The Oulu City Library offers tailored home services for elderly

The library’s home services are intended for people who are not able to visit the library themselves for reasons such as age, illness, or disability. In 2004, the Oulu City Library had about 35 patrons to whom library material was delivered. For the most part, a small library bus visited the patrons about every four weeks and was responsible for the deliveries. Library staff chose material based on the patrons’ previous loans in an attempt to find something new and interesting for them. The home service demanded quite a bit of work and was rather time-consuming.

Strength through cooperation

At the beginning of 2007, there were more than 130,000 people living in Oulu, 7,072 of which were over 75 years of age. The proportion of elderly people in the population is still increasing drastically. As the population gets older and as assisted living increases, the need for home services grows. It has been estimated that 1-2 ‰ of the residents are in need of home services, which is about 130-260 people in Oulu.

New ways of carrying out home services were needed to help the library answer to the demands of the growing needs for service. The thought that the development of technology could create new types of opportunities for organizing services arose. Opportunities to develop Internet services for those who are independently active were possible, due to the fact that those reaching retirement age are used to using Internet services.

A joint project was initiated in 2005, funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (TEKES). The goal of the project was to develop individual Internet services for the elderly and disabled, which would improve their chances to cope in their own home for a longer period of time.

Home services in practice

During the project, the Oulu City Library adopted the principle of dividing the different areas of the city into districts, which meant that each library was responsible for carrying out the home service to the residents living in its particular district. At the moment, a total of twenty clerks work for the library’s home services department.

Previously, elderly people became home services patrons through their own or their relatives’ initiative. During the project, the service was effectively advertised to family members caring for their elderly relatives and to the city’s public elderly care sector. It has also received much publicity in the media. Through these channels, information has spread widely. The registration form on the Internet has also proved to be handy.

When a person who fulfills the criteria for receiving home services and has been approved for receiving the services, then (s)he is interviewed. During the interview, a permission slip is filled out, which gives the clerk the right to handle library matters on behalf of the elderly person. It also gives the clerk permission to store the borrowing information and personal borrowing profile of that person in the library’s system.

The system chooses material according to the search profile

During the interview, the patron’s reading preferences and previous reading experiences, as well as how often the patron would prefer visits from the library and how much material (s)he would like to have, are discussed. A personal search profile is then compiled for the patron based on the interview.When the clerk searches for material for the patron on the library’s database, a list of books that correspond to the patron’s profile, and which (s)he has not yet borrowed, appears on the screen. The searches can be limited to just new library material as well. A random search provides the desired amount of material randomly chosen according to the search profile.

To facilitate the home services work, ready-made search templates have been created for material that interests the home services patron. The clerk can also edit the search templates for his/ her own patrons to suit their needs more appropriately.

Because elderly people are often interested in older fiction, the description of it has been highlighted. Key words according to a literary genre or several of them, a certain theme, and key words describing a time and place have been added to the collection database used in Finland. Also, the library has used its own key words, for example ‘large-print texts’, ‘Finnish fiction’, or ‘true stories’. The same principle has been used to supplement the descriptions of new material. This has benefited all of those who use the library’s network database.

Those involved in the project noticed that there are limitations as to how independently active the patrons can be, and that the clerks are still needed for example in creating a search profile and in evaluating the material resulting from a search. The practical work itself, getting the material from the shelf, packing it and taking it to the patron needs someone to do it. The literary discussions with the patrons when visiting them are the most rewarding part of the job.

Librarian Eeva-Liisa Rantala ja Elsa Kolehmainen. Photo: Pirkko Paakki

Literary discussions using a videophone

As part of the project, the library participated in a videophone pilot project in the autumn of 2006 together with the elderly care service sector of the city of Oulu, the Oulu University of Applied Sciences, and Videra, a technology company for distance working. The patrons were five elderly people, to whom videophones were given, and who were chosen by the elderly care sector. The library contacted the patrons via videophone twice a week with the intent to discuss the literature they had read. Summing up, the experiment proved to be a bit troublesome as preparing for the video-phoning took too much time, and the technology created, for the time being, many types of problems. Also, the target group involved in the experiment, which was chosen according to social factors and not according to an interest in literature, proved to be the wrong one in part.

Discussion about literature in reading circles

At the beginning of 2007, reading circles were initiated in two homes for the elderly. They met every four weeks. The works to be discussed were chosen together, and they were delivered to the participants beforehand. The participants read everything from Finnish novels to short stories and memoirs. The books prompted much discussion and reminiscing. The experience met with favorable reception on the part of both the participants and the leaders for whom the experience created a whole new perspective in library work.


One of the partners in the project was Audio Riders, a company that produces rehabilitative voice services for the elderly. The library compiled about 200 quiz questions associated with literature into the company’s product, Sävelsirkku. The questions dealt with not only Finnish and foreign classics, but also proverbs and the hometown of Oulu.

Thoughts about the results of the project

The library received a new home services system in which some of the work of the clerks changed over to the library system. Not only can the home services patrons utilize the system, but other patrons as well. The descriptions of the material in the library’s collection database improved: New key words were added, and the subject areas for fiction were defined especially for talking books, large-print books and new novels.

The home services were organized according to district. The delivery of material to patrons was made more facile. Connections to the elderly care sector in the city of Oulu were improved, and new home services patrons were actively acquired. The number of the library’s home services patrons has nearly doubled during the project, but the goal is to further increase this number.

One of the goals of the project was to examine how electronic material acquired for the library could be mediated to patrons to be used at home, and to test equipment with which patrons could easily use the mediated material. However, this part of the project was not carried out because appropriate material and equipment were not available.

Those working with the library’s home services must be trained properly in using the system. The benefits arising from the new system (more individualized, reliable service for home services patrons and the staff ’s more effective use of working hours) will be evident only after people know how to use it.

Irma Kyrki Librarian

Maija Saraste Assistant Chief Librarian Oulu City Library – Regional Central Library

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Irma Kyrki

Irma Kyrki



Maija Saraste

Maija Saraste

Assistant Chief Librarian Oulu City Library – Regional Central Library

Assistant Chief Librarian Oulu City Library – Regional Central Library



Assistant Chief Librarian Oulu City Library - Regional Central Library