The Tritonia Academic Library

New ways of organizing libraries

The Tritonia Academic Library in Vaasa is a joint venture between three universities: the University of Vaasa, Åbo Akademi/Unit of Ostrobothnia and the Vaasa Unit of the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration. The one building also houses a Learning Centre that jointly supports teaching and study at the three universities. Moreover, Tritonia connects two languages and cultures – the different Finnish and Swedish traditions.

The library and the Learning Centre on the campus area on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia were opened to the public on 20. August 2001. The library’s prime customers are the universities’ teachers, researchers and students, but anyone seeking scientific information is welcome. As the biggest academic library within three neighbouring provinces, Tritonia serves various other educational establishments, adult learners, the business sector and individuals. It co-operates with the libraries of two polytechnics in Vaasa and with Vaasa city/regional library, and it maintains the regional web library (

The first part of the name Tritonia refers to the number three, and the whole name to the fact that the building stands by the sea. In Greek mythology Triton was a son of the sea-god Poseidon and, according to some myths, tritons are the male equivalents of mermaids.

Tritonia encloses 35,890 m3, and its total floor area is 7,997 m2, of which the library and Learning Centre have a net area of 5,500 m2. The library was designed by the architectural bureau of Käpy and Simo Paavilainen, and the main contractor was NCC Finland Oy. The building proprietor, Senaattikiinteistöt Oy, has selected the library as Building of the Year 2001 out of its 130-odd projects.

The three universities at Vaasa are all rather young. The University of Vaasa, with some 4,200 students and four faculties, started as a school of economics in 1968; it became a multidisciplinary college at the start of the 1980s, and a university ten years later. Åbo Akademi has its main a ctivities in Turku, but branched out to Vaasa in 1974; today around 1,800 students attend its two faculties here. In 1980,the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration expanded from Helsinki to Vaasa, where it now has about 500 students.

As long ago as 1981-2 a working group appointed by the Ministry of Education was considering how co-operation could be developed between the various units operating in Vaasa. Their key suggestion was that a common academic library should be founded, to be operational in 1984. The proposal was way ahead of its time; nowhere else was there anything similar, so the matter was postponed… but not forgotten. In the mid-1980s the library became part of the architectural competition for the new campus, and early in the 1990s a common database was planned, though it could not be achieved until the next generation of computer systems arrived.

The academic library was part of the second building phase on the campus. To design it functionally a planning group consisting of representatives of the three universities was appointed: two of its members were professors, one was head of the Office of Student Affairs and three came from the libraries; additional experts were a students’ representative, the property manager, a computer specialist and an external mentor with excellent knowledge of managing university libraries. This planning group further appointed several subgroups to plan the internal operations. The groups worked closely together with the architects and also visited, for instance, research libraries in Stockholm and some libraries under construction on the campuses of Helsinki University. Library staff went on study tours to new libraries and learning centres in the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain.

Regulations and financing
The rectors of the three universities signed the library agreement in December 1998. This is complemented by a set of guiding principles, which were separately approved by the boards of all three universities in the spring of 2001. Immediately after approving the guiding principles the universities appointed their representatives for the library board. At its first meeting the board approved the library’s operating regulations that define its internal organisation.

The regulations stipulate that the library costs are shared according to the number of students, researchers and The Tritonia Academic Library New ways of organizing libraries teachers in each university. These figures are taken from the Ministry of Education’s KOTA database. On this basis the University of Vaasa contributes two thirds of the library’s budget, which is set annually in joint negotiations between the universities’ and the library’s managements.

For the time being, the Learning Centre operates as an independent separate project run by a management group under the local rectors of the three universities. It is financed largely by the Ministry of Education with funds assigned to the Finnish universities for developing the virtual university.

The library regulations specifically mention bilingualism. Official documents are drawn up in both Finnish and Swedish, other documents in the mother tongue of whoever prepares them. In daily work, the staff is naturally bilingual, as has always been the case in bilingual regions. In customer service Finnish and Swedish are used in almost equal proportions. Obviously, users of the minority language are more active in making use of staff services. As all three universities emphasize internationalism as a value in itself and a strategic choice,customers are in fact being served in at least three languages.

The library has 22 permanent posts but, including ancillary staff and others on finite contracts,the actual figure for man-years is about 30. Permanent staff members belong to their respective university but, to guarantee equal development of personnel, staff costs are also divided according to the number of students and researchers. The board makes decisions about taking on new permanent employees.
The Learning Centre staff consists of a project manager, a teaching technologist, an educator, a computer planner and trainees.

Collections and services
The collections of the three previous libraries have been put together, and supplemented from common funds. Tritonia’s funds are better spent on new acquisitions than on overlapping material, so duplicate periodical subscriptions have been eliminated. Decisions about the few superfluous copies of books have been made individually. So far, the biggest problems have been with network material where user licences and fees relate to individual universities.

New library services,and operating the Learning Centre, demand generous computer and AV equipment, as well as versatile facilities for study and research. There are 420 work desks in the building; in reading rooms, computer classes, rooms for group work, multimedia rooms and on the four floors of the library, where collections and work desks alternate. The building also houses a separate researchers’ tower. For library customers there are 39 carrels in the tower, in rooms for one or two persons. These are allocated on application to postgraduates working on doctoral theses or to students working on master’s theses.

Special funding was received to furnish and equip the new building . However, the need to renew machines in a few years time is already a looming problem. Internal organization When creating the new library’s internal structure, the aim was to achieve a new kind of organization that would not resemble any model from the previous libraries.

Almost all university teaching in Vaasa relates to disciplines where literature plays a great part. The library is therefore essential both as a tool for research, tuition and study, and as a place of work. To enable the library to carry out and develop its service according to the needs of each discipline, the service was focused on subject fields. In addition there is the so-called basic service. Moreover, the library has significant special collections, for example the library of Vasa svenska lyceum (Vaasa Swedish Lyceum), which is the biggest school library in Finland that has been saved intact. Tritonia also acts as a European Documentation Centre, under an agreement between the University of Vaasa and the European Union.

During the first six months, different ways of dividing tasks according to discipline have been tried out. Based on our experience so far, subject groups deal with: contacts with departments and subjects, choosing literature for a certain discipline, in so far as it is not done by the university departments, acquisition, cataloguing, classification and indexing of literature,information service aimed at teachers, as well as user education for more advanced students. Teams serving the various disciplines are not obliged to carry out their tasks in identical ways, but they are required to tell each other how they operate.

Acquisition, cataloguing and check-in of serials have been realized jointly as part of the database work in Basic Services. Because of the change of computer system,tasks to do with periodicals have had to be done retrospectively and partly as projects. Likewise, monographs received by exchange and as gifts are mainly catalogued centrally. The most visible part of Basic Services is lending, including inter-library lending. Additionally, Basic Services include general user education, IT support and administration. The emphasis is on interaction between the different groups – see model. Division into separate assignments is not over-stressed; instead it is the overall operation that should form a flexible whole. Two or three members of the small staff belong to each discipline group; and nearly all group coordinators have a degree in the field in question, as well as a university degree in librarianship. Other members of each group also participate in basic services, particularly lending. Advice concerning a certain discipline is given within that group.

Tritonia’s modern and beautiful facilities have had great effect both on customer service implementation and on staff well-being. Merging three independent libraries,moving collections from five different addresses to one common building and introducing new forms of service, while at the same time changing the computer system, have all been carried out successfully. We can go on developing the library in good heart.

Translated by Britt and Philip Gaut

Chief librarian, The Tritonia Academic Library.