MCL and Infopankki

Multicultural cooperation on the net
Multicultural Library (MCL) is a web service for immigrants maintained by the Helsinki Library and Cable Book Library. MCL provides information about Finnish society – immigration, housing, study, work and culture. Immigration offices and societies working in immigration and multicultural matters also take part in the development of MCL. The MCL web service is published in three languages: English, Swedish and Finnish.

Infopankki is a web service maintained by Helsinki’s International Cultural Centre Caisa. The purpose of this service is both to assist immigrants in finding web pages containing important information in their own language and to function as a tool for officials working in the field of immigration.

MCL was originally a joint Scandinavian project which was initiated autumn 1996 by Helsinki City Library’s Multicultural Library Services and Oslo City Library. MCL received Cultural Finland- and Finland as an information society-project funding for the years 1996-1999 from the Finnish Ministry of Education. Helsinki City Library’s Cable Book Library has been responsible for maintaining MCL web pages since the beginning of 2000.

Classification of information for immigrants
MCL’s objective is to gather and classify Internet material which will assist immigrants in integrating into Finnish society and guide them to be active in their environment. MCL also publishes MCL and Inf Multicultural cooperation on the net events announcements and articles dealing with multiculturalism. Users are able to influence MCL content by sending ideas for development, suggestions for links and by writing articles.

The content is primarily made up of Internet material provided by public authorities and information is categorised such that it can be found according to different life situations. There is a description of contents along with the links which particularly highlights immigrant-related information. In addition to official information, MCL also provides information about international culture in Finland. The web pages contain information about multicultural festivals as well as organisations and libraries involved in multicultural work.

MCL’s most extensive section, Countries and Regions, which contains all the nations of the world, is MCL’s window to the world, containing links to general information, media, culture and articles about each country. Additionally, these pages include information about mission work and friendship societies in different countries, maps, weather conditions, statistics etc. All in all, MCL has links to thousands of Internet pages.

Problem of usability, technicality or management?
The great amount of content and the changing of links naturally creates problems in maintenance for the site and in order to overcome these, we will be initiating a new publishing system in the autumn of 2003. The biggest problem, however, is the usability of the contents. Reading and understanding information from public authorities is often difficult even for native citizens, to say nothing of immigrants. Often, the rigid formality of business in administrative offices gets transferred to the Internet web pages. Users click on one link after another and then discover they end up at the same place where they began. This is of course frustrating to both immigrants and immigration workers.

Development of cooperation with immigration officials for the Internet has been a challenge for MCL all along. Earlier, the problems of cooperation seemed to be technical – how to decentralise maintenance, how to keep the information up-to-date and monitor its accuracy or how to present the same events or contact information in several different places. Currently, since technological development has eliminated almost all of these problems, cooperation should be running smoothly, saving time and money in every area.

Economic and management questions had become more significant than technical matters. The construction of a multi-channel database with good production and management tools and archiving and search features costs tens of thousands of euros. Furthermore, the development and upkeep of the service costs money and ties up staff. The development and implementation of the new network service requires much from one office and the distribution of work and expenses among the several offices is not easy either. The several different offices and finances of immigration workers are generally divided by administrations. The function of the new network system must be continued in the future, even when funding for different projects comes to an end. This requires a unified commitment from public authorities to maintain the service.

Moving ahead in cooperation
In 2002, Helsinki City Library’s International Cultural Centre Caisa, Multicultural Library Services and Cable Book Library began working together on a new kind of guidance channel intended for immigrants. In 2001, Caisa received financing from Europe’s social fund and from the City of Helsinki for the Open Learning Centre project and this also enabled the procurement of the new publishing system. The City Library is responsible for the database’s server and its maintenance.

The immigrants’ Infopankki developed through this cooperative effort contains for the most part the same official information as MCL, but emphasis has been placed on the usability of the service, the search features and interaction. Certain information can be presented in different subject areas, for example, retirement-related information can be found in both the employment section and social services section. In the descriptions, the most clear and simple language is used; official jargon is avoided. The pages also contain information about immigrant employees in the project, to whom users can turn for help if they do not understand the Finnish Internet pages.

Infopankki will also have a question and answer section and all questions will be stored in the database; answers to earlier questions can likewise be found in this databank of knowledge. In the future, Infopankki will include e-learning courses, discussion forums and information about multicultural projects. In October, 2003, Infopankki will be available in Finland’s 13 most common immigrant languages, as well as in Finnish.

During this year, 2003, the contents of MCL and Infopankki are being combined. The objective is to obtain all information for immigrants from one database, so that the different offices can use and update their own sections. Each office will be responsible for the information it provides.

A client can look at the library’s pages, Caisa pages or, for example, on the Nuorisoasiainkeskus pages and find the same information. This way, offices don’t need to provide overlapping information on their own pages and once information has been published, it can be found and accessed again and again.

Infopankki and its objectives have been introduced this year on many occasions at the different offices and in other areas where immigrant workers are employed. This project has aroused interest and most people have adopted a positive opinion of it. The amount of enthusiasm and investment of time and work the different areas will put into the project remains to be seen. One proposed solution would be to establish an editorial staff to maintain Infopankki, the financing for which would be obtained from the ministry responsible for immigration work. An operational example of this kind of editorial staff is the editorial office of the public libraries’ network services, which is primarily financed by the Ministry of Education.

At this time, the main issue is that by autumn 2003, we shall have a welldesigned and functional foundation, on which we can begin to develop new services and patterns for cooperation.

Translated by: Turun Täyskäännös OY

Manager of Library 10.