Pohjanportti – a gateway to information resources

Pohjanportti may perhaps become the first information access portal in Finland that comprises all types of libraries

Finnish libraries were confronted with an altogether new networking culture when using the Internet became more popular in the 1990s, and nearly all library material was at the tips of the fingers of customers who had access to the Internet. The dream of having a library that could be used any time and anywhere was beginning to take shape. Although digital material has increased in the network, the customer is still seldom able to obtain the entire material for use from the Internet. The services libraries offer in the network still consist primarily of references and the actual material must be picked up or ordered from each library. Patrons of research libraries have much more access to various types of digital material, which usually require a fee. On the other hand, almost all of Finland’s provincial libraries have set up databases which include digital material as well, such as articles, pictures, maps, and audio- visual material. Provincial libraries, as well as other libraries in the provinces, museums, and even archives maintain regional databases. There are several access services and regional databases, but often they are dispersed and finding them may be difficult.

The national Tiedonhaun portti (‘information access gate’) project is looking for an integrated solution for making access to dispersed library material easier. The Pohjanportti (‘gateway to the north’) project in Northern Finland is aiming for the same goal but on the regional level.

Northern Finland’s libraries and the tradition of working together
The Northern Finland, Oulu, Kainuu and Lapland area has three provincial libraries located in Oulu, Kajaani and Rovaniemi. All three provincial libraries have the same library system, but there are large differences in the libraries’ operations. One factor that separates them is, for example, that the Regional Library of Lapland is part of a joint municipal library system with fourteen other libraries; Oulu and Kajaani, along with the libraries of their area, do not belong to this system. Another separating factor of the Regional Library of Lapland is the library’s special task of gathering and maintaining a collection in the Sami language.

There are four polytechnic libraries which operate in Oulu, Kajaani, Kemi and Rovaniemi. Earlier, some of these polytechnic libraries belonged to the same joint system as the public libraries, but last year they changed over to the same system as the libraries in universities. There are two university libraries in Northern Finland, one in Oulu and one in Rovaniemi.

The provincial libraries of Oulu, Kainuu and Lapland all have their own regional database, and all three provincial library areas have, in addition, several regional databases maintained by other libraries. Each regional database is different and contains different types of material. Each of them has been made using a different technique and their maintenance is extremely varied. The Lapponica database, in the Regional Library of Lapland, differs most from Northern Finland’s regional databases – it includes pictorial material from Lapland’s museums. The Kainuu Elec-tronic Library of Eastern Finland (ELEF) project, for example, has been trying to find a uniform solution for the dispersed regional databases.

Although the joint field of activities of the libraries in the Oulu, Kainuu and Lapland regions is indeed broad, half of Finland’s area, the libraries in this area have long-standing traditions of close co-operation, which traverses regional and administrational borders. The evaluation and development project PARKKI provided important information and a basis for more extensive co-operation. The project involved libraries in the north, and research conducted in the project examined the clientele of the regions’ different library types. It was found that several of the same customers visited all of the different types of libraries and therefore a joint regional portal would significantly facilitate information access for these customers.

The directors of the Oulu and Lapland provincial libraries gathered together in September 2002 and decided that a ‘one-window service’ must be established to combine the services of Northern Finland’s libraries. Soon the university and polytechnic libraries of 26 SPLQ:2 2004 Oulu and Lapland became involved in the planning as well, and in the spring of 2003 the libraries in the Kainuu region announced that they too were interested in the joint portal project. Some time later it became known that the National Library of Finland had chosen ExLibris’MetaLib program as the portal program for the national electronic library that was to be established. According to the plan, this Nelli portal was to be introduced in all the university libraries during 2003. The National Library of Finland had also negotiated the options for the MetaLib program for both public libraries and polytechnic libraries.

Pohjanportti’s goals and realisation
Northern Finland’s libraries decided to incorporate their material into a joint portal and its name became Pohjanportti (‘gateway of the north’). Because it was already known that the portal program for the university libraries would in any case be MetaLib, it seemed most sensible to use it in Pohjanportti as well to avoid possible overlapping in work.

The main goal of the Pohjanportti project is to better the customer services of libraries by offering customers an integrated service, a user interface for the materials of Northern Finland’s libraries. The user interface includes all the information access services and materials, regardless of their saving format, which are offered and maintained by the region’s libraries. Developers of Pohjanportti decided to make it a guiding tool that takes different users and their needs into consideration.

Pohjanportti’s realisation has been divided into three phases. The first phase of the project will be finished in the beginning of 2005. The collections of the Oulu, Kainuu, and Lapland provincial libraries, polytechnic libraries, and university libraries are included in the portal in the initial phase of Pohjanportti. In its first stage, simultaneously searching for material and finding its location is possible with the Z39.50 standard of libraries involved in the project. Pohjanportti’s resources can be grouped regionally and according to library type in this initial stage of the project. The portal is open to everyone, but if the customer would like material from some library, e.g. licensed e-material from a university library, then he/she must be a customer of the library in question. According to the plans, Pohjanportti will be linked to regional databases, which may also include digital material, in the second stage of the project at the end of the year 2005. At this point, other public libraries in the area may join Pohjanportti in addition to the provincial libraries. In 2006, during the third phase of the Pohjanportti project, a method for electronically identifying customers will be developed, and a centralised, automated interlibrary loan system will be created.

Pohjanportti, Tiedonhaun portti and Nelli
At the same time as plans for Pohjanportti got off to a good start, the Nelli portal of the National Library of Finland is just about ready and, on the national level, a concentrated network service, Tiedonhaun portti, is being designed. The idea is for Tiedonhaun portti to function as a channel for the material databases, different information access services, and electronic services of libraries. One part of the Tiedonhaun portti will most likely be a multi-search service, carried out through the MetaLib program.

Working together and uniting the collections of different libraries to be used effectively by all, is no doubt unique and a benefit to everyone in the library world. Skill and expertise are in this way effectively available for all libraries and an advantage for customers. Pohjanportti may perhaps become the first information access portal in Finland that comprises all types of libraries. However, when a tool that links the interfaces of different libraries is available for all libraries, then surely other regional portals will soon be developed.

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös OY

Project manager, Lapland library project.