraries, central public libraries, nor the National Library of Finland have authority over an area’s other libraries, and it is not possible for them to grant financing to the libraries.

How did the distribution and rooting of programs succeed?

How has it been possible to distribute the state’s strategic policies in libraries? Municipalities are obligated to abide by enactments, but observing the political guidelines pertaining to libraries is voluntary. The answer is: all of this has been made possible by library staff that is not afraid of new things. Making strategies is not enough unless the municipalities and library directors commit themselves to them. The strategies would merely become forgotten publications. Professionals in the library field have always had the ability and courage to create the future. They have possessed a strong will to ensure citizens receive information and to manage that information, i.e. to ensure equal access to sources of information and culture.

A dynamic cooperation network, in which a writer has had the opportunity to mirror his or her thoughts, has been utilized in both preparing legislation and in writing programs.

The assessments concerning basic services made by library experts in the state regional administration have provided reliable, nation-wide information about the development of the library network, the staff ’s level of expertise, the initiation of digital services and library facilities. The experts also have a clear picture of the situation of provincial libraries and needs for development as well as the sufficiency of services in provincial libraries. Together with other actors and provincial libraries, they have distributed and rooted the programs initiated by the Ministry of Education and Culture in even small municipalities, which are about 84 per cent of all 330 municipalities.

Consistency manifests creativity

The first library policies for 2001-2004 The aims of the Library Act and Decree (1998) were specified in more detail in the Library policy 2001-2004). It contained the local, regional and national duties of the library. Recommendations pertaining to quality were outlined and libraries were encouraged to engage in regional cooperation beyond municipal borders. The recommen- dations for quality were eagerly observed even though they were not binding. The general principle concerning library services was also specified: the library will carry partial responsibility for citizens’ information management by engendering quality in the information chain and persistence.

Since the 1990s, the Ministry of Education and Culture has supported regional cooperation, development projects for libraries and the production of content-related network services. In the past years, the Ministry has markedly increased the support of high-quality, centrally produced network services in the central library for public libraries and the National Library of Finland.

Continuation into 2010

The distribution of duties on the level of the municipality and the state was specified in the Library Strategy 2010: Policy for access to knowledge and culture. Municipalities are responsible for providing facilities, hiring qualified staff and obtaining up-to-date material and equipment. The state is to support municipalities by providing financing for running costs, construction, purchasing of bookmobiles and development projects. Emphasis was placed on the idea that library services should not be considered as something belonging exclusively to the library; rather the information management of the learner and the electronic transactions of public administration should be developed as a mutual network service, not as separate, short-sighted projects.

Unfortunately the attempt to establish a so-called information society agreement that would extend beyond administrative borders was thwarted at the time. The issue was introduced once again in 2009 in the Finnish Public Library Policy 2015. It proposes that a basic information management agreement for citizens be drawn up. The goal is to agree on how to guarantee individuals basic educational rights to access information and culture as well as to obtain assistance in utilizing services in the future. The achievement of the goal calls for a definition of what is meant by the information management of citizens in a networked society and of what types of essential, electronic materials and services should be available to everyone free of charge.

Policy for rural libraries

The Library development program 2006-2010: The library as a multi-service centre in rural and densely populated areas program was purposely written before the structural changes in municipalities and services. The goal of this program was to define more clearly the role of the library in the future and its central purpose as part of a vibrant countryside. The program contained proposals for alternative concepts to local library and bookmobile services, for example. During the initial phase of the program the Ministry of Education and Culture distributed a questionnaire to all libraries, the purpose of which was to obtain information about the opinions and needs of rural libraries in relation to official provincial libraries and voluntary regional libraries.

What next?

According to the Finnish Public Library Policy 2015: National strategic areas of focus, written in 2009, expertise and quality will be the areas of focus in the upcoming years. The reality of how the increasing popularity of network services has placed libraries in a tight competition with other actors for the first time was brought forth in the program. They are even competing for people’s time. According to the program, libraries are able to answer to this situation best by improving the core expertise in library work. Library Policy 2015 received much influence from those working in different types of libraries. The Ministry requested the opinions of approximately 30 people concerning what the library would be like in the year 2035. All of the respondents replied immediately. One seldom sees this type of reaction in other professions. The opinions of the chosen respondents were published and distributed to all libraries and partners.

To be able to succeed in the future, libraries must produce the type of added value that no one else is able to offer. Future success must be earned. The right of existence is visible when patrons use library services. These are the policies with which we will engage in the preparation of new library legislation together with new partner networks.

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

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