Small libraries an asset for municipalities

Often, the library is not only a small municipality’s only cultural center, but it is also much more. I interviewed the library directors of a few rather small municipal libraries, and I inquired about where they obtained the resources for the libraries to function so actively.
Storyline with grandmother at Sodankylä library. Photo:Tiina HeinänenThere are still many small municipalities in Finland, although the population is indeed concentrated more around the larger urban regions as small municipalities lose residents. There is a total of 217 municipalities with a population of less than 10,000, i.e. slightly more than two thirds of all municipalities, where 17 % of the country’s entire population lives. Municipal mergers have decreased the number of small municipalities, although the impact has not yet been significant.

Much ado in Toholampi

Toholampi is located in the province of Central Ostrobothnia in West Finland. The rural municipality is home to 3,426 residents. The library belongs to the Anders library consortium and it is known for being dynamic. Pia Rask- Jussila was Toholampi’s library director for two years. According to Rask-Jussila, it is a matter of “small libraries being just as good as larger ones in proportion. Pretexts such as being far from everything and small and something to be pitied, or that rural patrons don’t need the latest things, are not good enough.”

In a small group, you should think outside of the box and ask what the library’s core functions are. The backbone for everything is feasible, basic services – working for the good of fact and fiction. Rask-Jussila’s worst nightmare would be for the library to become nothing more than a conveyor of fiction.

Communication and marketing

The key question in a small municipality involves the selection of staff. “The library needs to have a face, preferably several faces, but at least one in the form of the library director. It’s not enough to be just a public servant; rather, you have to be capable of argumentation and presenting facts. The ability to express yourself is also a must. You should never say, ‘we only loan books here’.”

Integrating communication and marketing into your own work is essential. The director must play the role of a sales rep – always prepared to represent his/her library. Creating the right types of partnerships is important; in a small municipality, it is indeed easier.

Flexible opening hours

In addition to book loaning, Toholampi has invested in active book recommendations, events, projects through outside funding, multi-functional and cozy facilities as well as a variety of equipment. The library has organized movie nights for children and young people, offered opportunities to produce digital material, loaned sports equipment and sold tickets.

The opening hours are flexible, and there are more patrons than loans. The library has to go out, take part in various events, give its all and be unpredictable!

According to the Finnish Council of Public Libraries – Strategy 2010-2016, libraries should, “inspire, surprise and empower”. In Toholampi, this has been taken as a precept, and it is taking them far. The support of the supervisor is important to ensure the success of the library in its goals.

Northern spirit at Sompio library

Sompio library is a regional library for three municipalities: Sodankylä, Savukoski and Pelkosenniemi. It began operations in 2009. Sompio library is the first regional library in Lapland, and it is based on an agreement of voluntary, joint operation. The municipalities are located in the eastern part of the province of Lapland. The reason for establishing a regional library was to safeguard highquality library and information services in the area and to support the purposeful development of services.

According to library director Tiina Heinänen, creating events on a regular basis is one way to keep the library visible and lively. They have a Book Café once a month, reading circles for senior citizens and the disabled in Sodankylä, story hour, a handicrafts club as well as various events organized by other groups and organizations.

Diversity of libraries

A challenging aspect of Sompio library’s operations is the fact that patrons can obtain services and materials in the Samí language. The Reading Diploma for children and young people is also available in Samí.

The Sodankylä library has a service desk, which was set up as part of an ERDF project carried out by the Regional Council of Lapland, where residents can take care of their business via videophone and receive services regardless of where they live. Even a small library can obtain visibility through various projects, and it can develop not only the library’s traditional services, but new ways of working as well.

This is also a good way to get decisionmakers to notice the diversity of libraries. The reading room functions on a selfservice basis, which improves accessibility when the library is not open. The bookmobile in Sodankylä obtained pharmaceutical rights in the spring, which has been warmly welcomed by residents. Now, medication is taken to residents along with their books – the partnership is a real win-win situation.

The library as a center of culture

“You never get tired of looking into a child’s bright eyes,” says Pekka Termonen, library director of Kannonkoski library in Central Finland.

As director, he manages the libraries of two small municipalities as well as the cultural affairs of the Kannonkoski municipality. Good networks of partners make it possible to host international artists and exhibit their works in a small municipality. Networking and strong partnerships among various stakeholders are, according to Termonen, a key issue. Furthermore, smooth-functioning logistics between libraries is a necessary asset for small libraries.

The library functions as a gathering place for organizations and associations and you can even loan kettle-bells, snowshoes and games and puzzles. Mr Termonen also offers people gathering in the library coffee from the coffee machine. The library also houses a movie theatre that seats 20 and is actively frequented by patrons. Funding for the library has re - mained at a good level, which is evidence of the library’s vibrant operations.

Management and visibility

I, myself, work as the director of a large library; Oulu has a population of 190,000 and our library comprises 23 library units. Like small municipalities, large cities also have to do a lot of work for the advocacy of their libraries. As regards our patrons, not very many are aware of the types of services libraries offer nowadays.

The Oulu City Library has its own parttime communications officer who has plenty of work in carrying out the basic communication alone. The Education and Culture Committee, which makes decisions pertaining to the library, is quite detached from library-related issues because it also handles issues related to education, culture and teaching. The library is a rather minute part of a large city organization.

The significance of character is also a common denominator for both small and large libraries. How well are you capable of creating good relations with decision makers, the administration of the municipality and city and your own supervisors? Advocacy must always be based on positive relationships.

Be visible online

Good management is extremely important, whether you have a lot of resources at your disposal or just a few. The directors in small libraries, especially, are often the same as ‘a walking library’ – they cannot hang up their cloak even in the store. Libraries must be open-minded and innovative.

It is important for small libraries, especially, which are located far from large burban concentrations, to be visible online. The mere physical library services are no longer sufficient nowadays. Libraries should at least have their own Facebook profile. Also, blogs, Twitter and other forms of social media provide some of the best opportunities to share information about the library and increase visibility.

The pages should also be updated often to keep patrons interested. Libraries must be open-minded and innovative. They can no longer survive with the old selection of services. Small municipalities must be brave enough to open up doors to new partnerships and in this way guarantee continuity and visibility for libraries.

Library Director Oulu City and Provincial Library