Small steps – great things

The multicultural future is here and now present in our libraries. Our patrons are from a number of different continents, adults and their children who may have been born here. Young people with an immigrant background and second-generation Finns are a clearly distinctive group among our patrons. Approximately 70–80 % of the young people who visit the youth section of the Espoo municipal library in the evenings are young people with an immigrant background and their siblings. The multicultural future is here and now present in our libraries. Our patrons are from a number of different continents, adults and their children who may have been born here. Young people with an immigrant background and second-generation Finns are a clearly distinctive group among our patrons. Approximately 70–80 % of the young people who visit the youth section of the Espoo municipal library in the evenings are young people with an immigrant background and their siblings.

Naturalized Finns are expected to learn the cultural codes of at least two cultures; getting an education is more challenging for them than for those Finns who have originally lived in the country, and it is difficult to constantly differ from the majority. On the other hand, perhaps not all young people experience their world in the way I interpret it as an outsider. Having the feeling that someone cares is important for all young people, irrespective of where they come from. Our library’s answer to this need has been to provide young people with space and a specialized staff.

Space for the young

A library needs space for young people to spend their time. It took quite a long time before we were able to get space for young people in three of our libraries: Sello, Keski-Espoo and Kauklahti. New staff was hired, not all of them were library professionals. One of the requirements for being hired was to have experience in working with young people, and luckily we were able to find such people. The expertise of our staff is evaluated thoroughly; employees must have the right attitude, tolerance, persistence and understanding, and a natural sense of authority.Working with young people requires maturity and the ability to use one’s personality as a tool, the ability to set boundaries in a respectful, caring manner seasoned with humour.Work with young people must involve unrushed discussion in which staff members truly listen to what the young people have to say. There must be both male and female employees. Today, all of the youth sections in libraries have staff members who have an immigrant background. However, there are still too few female staff members that have this background.

Specialized services

Quality means identifying the needs of various groups, i.e. tailoring services for target groups. Services can be best tailored when the provider is familiar with the culture that a certain group represents.We have to forget the concept of offering the same services to all; each group of patrons has i ts own particular needs. The world in which young people live and the media associated with this world has to be taken into consideration. We offer comics, Manga, adolescent literature, music events and service pertaining to our music collections, including instruments and computer programs. Music is also combined with book recommendations where we introduce youths to the collections and genres that are interesting to them. Most young people visit the library with their school as well, about 1-2 times a year.

Perhaps the most significant service for young people is the Internet. ‘Netshops’ and games provide both social interaction and learning opportunities. Being a part of the Internet user group and having command of the cyber world is self-evident for young people. The staff must be aware of the forms of authority, hierarchy, ways of using space and voice of young people with a different ethnic background. Often, the young people’s family relationships are evident in the library, and we are confronted with them when problems arise and we have to contact their guardians.


The expertise in an organization increases through recruitment, and this is when various perspectives and choices come into play.What type of organization are we developing, what is the long-term orientation, and what type of expertise do we need? It takes courage to see expertise from the point of view of context, i.e. the type of world we live in. If the context is a narrow point of view of the library field, then we lose the wider connection for developing services. One problem may be that the culture of the organization regulates and inhibits the potential for know-how by belittling different and non-traditional library expertise. The ability to speak fluent Finnish is emphasized during job inter- views, which prevents opportunities for the applicants to improve their Finnish language skills through their work. In order to avoid this paradoxical obstruction the courage to see and understand the manifold elements involved in customer service is required. Attitude is one of the most important parts of customer service, in addition to being able to understand the customers’ needs

Prioritizing the recruitment of people with an immigrant background changes the internal image of the organization. On the outside, the diversity of service is visible immediately, and the library’s outer image changes. Cultural know-how increases, simple things, such as differences in holy days and behavioural codes, require flexibility. Staff members with an immigrant background also influence various networks because customer contacts change; patrons from various ethnic backgrounds come into the library to say hello to people they know who may be working there. People also have to learn to confront racism in a new way. Gender must be considered as regards young girls and boys and the cultural differences evident in first-, secondand third-generation naturalized Finns.

Flexibility with qualifications needed

Evidence of qualifications is a problem. There are naturalized Finns of European and Russian origin that have qualifications in the library field. These groups usually represent classical library expertise. However, the current spectrum of expertise needs to be expanded to include staff members from countries outside Europe, and to include networking, multicultural attitude, and modern collections. This type of expertise is, for the most part, personal expertise, but it is also a part of cultural expertise and education. When you know the types of services patrons need, then choosing the best and most appropriate person for the job is easy. Projects for employing the unemployed, temporary job positions and Espoo’s wonderful open job position specifically for immigrants are tools that can be used when recruiting people with an immigrant background. The open job position makes it possible for people with an immigrant background to partake in a 3-year training period. The programme provides a gateway into the working world and an opportunity to acquire know-how in practice. Learning through apprenticeships is another solution to obtain qualifications. New job titles have been created to expand the qualifications of people who do not have a degree in the library field whereby the qualifications required have been 2 years of practical experience or some other appropriate degree.

As a manager, it is a privilege to be able to meet representatives of different ethnic backgrounds at work and to witness their commitment to and responsibility for their work. The most enlightening product of this type of environment is to see how naturalized Finns and mainstream Finns differ as experts and as people. It is not a question of groups; rather, it is a question of extremely diverse experience and expertise as an employee.

The various forms of using power and the cultural-specific reactions of people in relation to power must be identified. Finnish men, Somali women, Albanian men and Estonian women, as well as other men and women, represent different power structures experientially and ideologically.Managers must be aware of their own ways of dealing with these issues. My own experiences include being bribed, holding court, arguing – and enjoying immensely listening to the interpretations of others concerning hierarchy, power and culture. Perhaps one needs to be a Swedish-speaking Finn, belong to a minority oneself, like me, to be able to enjoy the challenges of differing interpretations of power; or maybe not.

Positive discrimination creates quality

Hiring mother- and father-figures, i.e. adults with a positive sense of authority, has increased the quality of service in Espoo. It has created a caring atmosphere and a sense of security in the services offered to children and youths. It does not take away from the space and independence young people need; rather, the quality of service has improved because we have been able to hire people who truly care for young people and understand their ethnic background and possibly even their language. It has been exciting to observe how different people and representatives of different cultures use their roles. One role involves being a representative of the organization, another role is to be a visible representative of one’s own culture. No one who comes from a different ethnic background is free from this special status and it is fruitful to discuss this openly in the organization. Many people who represent a different ethnic background possess elite characteristics needed to serve patrons: excellent manners, friendliness, politeness, and cultural intelligence. A caring attitude toward children seems to come natural for many naturalized Finns. Often, it is a question of a friendly, tolerant adult role that is clearly associated with rearing. In addition employees are offered the opportunity to qualify in the library field, if they are interested. Obtaining official qualifications takes the naturalized Finn one step closer to a more extensive legitimacy in the library field.

Cultural intelligence means quality

The multicultural atmosphere that naturalized Finns create in the organization creates quality. The representation of various ethnic groups in the structure of the library staff creates pressure to develop services. Conscious choices about resources have to be made. Hiring additional cultural intelligence into the organization and training employees in managing the duties associated with the library means quality. By admitting to the weaknesses in service, we may find surprising solutions. New types of choices have a positive impact on the dynamics of the culture of the organization. A visible choice, based on values, is important. New interpretations and new ways of doings things as a result of those interpretations are necessary. A positive, fruitful endeavour in the library field would be to look at the needs for expertise from the outside. Our organization has performed well as a mediator of information and a service-provider of culture, and it continues in this work. A new and obvious challenge is to work as an integrated entity in the surrounding community, reacting to it, and expanding services as needed. This requires expertise in networking, caring and languages. Having the expertise to serve young people is a challenge. Young people and children are a good test of our performance; if they do not visit the library, then we have failed in building the future.

Sunniva Drake
Director of Regional Library
Espoo Libraries

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Director of Regional Library Espoo Libraries