Happy together

Libraries create well-being through connections, collaborationand community. Collaboration between libraries, their connectionsto other local actors and functioning as a meeting placein their own area strengthens the local community. The library also facilitates networking among associations, organizationsand individual patrons.The Öresund/Øresund Link is a bridge and tunnel connecting Sweden and Denmark. Since it opened in 2000 it has contributed to increased collaboration between the two cities Copenhagen in Denmark and Malmö in Sweden and the two cities are part of the community of the Öresund/ Øresund area. Photo: NASA/Public domain

The theme of the 2016 IFLA Congress, Connections, Collaboration and Communityis thus related to the library’s communal role in many ways. If the residents are able to influence and participate in the planning of the premises and services, it is more likely that they will feel like the library is their own and commit to its functions. The sense of community increases the feeling of security and promotes the well-being of community members through all of these processes.

It is also a question of observing and surveying the needs of the local surroundings. People often think that library services, and services in general, are more impartial if the same types of services are offered to patrons in the same way. One size does not fit all, though, and the various obstacles for using the library should be eliminated: language, senses, accessibility, attitudes.

This calls for knowledge and understanding of the patrons. It is a question of attainability, observing the needs of special groups and balancing the origins of different target groups. When the library knows its local community, the conditions for increasing the well-being of the patrons are favourable.

Patrons as partners in building the library

In the designing of the Helsinki Central Library, endeavours were made to create a community around the library in advance.  Creating community around a library located in the capital’s relatively anonymous city centre is not the easiest endeavour; usually the concept of community is associated with smaller circles, but with a pro-active approach, the project has progressed well.

Working with patrons has involved networking, meetings, listening to youth, adults, civil activists and people in the field of media. Pro-active budgeting was also experimented with in the project which has helped to both implement new services proposed by the patrons, such as storybook birthday parties, and choose materials in English to put in the library’s collection.

With help from the residents

Collaborative development has subsequently taken place elsewhere as well. One of the present democracy pilot projects in the City of Helsinki involves three municipal actors: the library, adult education centre and youth services, which make up the Maunulatalo cultural centre, a place where the premises and functions have been designed and events have been innovated by the area’s residents through online discussions and workshops.

Other extensive library projects have been executed in close contact with patrons. The Dokk1 Mediaspace building in Aarhus, Denmark, is already a familiar place to many. The name of the library was chosen from as many as 1,250 suggestions, but the residents were invited to take part in the planning at a much earlier time.

In the beginning, pictures were gathered online from the residents to help with creating ideas, children planned contents and premises in workshops and the architects’ designs were discussed with the residents throughout the entire project.

Recently, the local high school students in Aarhus have produced chic advertising videos for the library as part of their studies. And, indeed, the locals have made the building their own – one million visits was reached already in March, 2016.

The rich chorus of experts to be heard

Connections, collaboration and community are important concepts among professionals as well. Conferences among the library directors in the capitals of the Nordic countries have united Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo, Reykjavik and Stockholm for years. “We are really different as leaders and people, but we have plenty to talk about,” says Tuula Haavisto, director of the Helsinki City Library, about the group’s meetings.

Plans are being made for joint Nordic leadership training for the middle management of customer services. Taking advantage of a peer network will surely promote well-being and consequently in fluence the rest of the staff and in the end the patrons.

The social media offers handy tools for engaging in community and collaboration. When the previous Library Act in Finland was compiled in the 1990s, the Ministry actively listened to the voices of the field, but e-mail, public hearings and discussion forums were slower and more awkward tools than Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

In the present reform work, workshops have been utilized but also the opportunities offered by social media to some extent. The strategy work has been a swifter process than the reform of the act. The national library strategy in Sweden is being promoted through discussions on, for example, Facebook in a group created for the purpose.

Erik Fichtelius and his partners regularly post statements, themes and thoughts that everyone interested can comment on. Annika Hjerpe, editor of SLQ, discloses more about the phases of the library strategy in her article. At best, a community will form around the topic in the network also, the discussions of which will guarantee that more viewpoints will be seen, the regional perspective will be brought into the open and libraries of different sizes will be able to participate.

Tools for the individual’s well-being

The core process in the newest process overview of the education department in Kokkola in Finland is called Supporting lifelong education and well-being. The library promotes the well-being of the residents in many ways through collaboration with not only schools but cultural services too.

Culturepath is one form of collaboration for school children in Finland, and in many places it is a part of the official curriculum. Through Culturepath, school children can attend music events and visit museums and libraries. Learning goals and well-being are often achieved in the same way.

There is concrete collaboration with athletics departments as well. In many Nordic localities, the library also loans sports equipment: kettlebells, balance boards, dumbbells, snowshoes and Nordic walking sticks. You can purchase your own once you are sure the equipment is suitable for you. Elsewhere in this issue, Sigrun Espelien Aasen writes about the role of public libraries as suppliers of information on health and promotors of health in Norway.

Above all, the library promotes mental well-being through the collections, events, knowledge and adventures it offers. Although art, or the library as a mediator of it, is not just a cog in the machine of well-being; literature also offers emotions and relaxation, which promote well-being. 

Whatever the reader’s intention may be, doing something you like usually makes you feel good. Pirjo Tuomi of the Oulu University of Applied Sciences in Finland writes of the beneficial impact reading has on people.

A happy community?

Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, is worried about the closing down of local libraries. Libraries have the role of supporting democracy and civil society as long as no one is left outside; rather, everyone feels welcome in the library and community. A library for all – peace in the country? The Minister states in an interview for the Biblioteksbladet magazine (3/2016) that she is afraid that democracy will be threatened if there is no library in the local area.

There is discussion in all of the Nordic countries about the library’s societal responsibility and democratic role: How does the library provide opportunities for the community to voice its various opinions and viewpoints, who are these opportunities for, how can understanding be promoted among the different groups and minorities in the community? The topic is discussed in this issue by both Anders Rydell of Sweden and Ragnar Audunson of Norway who tells about the Place project.

How is well-being measured?

When the connections in the community work and collaboration with the patrons runs smoothly, people in all likelihood will feel better; everyone has permission to express their own thoughts and participate in discussion, everyone has space in the local library, in their own living environment.

But how does the library increase the well-being and happiness of the patron or the entire local community? How are these effects measured, how are they demonstrated?

The traditional meters alone are no longer enough. When the population is healthier and lives longer on both sides of the service counter, how do you know how much of it has to do with the library? Could this be the next theme and task whereby connections, collaboration and community will help us move forward?

Freelance Library Specialist