Hybrid Libraries and information Gas Stations: How libraries in Finland and Denmark are Breaking New Ground in the 21st century

by Emily Inlow and Jennifer Peterson, MLIS Day

The Public Libraries International Network's Shattering Stereotypes conference, hosted by Seattle Public Library, did just what it set out to do, shatter stereotypes. "Transforming the Library," a session presented by Maija Berndtson, Director, Helsinki City Library, Finland and Rolf Hapel, Director, Aarhus Public Library, Denmark, completely blew us away. While Seattle has done good work in transforming the library as place, Finland and Denmark are doing good work to make the library a place where content is accessed, shared, debated, and, most notably, created. From information Gas Stations, to publishing workstations that house scanners, image processing, multimedia and publishing software, as well as film and audio editing rooms, these libraries are working with trained staff on hand to educate people about new software as well as information on the Internet.

By forging relationships with private start-up technology companies, libraries are showcasing new technologies for public use and are moving themselves into the center of the knowledge economy. The Danish libraries have partnered with researchers in testing computer stations designed to tap into the various ways that kids learn, reflecting the library's commitment to identifying the ways in which users learn, in a concerted effort to match services to learning needs. The focus is moving beyond mere access to technology back to what Hapel believes is the purpose of the library, the content. Also, as their economies move more towards a knowledge-based economy, the library's role becomes more defined as assisting the creation of content, whether that is someone's blog, film project, or new invention. Hapel, in discussing his library's mission statement, describes the four areas the public library should be involved in: enlightenment, economic growth, entertainment, and social development.

So how are Denmark and Finland doing this?
  • Intelligent Buildings
  • Instant Learning
  • Library Services on radio and TV
  • information Gas Stations, mobile service stations that travel to places like railway stations and shopping malls
  • Helsinki's newest and hippest library, Library 10, a combination of Music and IT
  • The Stage, a meeting point where people try out the latest technologies (partnerships with private companies)
  • Quality information retrieval
  • Portals as Multi-channel library services that will soon publish library services on digital TV
  • Video on demand (bibcast)
  • City portal
  • Net music (download free music, subscribed and personalized services)
  • Automatically generated net service information in catalog
  • Amazon-like features (recommendations, ranking based on lending statistics)
  • News broadcasts out of library
  • Library as place (lots of self-service)
  • Book a librarian (individualized reference session)

To top it all off, Berndtson started talking about her library's interest in the Semantic Web and collaboration with Ora Lassila, Tim Berners-Lee's buddy. How inspiring to hear public library directors talking about "the boundless library" and how important it is for librarians to be in front of the cutting edge. The room full of librarians, library directors, library staff, and library students was electrified by the presentation. We can only hope that many have gone back to their own libraries with these new ideas about how the public library can assert itself in a culture full of competing resources and how important it is for us to embrace our changing role.


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Page last updated: June 5, 2005