Posted by: bluesyemre | May 15, 2018

The borrowers: why Finland’s cities are havens for #library lovers

1918

A library card was the first thing that was mine, that I had ever owned,” says Nasima Razmyar. The daughter of a former Afghan diplomat, Razmyar arrived in Finland with her family in 1992 as a refugee fleeing political unrest. Unable to speak the language, with scant resources, and trying to make sense of the strange new city she found herself in, she was stunned to discover she was entitled to a library card that would grant her books – for free. Her appreciation of the privilege has not faded: “I still have that library card in my wallet today,” she says proudly.

Today, Razmyar is deputy mayor of Helsinki, and ready to champion the institution that has given her so much – starting with the construction of Oodi, the city’s new central library, due to open in December. She is not alone in her passion for libraries. “Finland is a country of readers,” declared the country’s UK ambassador Päivi Luostarinen recently, and it’s hard to argue with her. In 2016 the UN named Finland the world’s most literate nation, and Finns are among the world’s most enthusiastic users of public libraries – the country’s 5.5m million people borrow close to 68m books a year.

In recognition of that fact, at a time when libraries worldwide are facing budget cuts, a decline in users and closure, Finland is bucking the trend. According to local authority figures from 2016, the UK spends just £14.40 per head on libraries. By contrast, Finland spends £50.50 per inhabitant. While more than 478 libraries have closed in cities and towns across England, Wales and Scotland since 2010, Helsinki is spending €98m creating an enormous new one. Not content with merely building a library, the Finns have gone public with their passion: Mind-building, the Finnish pavilion at this year’s Venice architecture biennale, is a love letter to the nation’s literary landmarks.

It’s also not hard to see why Finland’s city libraries are so heavily used: 84% of the country’s population is urban, and given the often harsh climate, libraries are not simply places to study, read or borrow books – they are vital places for socialising. In fact, Antti Nousjoki, one of Oodi’s architects, has described the new library as “an indoor town square” – a far cry from the stereotypical view of libraries as stale and silent spaces. “[Oodi] has been designed to give citizens and visitors a free space to actively do what they want to do – not just be a consumer or a flâneur,” explains Nousjoki.

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/may/15/why-finlands-cities-are-havens-for-library-lovers-oodi-helsinki


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