The ELEF project of Eastern Finland

A pioneerin library cooperation
‘Finland’s library network comprises university libraries, public libraries, polytechnic libraries and specialized libraries.’ Thus begins the presentation of the library network, which is commonly divided into Finland’s different sectors. However, are the boundaries between the different library sectors becoming obscure? Library patrons go with ease to different libraries, obtaining the services and materials from the library where they can be best found. It may be time to begin adopting solutions for serving patrons as well as for structures which provide library services, for payment policy and for administration.

New material, new opportunities

Digital material allows for a new, different type of acquisition and distribution channel, in which material is conveyed electronically. On the national level, we have begun to create solutions in which the boundaries set between the library sectors for acquiring, distributing and retrieving electronic material are made less distinct. The national electronic library, FinELib, provides licensed electronic material to all library sectors and the ‘Nelli’ portal collects all of the libraries’ material into one, shared portal for retrieval by library users. The national digital programme produces digitised material for all libraries to use. Preparations for the expansion of the national library’s field of activity have increased dialogue between the different library sectors, and the National Repository Library is being developed into a national remote service centre, also for digital material.

The digitisation of cultural heritage material, to make the digitised material accessible via the information network and to create an end product that meets the user’s need require a substantial and coordinated effortPhoto: Nils Lund Pedersen

National digitisation programme

Cooperation between libraries has also begun in national digitisation work, organised by the National Library of Finland and its Centre for Microfilming and Conservation in Mikkeli in Eastern Finland. The digitisation policy was published in a report on cultural heritage in an information society. The task of the work group, who compiled the report, was to advance the digitisation of cultural heritage material, to make the digitised material accessible via the information network and to create a content production which uses this material. Efforts in digitisation are seen specifically as cooperation between libraries, because digitising material requires the cooperation of the establishments which record the material and the realization of work distribution. Matters which need to be jointly carried out include plans for cataloguing, prioritisation of material and the development and implementation of common standards, key wording and compatible programs.

A questionnaire was distributed to libraries which surveyed the cultural heritage digitisation needs of the various libraries. Prioritising included the consideration of the need for use of the collections and copyright limitations. By 2010, the important cultural heritage existing in museums, archives and libraries will be digitised according to the prioritisation plan, and this material will be accessible to everyone via information networks. Cultural heritage material forms a significant resource for research, education and content production.

ELEF – Eastern Finland’s digital library

ELEF – Electronic Library of Eastern Finland – was a pioneer project implemented with EU funding during 2000-2003 in which practical application of cooperation between different library sectors was carried out. All provincial libraries, university libraries and polytechnic libraries in the provinces of the EU Objective 1 Programme participated in the ELEF project. Public libraries in the region were included through the provincial libraries. The ELEF project formed a broad project organisation, both regionally and according to the number of participants, in which provincial subprojects operated under the same organization.

The libraries were engaged in cooperation right from the planning phase of the project. A common-interest goal, the benefit to the area, carried the project planning forward, even though the backgrounds and working cultures of the organisations participating in the project were extremely different. When arrangements for the project funding and implementation began, libraries cooperated to form plans concerning the implementation of the project plans. Networking and distribution of professional skill guaranteed the possibility for the implementation of the project right from the beginning.

Libraries work together to increase the level of professional skill

The ELEF project arranged training for the staff of the participating libraries which would not have been possible otherwise. A survey of professional skill revealed a lack in the level of knowledge in different fields. These needs were met by arranging training in various areas of skill, such as information society skills, e-publication, e-learning and virtual libraries. In addition to raising the professional skill level of library staff, a result of the project was a functioning network of professional experts, in which each participant had his or her own area of expertise and in which the expertise of each participant became common knowledge and available for use by other network participants.

Another significant perspective in raising the professional skill level was also to raise the skill level of the interest groups and patrons of the libraries. Establishing computer classrooms, preparing Internet learning material for users of different skill levels and arranging public educational events advanced the skill level of library users. Computer classrooms were established in the Joensuu and Mikkeli libraries, and the Joensuu university library microcomputer rooms were improved. Equipment was upgraded in all units. The existence of separate facilities has enabled library premises to serve as a venue for courses designed for improving basic information society skills and which are directed towards target groups. Training and learning were also supported by producing network learning material for the Internet, designed for users of different skill levels. The web-pages contain study material for users and user groups of different ages and with different educational backgrounds. The material can be used for the purpose of teaching independent study. The material is also suitable for library-held information retrieval classes.

The renewal of equipment, computer classrooms and Internet learning material, which were included in the framework of the ELEF project, are permanent endeavours; they remained even after the project finished and have been developed further. Professional skill, which was utilised after the end of the project, was acquired in order to make the Internet teaching material; the material has been developed further to meet new needs.

Regional information and improving its ‘findability’

The organisation of digital information and the subsequent development of information retrieval systems are only in their initial phase. National, centralised services are developed to serve this purpose. In addition to national services there is a need for regional and local recorders of information with knowledge of regional needs, and regional information experts, capable of directing those who need the information to the right sources and of guiding them in how to use them.

Through the cooperation of the ELEF libraries, accessibility of regional information was improved by building regional databases, where the central information reserves for the regions were collected and recorded. Municipal libraries have an essential task, gathering, recording and transmitting the information for their own regions. Therefore, a natural continuum for this work was Koivikko, Kuoma, Caiania and the South Savo databases.Work on the regional database began within the ELEF project and is now continuing as recording work and guidance for library patrons.

‘Koivikko’ is North Karelia’s regional database, where information from the library’s materials database can be retrieved. The Koivikko regional database includes the provincial collection material from Joensuu’s city library: books, periodicals, maps, AV material, periodical clippings and links to network material dealing with the area. Koivikko also includes the North Karelian collection, the ‘Käkönen’ article database, which had been completed earlier. In addition to material about North Karelia, Käkönen contains references, to some extent, about the Lake Ladoga area of Karelia and Karelian culture. Articles contained in Käkönen have been published in newspapers and magazines. The database amasses about 1,000 references per year, and today there are over 20,000 references. (”Koivikko”/tieto.htm)

‘Kuoma’ is North Savo’s regional databaseKuoma includes reference information for periodical articles and different digital materials relating to North Savo. The basis used for the database was Kuopio’s city library – the periodical clipping collection of North Savo’s provincial library and back volumes of North Savo’s newspapers and magazines. References to the material, which is continuously being published, are recorded in Kuoma, but material is also recorded retroactively. In addition to Kuopio’s city library, many North Savo regional community libraries and university and polytechnic library units have been involved in the follow-up and recording work. (

The regional database in Kainuu was given the name ‘Caiania’. The essential references from the local database were transferred to the new database, and they are constantly being complemented with the most recent Kainuurelated articles. Currently, Caiania has article references primarily ranging from the beginning of the 1990s up to the present, but older articles are recorded retroactively. The database also includes Kajaani’s city library – the provincial collection material of Kainuu’s provincial library.Within the frames of ELEF, a small, but interesting project, the ‘Kianto’ project, was also implemented in Kainuu. The books, cards, periodical articles, manuscripts, poems, speeches, lectures and dissertations of the important Kianto archives preserved in the library were recorded in the Suomussalmi library database. The Kianto collection is growing constantly by way of donations, so the recording work also continues. (

South Savo’s regional database is a portal for South Savo local information. South Savo’s regional database also began as an article reference database, for which the material is limited. The region’s libraries partake in recording the article reference database, so the basis for the recording of South Savo’s article reference database is also a jointly agreed selection policy. Later on, the article reference database expanded into an ambitious project, beyond administrative borders, and cooperation to produce a regional database brought the libraries, archives and museums involved together in Mikkeli. The result was South Savo’s regional database, which covers Mikkeli’s city library – the article database of South Savo’s provincial library, the provincial library’s local collection and Internet publications, collections of Mikkeli’s mu-seums, the archive database of the Central Archives for Finnish Business Records, photograph database, reference library, as well as Mikkeli’s provincial archive database and Internet publications. Participants in the project had to update their information systems, digitise their collections and improve their search systems, so that one-search retrievals would work and boundaries for successful searches were found. (

Regional information collected in ‘Nelli’

Nelli is the National Electronic Library Interface, where information searches can be directed to many different databases. The Nelli portal collects materials from all libraries in one portal for patron information searches. The Nelli portal forms a common interface for the use of material which is owned by the libraries and subject to license. Each province has its own Nelli portal, but Nelli can also comprise larger regions. Nelli organises material, searches many databases and personifies itself both according to the province and the user. Nelli has a national and a regional dimension. On a national level, there is coordination, maintenance, updating, planning and development. Regionally, the tasks are setting up the material for use, connecting the local material for retrieval and local customisation to suit the users. As far as connection of the regional material produced in the ELEF project is concerned, a Nelli search enables the retrieval of material from different regions from one interface. For example, material concerning Kainuu and material found in that region was retrieved via ‘Pohjanportti’, an information retrieval portal shared between the provincial, university and polytechnic libraries of the Oulu and Lapland administrative districts. Implemented in this way, Nelli enables the use of the information on regional databases and retrieval of information from all the region’s libraries from a mutual search engine.

ELEF ended – products kept going

The main ELEF project ended when it and its funding ended. After the project ended, a survey was carried out, distributed to the participants of the project, in which they were asked in what way and in what areas did the project succeed, what were the greatest problems and how is the cooperation being continued. The participants considered one indisputable achievement to be that a functional and active network of experts between libraries and other participants was created for Eastern Finland. The project made it possible for the region to obtain the kind of expertise that would not otherwise have been available without the project. Products, or new library and information services, were produced, which continued after the project and which are still being developed. Also significant, was the creation and deepening of dialogue between the different library sectors. The barrier to working together has diminished.

Objective of cooperation

The final report for the ELEF project stated that during the development of the library network and cooperation, an essential question that arose was the distribution of work and resources. Small units are ineffective and their competitiveness is weak. The report also stated that it appears as if traditional administrative boundaries, for example, between national and municipal participants, are breaking down further. The analysis of needs and service production is becoming essential and, with this, the forming of the necessary, sensible unions is also becoming essential. It seems as if library patrons have already found the products and services they need beyond the borders of the library sectors. A model for cooperation for the production of the products and services is still needed; one which will bring synergetic advantages to libraries and library patrons. This was also pointed out in the provincial administrative boards’ basic services evaluation, which concerned the supply and use of public libraries’ digital material and cooperation between municipalities in acquisition of digital material. Libraries can also work together across the sector borders in the selection and acquisition of digital material and in arranging instruction and information for users.

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös