Vaasa City Library

New ways of organizing libraries
The very first lending library in Finland, Vaasa Reading Society was founded in 1794 for the amusement and recreation of its subscribers. The Society also lent books to non-members, and soon it became a library from which all townsfolk could borrow.

Vaasa has developed from the administrative and school town of the 17th century to a modern city. History obliges us both to preserve our cultural heritage and to develop up-to-date library and information services. More than 200 years of library traditions are a uniquely strong foundation for developing strategies enhancing library and information service for the community.

The new library in Vaasa is concrete proof that values relating to culture, libraries and education are important to the city. The new building successfully combines old and new, traditions and modern technology.

Architecture supports function
The aim was to blend the new library building naturally into the cityscape. Old and new structures form a functional whole, viewed through an architect’s as well as a librarian’s eyes.

The library aims for synergy, both functionally and financially. Planning a library for the future has to assume multi-levelled co-operation.On a local level, players in the same team are other libraries and information service units, institutions of education and culture. Vaasa City Library’s role as provincial library is emphasized in both the regional and the national li – brary network.

Planning activities within the library were influenced by the complexity not only of the old building, but also of library operations. The aspiration was to design the facilities to be as open and flexible as possible, taking into account the limitations of the old building. The interior landscape map of information is realized throughout.

There are several models for strategic library planning. Every planning process develops its unique model. The library, its operations and its building can in itself act as superb means of marketing the service. The library’s position in the townscape, and within town planning in general, reflects the role the library plays in its local community and infrastructure.

In a library of today and tomorrow, collections are multiform and located both in physical library buildings and on the web. This affects work with collections and also how facilities are designed. The basis for deciding how the physical collections are placed is always the customers and how they move around the library seeking answers to questions and material for various needs.

Increasingly, library customers expect user-friendly services, as well as various services evaluating and analysing information, and specifically tailor-made services. On the other hand, customers should be able to handle rou tines like borrowing and returning books, renewing loans, reserving material and so on as self-service. In the future it will be possible to use many of these services via remote access. Sufficient numbers of automats for borrowing and returning will, however, be placed within the library building, readily accessible for customers, as will work stations with full self-service.

The new library departments are built around subjects, with staff able to share their expertise through guidance. This makes it easy for the customer to navigate in the landscape of information and experiences.

Departments in the main library have a total of 60 customer work stations equipped with web access. As the first public library in Finland, Vaasa City Library has established an extensive Linux-based customer network.

Multipurpose facility
The multipurpose facility is a new buil – ding separate from, but linked to, the main library with which it shares a common entrance. Strikingly clad with patinated copper, it includes a drama hall and contains modern equipment of the highest standard. It serves the local community and supports active local groups.

The café is a pleasant resting place for anyone using the library, and it also caters for participants in any event arranged in the building.

The first service floor
This is the main area for returning loans, and for dealing with matters concerning borrowing that customers cannot do for themselves or get done within one of the departments. The automat dealing with returns was designed in co-operation with a Polytechnic in Vaasa and a local enterprise.

Community and Economy
The idea behind this subject area is to offer precise information for topical needs, guidance and navigation assistance regarding network matters and information searches, and tools for citizen debate.

The use of material within the library and guidance given to customers are emphasized in this subject area. An abundance of reference material of various kinds is on offer for customers: legislation, statistics, official documents, standards, business directories and so on.

News area
Many media meet at the News area: newspapers, general magazines, webjournals, services for conveying documents, INFO-TV. Like all other departments, this area has plenty o f customer work stations.

Europe Info
Europe Info is part of the public administration’s information resource on the EU. A regional information officer acts as ambassador and source for EUinformation in the province; giving expert assistance to citizens’ organizations, educational institutions and local mass media.

Citizen Info
Citizen Info is the service point regarding the public sector; a joint venture between the City o f Vaasa and the Provincial Government. Other contributors are the National Pensions Institute, the Employment Service Agency, the Inland Revenue and the City Administrative Court.

The national Datero project aims to make use of information technology within special needs education, thus promoting the inclusion of groups with particular needs in the information society and preventing these groups becoming alienated.

The second service floor
Fiction, Linguistics and the History of Literature The focus here is on developing the collections further, to map out partners to work with in this field and to adapt the library’s general policies to the work with this subject matter. A new idea has been born: would it be possible to find a sector of fiction that could become the speciality of Vaasa City Library?

Countries and Cultures
This subject matter is particularly universal; historical material covers the whole spectrum of time, geography and travel throughout the world. Philosophy, psychology and religion represent the many spiritual cultures of the world. The aim is to create a functional department; one that learns from the past, yet looks to the future.

Natural Science and Technology
This subject involves continuous dialogue with society and support for sustainable development. Collaborating partners are found via networks, not only locally, but also regionally, nationally and even globally. It is characteristic of this field that material is multiform, and that users are very active in using new media and networks.

Art and Music
Here we include music, visual arts, architecture, sculpture, photography, film,industrial art, theatre and dance. The facility for listening to music is self-service and customers can use the equipment wherever they like. The department has an art gallery corridor supporting the art collection. There is also an art lending service, jointly arranged by Vaasa artists’ association and the library.

Children and Youth
This subject matter revolves around the age of the customers.When successful, this customer relationship starts off interacting with a dependent individual orchestrated by an adult, and ends when this individual takes the initiative to seek out other library departments. Naturally the clientele also includes other age groups: parents, educators and anyone else who is interested.

The Library’s Hyde Park
The library offers a free debate forum for writers and arts personalities resident in Vaasa. Here they can ar range events to launch anything to do with literature and culture, aimed either at the public or at the press, or engage in discussions about literature.

The third service floor
The Wasaensis collection includes regional material in both printed and electronic form. The importance of local literature and culture will be in the spotlight particularly when the city of Vaasa celebrates its 400th birthday in the year 2006.

Because administration is vital, both for library planning and for day-to-day functioning, this department is situated centrally in the building. The administrative vision is to take notice of the needs of both library staff and customers within a changing environment, and to accept the challenges of the future.

Library Museum
In 1994, 200 years of public libraries in Finland were celebrated in Vaasa. It was decided then to found a national Finnish library museum association. The roots of our democratic libraries are here in Vaasa,so the new main library reserved facilities for a museum. This will become a museum jointly for pub- lic and scientific libraries, and it will open to the public in June 2003.

Organization supports function
Why did we replace the traditional departmental division with themes and the team organization we adopted during the planning stage? Being organised as teams supports deepening expertise. Through working as teams we can also achieve other benefits important for the customer:

  • interaction and decision-making become more effective
  • reactions to changes in the surrounding environment quicken
  • according to research, staff members feel better
  • the quality of customer service improves.

Staff training began already during the planning stage. Middle management received leadership training and the ITskills of the entire staff were increased by offering everyone the chance to qualify for something we call a driver’s licence for computing. Together with the Tritonia Academic Library and the li – braries of Vaasa Polytechnics, Vaasa City Library carried out a vast training programme for networking skills called Digital Libraries 2000.

Art refines the building
Presenting a variety of exhibitions and cultural events for the townsfolk’s enjoyment is an important part of the library’s activities. The new library is a place where people living in Vaasa can meet each other, at the sources of information and experiences.
Residents of Vaasa feel that this beautiful public space is specifically dedicated to them. Art also contains symbolism, like Britta Flander’s work The Torch of Knowledge, meeting those entering the library with the message:“Information illuminates” or Viktor Malmberg’s The Waterbearer saying “the sources of library information are inexhaustible”.

A flexible future
Over the years,library operations have changed to promote the individual’s free access to information and possibilities to influence things. Today we experience a democracy of information, with active inquisitive customers who thirst for knowledge and try to better their lives. Surveys show that 80% of Finns are regular users of library services.

In Vaasa we have aimed to build our li – brary and information service strategy on a local and regional basis. To do this we have analysed our library’s operations and services, and we use that analysis continuously as our basic tool in the planning process. Additionally, we participate in the national and international debate about library policy strategies and targets for the entire library institution.
It was long thought that one really could plan for the future, that good planning could anticipate the future, even influence the functions and services to be introduced. Crucially however, today’s planning is about being as flexible as possible and having solutions that are adaptable. Society is experiencing an ever-accelerating process of change.We must be able to react to this process quickly, and likewise to the changing, and perhaps unpredictable, behaviour of library users.

One of my favourite authors, Marguerite Yourcenar writes in her book The Memoirs of Hadrian: “Their house was only a few steps from the new library with which I had just endowed Athens, and which offered every aid to meditation, or to the repose which must precede it: comfortable chairs and adequate heating for winters which are often so sharp; stairways giving ready access to the galleries where books are kept; a luxury of alabaster and gold, quiet and subdued. Particular attention has been paid to the choice of lamps, and to their placing. I felt more and more the need to gather together and conserve our ancient books, and to entrust the making of new copies to conscientious scribes. This noble task seems to me no less urgent than aid to veterans or subsidies to prolific families of the poor.”

Translated by Britt and Philip Gaut

Library director, Vaasa City/, Regional Library, Finland.