Pop up library – why not?

First there was a restaurant day in Hel-sinki. Someone just came up with the idea that c’mon, let’s open the streets of Helsin-ki for everybody who want to run a re-staurant for one day. So it was, and restaurant day became an instituition at once.

There were lots of pop up restaurants all over the city and people were enthusiastic about that. Until now there have been various restaurant days, and there is more to come. It has been huge success: during last restaurant day there were 800 pop up restaurants in 18 different countries.

Then there was a Cleaning day. People have lot’s of usable junk in their basements and attics, which never make their way to flee markets. It would be easier if the flea markets took place right in front of the houses where people live. A couple of friends of mine came up with this idea, and we ma-naged to convince the city of Helsinki that we should do this: let’s open the streets of Helsinki for free to people who are willing to sell a piece of furniture in return of some money or a new book shelf. So it happened. The Cleaning day turned out to be a huge succes, and obviously there will be a second and third and fourth cleaning day soon.

I love my town. We can do these things here, and they work out.

Helsinki rocks.

And after having two succesful examp-les to follow, I want to have a library day in Helsinki. Or not just in Helsinki, but all over the country. And no just in Finland, but all over the world.

Think about having pop up libraries in the streets, shopping malls, public buildings, residential areas and parks all over the city. Or the cities, all over the world. If nothing else, we could have lots of fun.

And what would this mean and require in practice?

There could be three kinds of pop up libraries.

First the professional library: a team of librarians would organize a bookshelf of two somewhere in town, and run it with mobile technology the same way the libraries are run. An important outcome of this would be the chance for librarians to experience and to experiment with something entirely new. Let’s go out and do some crazy stuff to open up some eyes over here and there!

The second pop up library could be an event based on the initiative of the users: let’s borrow some books, a lap-top and stuff, to have a library in an odd place or somewhere where there always should have been a library, but never was. The action would come from the outside and the contents from the inside of the library.

The third kind of pop up library would be a narrowly focused enthusiast li-brary. Model plane builders, lace twiddlers, motor cyclists and wine tasters could have their own pop up libraries to exchange ideas and pro-mote their cause.

I am sure libraries could find lots of books for very specialised pop up libraries too, and support activists of their own peculiar topic what ever it is. A library day would be a chance to walk the books of the basements, too.

And what would be the point of the library day?

The problem of the libraries is that they are taken as granted. They are like the air we breath or the water we drink. We simply do not notice the libraries as long as they exist.

At the same time, there are great challenges. Government after government is willing to cut the expences and sooner or later this will hit the libraries too. The only shelter that our libraries have is the deep affection people feel towards them.

The problem is, that the users are not aware of the air they breathe. It is always there, no matter what. You only get consious of its existence as soon as it is gone. If there is no air, breathing does feel different. The same goes with the libraries. They are always here until the doors are closed and you have to take a bus to a town nearby to borrow a book.

So what is the point of a pop up library?

The point is to provoke discussion about libraries. That is what we must do. We must encourage people to talk, think and rethink the libraries, instead of taking them for granted. A pop up library is a perfect platform to re-think what a library is and what it could be.

In Finland the need to arouse discussion about libraries is acute. There is a governmental plan to reduce the amount of municipalities from over three hundred to mere one hundred. When this reduction was committed in Denmark, the country lost half of its libraries. The number went down from 1000 to 500. Well, Denmark still has a fair amount of libraries related to it’s geography. After spreading the same quantity around the endless forests of Finland, however, it would mean that a part of the people would simply be excluded from library services all together. We simply can’t afford that.

That’s why we need a new kind of library day with pop up libraris. And furthermore, it could be a lot of fun!

Writer, educator, politician, broadcast media specialist, President of the Finnish Library Association