Genesis of a regional library in Finland

In Porvoo, 50 km east of Helsinki, the City Library has seen an unusual number of big changes recently. During the past four years the following aspects were transformed: county, province, municipality, library building, director, organisation and status.

Early in 1997, several counties in Finland were amalgamated; later that year Porvoo city merged with the rural district of Porvoo. Two libraries, each serving a population of some 20,000, were combined. The staff had to create a new work-place culture – a process that is still continuing. In 1998 a new library director, Terttu Lehtola, was appointed. The new millennium in Porvoo arrived with a move to the new and ultra-modern library building. In 2001 Porvoo City Library was appointed Regional Library, as the eastern parts of Uusimaa had been separated to form an independent province. Thus began the operations as Regional Library for Eastern Uusimaa, the youngest of Finland’s twenty regional libraries.

In the beginning
Porvoo City Library staff were not familiar with regional library work, so it seemed wise to employ a regional librarian with previous experience. To take up this post I left Vaasa, where there has been such an activity since 1968, and where the majority language is Swedish. I had thus learnt to operate in a bilingual library and a bilingual province. In Porvoo, which is called Borgå in Swedish, this is valuable because that language is commonly used in this region too.

From the outset it was obvious that time would not stretch to getting all the jobs done. The ability to prioritise was essential, and we began with the most important. The library director and regional librarian visited all nine municipal libraries in the province, and we also visited Pornainen library in a neighbouring province because we share the same computer system. The area of Eastern Uusimaa is an ideal size; big enough to function as a versatile whole, yet compact enough to make collaboration easily practicable.

Interlibrary lending rockets
Interlibrary lending is part of the daily operations of a regional library. The growth of that service was rapid from the very start, and further increased after the Porvoo material register was fed into the joint register.We have been able to rationalise many of the routines relating to interlibrary lending. In 2002, the number of loans going out from Porvoo to other libraries will be some 80% greater than in the previous year.

Local information
Having lived in western Finland I knew very little about the eastern parts. I did know that Porvoo was the seat of the historical parliament of 1809, but I was unaware that it is Finland’s second oldest town. It cherishes its traditions as a town of well-preserved old wooden houses, with an emphasis on being home to great artists. For instance, Finland’s national poet J. L. Runeberg lived here in the 1800s and his home is now a museum.

Making the information service function well for the entire province is a long-term mission. Criteria for choosing material for the local history and culture collection have been updated, taking account of the new regional library status. The regional librarian has acquainted herself with local issues, and the physical collection of local history and culture has been rearranged. Indexing local material and putting it on the Internet is labour-intensive, so one person makes slow progress.When the new computer system is up and running in the spring of 2003, we can start designing a virtual collection of the local history and culture of Eastern Uusimaa. This will be carried out either as a joint database or as a system with common access. Each of the province’s public libraries will be responsible for entering their own local material into the register and for keeping it up-to-date.

New projects
Within the library field, projects have proved an effective means of working. During its second year of activity Porvoo was granted state aid for two provincial projects, one of which concerns IT training for the staff of the public libraries involved. The other is about producing contents, under which a presentation of local writers will be created for the Internet. These are very fundamental undertakings, the like of which have been carried out in all the older regional libraries in Finland.

The regional librarian’s tasks also include keeping an eye on trends in the library world and introducing them for the area’s other librarians to ponder. Presently Finland is focusing on developing collaboration within regions. This began in the library sector in the 1990s with joint computer ventures and sharing mobile libraries. Now we have progressed to even having shares in library directors. As new joint ventures come along, regional libraries will face the challenge of co-ordinating them.

The Regional Library of Eastern Uusimaa is in the process of extending its collaboration eastwards, and a joint seminar for librarians of Eastern Uusimaa and the Leningrad area is being planned for next spring.

Parallel with new ideas, the original principles of regional library activities are still maintained: providing equal services for library users, regardless of where they live, and including even the most remote libraries in the common network.

Translated by Britt and Philip Gaut

Regional librarian, Porvoo City Library, Regional Library of Eastern Uusimaa, Finland.