Service, design and collaboration

Constructing a library today is an exciting and challenging task. The construction process involves challenges and risks for all parties involved: universities, architects, libraries and library users. How can we predict future needs and the necessary actions to meet them? What roles will libraries play in the future in supporting academic work?

The Helsinki University Library is the largest university library in Finland. It has been transformed from 160 smaller units to one organisation with five locations during the years 1995-2012. Like other university libraries in Finland, it is open to all citizens. The new Main Library building, called Kaisa House, was inaugurated in September 2012.

Key design themes

The University of Helsinki announced an architectural competition and received 80 responses from interested parties. The University invited 10 participants with good references and 20 participants decided by a lottery.

The reason for the lottery was to give an opportunity to young architects. Twentyseven proposals were submitted. Of the seven finalists, only one proposal came from an invited participant. The winning proposal was drafted by Anttinen Oiva Architects LTD.

The following were key concerns when designing the Main Library: customer orientation, services for learning and research as well as for other types of users, the evolving collections, the role and duties of staff, collaboration, efficiency and quality.

The extent to which researchers use library facilities depends on the research processes of their academic discipline. Researchers in the natural sciences and medicine in particular – all over the world – prefer digital library resources to actual library facilities, whereas such facilities are still very useful for humanities scholars and are an important workplace for students.

Service design supporting student services

Our aim has been to create a library which attracts and stimulates both students and researchers.We explored student needs through service design methodologies together with service design specialists as part of the World Design Capital 2012 project.

We drew the following conclusions: The library must respect different styles of learning and personal approaches by offering appropriate facilities to different learners and researchers. Quiet areas are needed for reading and working.

The library should also offer facilities for discussion and group study. User support for digital resources is vital. The library must have rooms for teaching information literacy. Break rooms which give a chance to relax as well as pleasant cafés are also needed.

To sum it up, the keywords are diversity, flexibility, convertibility and support for interaction.

Services for research occupy a key position in the library’s target programme. The library is involved in maintaining the University’s research information database, supports open access publishing and develops research data services as well as bibliometric analysis for the evaluation of research results. Researchers are also offered tailored online services.

Changes in collections and services

The printed collections of the Helsinki University Library – currently some 1.5 million volumes – cannot compete in scope with those of such research universities as Oxford and Cambridge.With the merger of collections previously housed in ten different locations, unnecessary duplicates have been eliminated over the past few years.

The collections have been placed by discipline on the various floors of the Main Library. In terms of facility design, the shared use of collections, the development of national solutions and the increase of digital material will result in considerable savings on facility costs.

The new Main Library has more automated library services, such as automatic return machines and robotics using Radio-frequency identification (RFID). As customer services are so heavily used, these have been good solutions.

ICT is an essential part of today’s academic studies. Students can use their own devices at the library, which also has computer laboratories.

Strength in collaboration and centralizing

The Helsinki University Main Library is a diverse service centre involving a variety of parties. The City Centre Campus Library will serve the needs of researchers and students in the humanities, law, theology and social sciences at the Main Library. The building will also house the American Resource Center (through an agreement between the US Embassy and the University) and the customer service unit of Statistics Finland. The cafeteria, a concern of the University’s Student Union, will manage the book café. Various other businesses will also lease facilities from the University.

The University and faculty leadership as well as the University’s architects and Centre for Properties and Facilities successfully collaborated on the construction project and good communication supported the success of the construction phase.

Centralising the library services and leadership has had several outcomes: it has strengthened interdisciplinary research opportunities at the interface between various disciplines as well as with new partners; it has maximized efficient library use and the consistent expansion of collections; it has enhanced the skills of library staff and promoted their specialisation in areas relevant to digital publishing, e-science and the needs of individual disciplines; and it has enabled the use of service design to overhaul the services offered to students and other users.

Objectives of the facility’s design

The design of the Main Library facilities was based on the following objectives: to gain a functional, multipurpose and flexible facility for a scientific library; to incorporate logicalness and clarity: functions are easily found, and the space is comprehensible; to have appropriate direction and guidance systems; and to be a prominent and interesting facility that supports innovation.

The facilities, particularly for Research Library Services, should be quiet and promote creativity; provide a pleasant meeting place and work environment for both customers and employees; have well-functioning air conditioning, heating, lighting and acoustics; be in an accessible environment; and present a creative and inviting atmosphere.

The design challenges included how to delineate between quiet and less quiet areas of the library; how to avoid a warehouse- like atmosphere due to the size of the collections; and how to direct large numbers of customers correctly, naturally and efficiently, taking into account the logistics of a large flow of material and the lifecycle of printed material.

Ergonomic solutions for various library functions were also needed, and the building itself had to be able to house a large number of staff, about 140; therefore, work facilities and social areas should be appropriately located and furnished, and collegiality should be supported.

University Librarian, Professor Helsinki University Library