New library professions

Libraries are changing and networking; new skills are needed. Here are some examples of the new kinds of work.

Cooperation in Kouvola increases capital in competence

Maritta Naumanen, librarian in the children’s department of Kouvola’s provincial library, feels that networking for libraries is a requirement for development and preservation. It even aids in seeing through the book loan statistics to the real end result of library services.

The library in Kouvola has a long tradition of cooperation. The library has been holding a library circle at the residential home for the elderly since 1975.

The librarian from the children’s department makes regular visits to schools to tell about interesting stories to read and to awaken the pupils’ desire to read. The library’s ‘swat team’ also visits media education classes to teach about various topics using drama, for example. The group visits first-, second- and fifth-graders.

A new development in the department includes a homework circle, which is intended for students of the nearby school and led by an instructor specialized in teaching children who are having difficulties with reading and writing. The school teacher chooses about ten students who will benefit most from the circle.

New information about target groups Working with the elderly, teaching media skills and offer help with homework do not increase the number of book loans very much. Is a service for distinct target groups the core function of the library at all, or does it benefit primarily just target organizations?

Maritta Naumanen says, “These services have helped us to create a functioning and deep patron relationship, for example, with pupils and children and elderly people at risk of becoming marginalized. It increases our understanding and helps to refine our collections and improve our services.”

From the point of view of the library, these services are like a laboratory, where patron groups can be observed close up, as if through a microscope. It gives rise to new information.

“These special services are library functions by nature.We use collections, our know-how, catalogues, etc., just as we do in our other services. Additionally, other skills are also required, such as pedagogy, knowledge of reading disabilities, the basics of working with the elderly, etc.With networking, the library learns new things, the ‘capital of competence’ increases. New skills gradually lead to new services and work methods and accumulate in the organization. Cooperation partnerships are a valuable capital.”

The staff ’s individual contacts and interests serve as a backdrop to library networking. Maritta Naumanen likes detective stories, has been involved in municipal politics and the parish and belongs to the Erilaiset oppijat association (an organization for different learners). All of these are also apparent in library activities.

Services reaching deep into the core of the community

Maritta Naumanen feels that networking is not merely a way to finetune services; it runs deeper than that, it is an aid in the library’s fight to survive.

Libraries have always had problems showing what their work means to the community. To see the library as merely a place to carry out one’s hobby of reading would be underestimating it. “For example, the aim of our library’s services is to support the learning of school children, prevent the marginalization of those with reading disabilities, and to improve the quality of life for the elderly. All of these are important goals from the point of view of the community.”

The importance of the library in learning and in renewing and increasing mental strength becomes visible in an entirely different way from number of loans.

Game library for young people

Library Specialist, Marko Forsten, has the gaming man’s dream job. He spends his time in the youth section at GamePoint in Espoo’s city library playing computer and console games with young people. He sometimes has to explain to his colleagues that he really is doing actual work.

The youth department, Pointti, is located in Espoo’s relatively new library Sello. The target group comprises young people aged 12–20 years. The department also has a game section which is called GamePoint. That is where Marko works.

The department features a couple of Xbox 360 consoles with games for young people. Furthermore, there is an Internet room for ten where young people can play games on the Internet, such as Runescape. The library is also getting the World of Warcraft game, which can be played by many people at once and for extended periods of time with the characters that they create.

Antti Sauli working his Helmet-net library information service shift. When you work online, you don’t need a fancy office, because patrons won’t see it!

Reaching deep

Marko Forsten reveals that he in fact doesn’t actually have much time to play while he’s at work. The usual library routines, from providing guidance to providing information services, take up most of his time.

Forsten explains, “There are difficult situations with the games and computers and we help with those. Young people ask surprisingly many of the usual information service questions, as if a byproduct of another activity.”

“The purpose of this activity is to show that the library has something to offer young people and we take them seriously. We also have a social side. The purpose is to offer them a meaningful activity and get them used to using the library.”

The trust of young people must be won without the adult giving away his or her role as an educator.“We think we have succeeded well. The door to our office in the department is always open; everyone is welcome. Young people often come in just to say hi, and they have learned to express their wishes. It is easier to reach young people than to reach adults.”

“It’s a question of interaction; we teach young people games, library skills, how to use the Internet and so on. They have taught me to play chess, but above all, we get to know what young people need and what they are interested in. This gives rise to good ideas for material acquisitions and services to develop.”

It is unlikely that there are any courses available to teach you to become a ‘game librarian’; you learn by playing. Marko has been interested in computer games since the 1990s, when they became 3-dimensional and triggered the player’s imagination much more effectively. “Only a few libraries in Finland have become involved in games, because the closest reference groups and most interesting websites for this area are in America. However, there are plenty of websites and newspapers to follow about the games.”

The library that nobody visits Designer Rauha Lönn is the managing editor of the Information Gas Station (iGS). iGS is the Helsinki City Library’s Internet information service, which bears the mark of a red gas pump. It is a library where you don’t see anybody. Rauha admits that she misses them.

iGS’s functions include more than net information services. Every Thursday at 10:40, one of the information service questions and its answer is read on the radio. In addition, the information service station also has a mobile version, an information barrel. It is a complete information service with equipment and connections, which is easy to set up. It has been present at rock festivals, the Gay Pride parade and amidst the bustle of the train station as a reminder of the library services.

Patrons send their questions on an electronic form. All questions are seen by all one hundred respondents, so they can choose the ones that suit their competence best. Answers are archived; they have become an important aid for patrons and professionals in information searches.

Rauha Lönn coordinates this work, supplies answers and ensures that each one is answered within the promised timeframe of two weeks. In practice, the answer usually comes on the same day. Rauha also answers questions herself.

iGS’s information service differs from that offered in the library building, because it makes asking questions easier, which then increases the spectrum of questions. The purpose of the service is also to teach and give guidance on information searches. With the archives of answers, this guidance is also mediated to others.

“Browsing the archives has become a form of entertainment. There are some funny questions there, which have been answered equally amusingly. However, they are also able to slip in something of substance along with it.”

Virtual workplace

Librarian Antti Sauli’s workplace at the ‘Ask-a-Librarian’ information service is special. It is a shared service in the capital region. The door to it is a link from the capital region’s Helmet Internet library, not a place where you can actually go.

Ask-a-Librarian’ is a chat information service. The patron contacts a librarian through the Internet using software which enables them to interact online by writing messages to one another. The service is an Internet library information service, a virtual version of the traditional information counter.

‘Ask-a-Librarian’ is open Mondays – Thursdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. It is maintained by a hundred employees in four libraries in the capital region, each working for two hours at a time. Antti Sauli has his turn roughly once a month. The rest of the time he works at his usual library job at the Helsinki Library 10.

“Often there are three or four patrons at a time using the online service. The hectic nature of it creates pressure, but you have to keep your thoughts straight. Two consecutive hours at this job is plenty,” Antti Sauli says of his job. “It is important that you have command of information search methods, because there is no time to fumble for things, and you can’t go running to ask someone while you are sitting at the computer. You have to be quick with the keyboard and the mouse. The programme used in the information service is easy to learn; that’s not a problem.”

Most tasks arise when a patron has tried independently to use the Helmet Internet library and come across difficulties. The threshold to click the everpresent ‘Ask-a-Librarian’ link is low.

Text and photo: Seppo Verho
Managing Editor

verho AT

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Managing Editor, Kirjasto-lehti