The Helsinki Central Library 2018 is a new type of project where the contents and modes of activity are developed through collaboration between the library, city residents and partners. The idea behind the project is the notion that the creation of a new, functional library in the centre of Helsinki needs more than the markings of an architect’s pencil – the wishes and needs of the residents should be made part of the designing process.
The patron-oriented, participatory designing process began in 2012, and it will continue until the building is completed. We expect as many as 2 million visitors a year and 6,000 a day to the new-age library.
We foresee a building that withstands time and has many different aspects: it is a beloved house of knowledge, skills and stories, a digitally intelligent place, a communal city block centre and a third domain between home and workplace.
The new library is not only a house of literature, but also a platform for publication, a space, tool and channel for individual and various collective activities. The role of the library employee will expand from serving patrons to being a facilitator who is competent in guiding people forward, helping them to identify good items or find other people with the same preferences.
There is a good opportunity to exercise this type of dialogue now in the designing phase.When you have a multidisciplinary and collaborative designing process, the end result will more likely be socially and environmentally sustainable which equally heeds the needs of the patrons and the organization.
At best, collective methods set trends and even create preventive measures. They allow us to make a far-reaching impact on things, such as young people’s use of the library and their well-being or guaranteeing senior citizens a better quality of life.
A self-evaluation questionnaire after the 2009-2012 term revealed that nearly 80 percent of the members of Helsinki’s city council felt the city’s residents’ opportunities to influence decision-making are poor or extremely poor. Indeed, several of the needs and ideas of the current residents are overridden by the astronomical increase of 5,000 new residents per year.
For this reason, many new types of activities organized by residents to enrich everyday life have sprung up in Helsinki in recent years, e.g. a graffiti wall campaign, a new festival day for recycling, friends of old commodities and urban culture, special days for restaurants, commissioning of temporary facilities and food cooperatives.
Informal civil activities have favoured restricted movement based on campaigns and other events, which have had a carnival-type atmosphere. There is talk of new ways to influence in Helsinki. They are often simple as far as bureaucracy is concerned, and they adhere to individuals, collective networks and ways of life rather than administrative structures. They depict the capacity and skills of today’s city residents to go beyond the traditional ways of influencing.
Designing the library
How has this movement been received in libraries? Is there time for dialogue in the library? Are the city residents allowed to influence the library’s contents? The library enforces the identity of the community in its area. Or at least that is what we would like to think. For this reason, participatory designing and listening to the patrons is a justified way of working, especially for the library.
Are we setting our goals high enough? Creating solutions that facilitate people’s opportunities to influence, take into account available resources, inspire different types of people and produce results is challenging.
Throughout the year, the Central Library project has offered residents and partners opportunities to participate in the designing of the library. Dialogue with the city residents has two sides.
On the one hand, it is a question of a new type of development work: useroriented innovation, collective planning, creating new things with peers and overt design. On the other hand, there is a desire to improve local democracy and opportunities for city residents to participate and have an influence as well as to initiate decision-making processes.
Opportunities to participate
Megaphone invitation: An outdoor advertising campaign with author Rosa Liksom, Sitra’s development manager Ossi Kuittinen, Apocalyptica’s cellist and musician Eicca Toppinen, cartoonist Kaisa Leka, philosopher Esa Saarinen, movie director Dome Karukoski, and schoolgirl Hilppa Tuomainen, who told of their dreams concerning the Central Library and invited other city residents to join them in brainstorming new ideas. Residents had the chance to hang their ideas in the digital Tree of Dreams at keskustakirjasto.fi or in the real Tree of Dreams that toured around the city.
Urban adventure: The Central Library went pop-up and met with people where they gather, participating in events happening around the city and offering opportunities to do and experience. The events have been geared towards certain groups, e.g. youth, hipsters, city activists, civil organizations, designers, experts in the Do-it-yourself culture, hobbyists and hobby societies.
Targeted campaigning: More defining ideas and models for collaboration have been presented with partners and target groups in organized workshops, which have been geared towards children, youth, families, early education professionals, teachers, and IT specialists, professionals in literature and makerspace lead users.
See the Central Library!: The entries for the architectural competition have been on display for the residents of Helsinki, and there have been opportunities to vote and make comments on them online, at various exhibitions and on touchscreens around downtown Helsinki.
Online influence: We used an online discussion platform to ask city residents what type of future library they would like. The results of the discussions have been made part of the development of the library, e.g. as projects and pilots. The ideas have also been taken into consideration in the planning of the content for the new library.
“Start sticking” – feedback campaign 7.10: On the campaign day, patrons were given the chance to try a new way to give feedback about the library’s services. They wrote their feedback on Post-it notes and stuck them directly onto the target of praise or criticism in the library. At the end of the day, the libraries were bathed in color as the Post-it notes decorated walls, countertops, doors, the backs of the librarians’ shirts…
Decide on money – participatory budgeting: In three participatory budgeting workshops, city residents sought answers to the question of how to use 100,000 euro for developing the library. The residents could choose four of eight pilot projects, which were created based on the ‘dreams’ they had submitted, to begin in 2013.
Messengers for the library
Hearing the voices of the residents is not always trouble-free because sometimes they cannot really say what they want and the library does not always listen or know what to ask. Being competent in working with people is a fundamental and important part of this work.
You must be able to understand what the people say (interviews, questionnaires, feedback), do (observation) and dream (story-making, images). The library must be an active participant that decides what to ask, in what contexts and how.
There are many stages in developing ideas into services. In the stage of analysis, you gather ideas and understanding of everyday life. In the conceptualization stage, you create alternatives and concepts of the ideas. The concept becomes a clear solution in the execution stage: a service, product and/or space.
Collective innovation blurs the roles between the library and the patron. At best, not only is the city residents’ voice made a part of the designing process, but also their problem-solving skills, or they become the messengers for the library.
Patron-oriented innovation means the creation of common values. As our new library director, Tuula Haavisto, says, “Helsinki is seeking the latest model for a library of the future as one of the most innovative libraries in the world.We do not have many completed references for comparison in the world; rather, we must create the concept ourselves.We gladly welcome the ideas of city residents and citizens.”