Friday, November 20, 2015

Evolution of the Finnish library system – considerations on the impact and benefits

The mission stated by the British library towards 2020 is “Advancing the world´s knowledge”. Talking about setting the ambitions high enough in regards to public services.

Looking at the transformation of the Finnish library, a strategy towards 2016 exists similarly with set objectives and mission. From the strategy it can be learnt that the strategic goal of the library is to generate a meeting spot for people and ideas ie to energise, inspire and surprise. Overall, the strategy outline looks well thought of including the mission which I guess few people would really doubt: “To enhance equal opportunities for people towards civilization, literature and art, and develop skills for information, globalization, civil preparedness and lifelong learning. The objective is also to enhance interactive and virtual services and their cultural contents”.
Some good examples of implementing the strategy exist. Libraries have transformed from borrowing books only to open living rooms for education, entertainment and social sharing. While the library is closed, you may access the premises with your own key. “Night at the library for toys” was organized in Helsinki to help children manage the fear of being without parents for a sleep-over. The new central library to be opened in Helsinki is estimated to attract 10.000 visitors a day. That means more than one million visits per year.
All this sounds great and nobody can argue the digitalization of information as one of the key building blocks. The future age classes will be utilizing more of the virtual services and are used to accessing all information virtually.  
What is then the impact of the strategy and are Finnish citizens getting value for their tax money with the transformation? I tried to find some key statistics to support the strategy. Based on information I found, it may be too early for the evaluation.
According to Tilastokeskus, Finnish Statistics, the cost of the whole library system during 2004-2014 has increased by 32%. Also the cost per capita has increased.  During the same time period, number of physical visits has decreased significantly from 67 million to 50 million. However there seem to be big variations between locations, since some libraries are experiencing clear growth in both visitor rates and number of books lent. The number of web visits has varied somewhat but overall the level has remained the same. Also the number of borrowed books has decreased.
Where are the positive measures from the development and what is really the impact of all these changes? Based on an analysis by Heikkinen, Laitinen, Lappalainen, Parikka, Rasinkangas, Saarti, Söderholm, Suikkanen and Vainikka, there seem to be good key measures for the library including impact scores like benefits to the user, influence of the library within the society and studying efficiency. However I cannot find in the strategy documents what is the current situation and where are the improvements made so far. Is some business thinking needed?
It is clear our public service needs to evolve towards the needs of future generations for whom “digital” and access to data is what paper has been to us. One key question is what is the success factor that determines the return of investment and what to focus on. Coming back to British library and its future plans including their strategic priorities, it looks as if they have started from the right end – looking into key user needs and trends for the future. If our library system is anywhere within this path, I trust our tax money goes to right direction. However, seeing is believing, in the most positive sense, and appreciating the service I am given.