Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Music among the Shelves in Finland

By Laura Findlay. 

After New Zealand, Finland is my favourite country. It has an idyllic landscape consisting of many, many lakes, little rocky islands, red farmhouses and troll-bearing forests that grow slender, white birch trees, moss and wild blueberries. It has salty liquorice, spicy bulla bread, moomins and crazy music festivals. It has my grandmother.

And typical of Scandinavia, it has an excellent library system. In 2015 I spent a few days visiting family friends in Tampere – a favourite city. Finns know how to do summer right. You spend your summer at the summer house, in the countryside, and while away the hours barbequing, walking through meadows, taking saunas and naps and going for chilly dips in the lake. In the winter you retreat to your city apartment. I spent most of my time at Saija (sigh-ya) – the summer house – but we took a number of excursions into Tampere city to stock up on strawberries  and fish at the market and peruse the libraries (that’s what librarians do whenever they’re in a foreign city, right?).

Tampere city has a central library, Metso, and 14 branch libraries. For a population of more than 200,000 the relevance of libraries is clear. There were a few surprises when I visited Metso in 2015. Firstly, its design is eye-catching and innovative with its round or shell-like shape. It’s a light and open-space, quite unlike many libraries I’ve seen NZ side. I, of course, made a beeline for the children’s section which was welcoming and bright with lots of face-out collections. I had a chat with one of the librarians and the main thing I can remember from this was that they had opted not to go down the route of RFID and instead spend that money on the collection and other technologies. This might have changed recently.

LIANZA’s recent webinar with Jarkko in Tampere was like a fantastic blast from the past – it was also great to hear more about the music section of Metso. I remembered that in 2015 the collection included vinyl and had its own floor (which would certainly make it easier to have raucous concerts)! Here are some of my takeaways from the webinar which you can also watch here

  • Skills based! I’m not sure if this is a general feeling in the industry in New Zealand or my feeling based on my own experiences, but there seems to be a growing disregard for both personal and professional skills. Librarians are some of the most intelligent and diversely skilled people I have ever met but often our skills are not fully utilised or embraced. Hello Finland! Jarkko emphasised the importance of the skills of his staff working in the music department. This is obviously significant for a music-based collection and he says that it is important that his staff have different strengths and different music tastes. He also emphasises the importance of staff knowing how to use the technology available to customers.
  • Diversity. A library that welcomes folk-singers to get up and perform on a table? Awesome. I was also amazed to hear that the collection caters to many niches. They have cassettes! They have a streaming service. And they don’t phase one collection out just because a more modern collection rocks on in. This demonstrates the next point.
  • The people. Jarkko reiterated the importance of the people, or customers, many times and said it was important to have a diverse collection and events programme to bring different people into the library. He also said a key goal was to engage people with the collections through music events. I am quite taken with the idea that staff interview the performers, allowing them to tell their stories (another way to bring people in among the shelves).
  • Innovation. Piracy was arguably born in Scandinavia and so it’s logical that Finland’s libraries are striving to be ahead of the pack (as much as you can be) with their collections. A music streaming service is their answer to modern music. I should point out that the music department is also their magazine department – these two collections are brought together because as Jarkko says, they face similar challenges. Jarkko talked quite a bit about fragmentation of the music industry and how challenging this can be. They are constantly looking for new ways to engage people with music through the library.

Mostly I enjoyed hearing a familiar accent and Jarkko’s abundant enthusiasm and passion for the industry and music. There are many exciting destinations in the world but if you are ever at the point of throwing a dart at a world map I recommend trekking over to Finland – it’s worth the 24 hours of air travel and a swift lake swim will deal to any lingering jetlag. 

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