For me the most fundamental aspect of modern library is that it offers several interfaces to its collection and services. Different people need different kind of access and when our customer base is constantly becoming more and more segmented, it is very important that everyone feels that the library has something valuable to offer for them. For the great majority, the physical book collection is still the synonym of the word library. But in near future, there will be a growing number of people who appreciate and even require information and content which can be accessed 24/7. Our best customers however, are those who are somewhere in the middle. They do not shy away from electronic services, but still enjoy both the physical content and the collective atmosphere offered by the library. So at the City Library of Iisalmi, we try to keep three things in mind when shaping the library of the future. Firstly, we must make sure that our physical collection meets the requirements and is easily available. Secondly, we must invest in digital content and technology and offer them in such a way that everyone can enjoy their benefits. And to keep things even more challenging, we have to offer people an open space with meaningful and touching emotional experiences.
In Finland the standards guiding the collection policy in public libraries are very high. They range from well-defined cataloging and classification rules to universal ethical principles. In my personal work the most important guideline has however been usability. Good library collection is something which offers easily, not only the information you are looking for, but at the same time enables you to discover even more. In practice this means that when you are browsing the shelves for one book, you’ll find at least three more which are relevant or otherwise interesting. Some call this serendipity, but in truth, fortune plays a very small role in the process. Like in gardening, you must weed out the weeds, so that the useful plants get more room and visibility. Withdrawals from the collection are a sensitive subject, but they are an essential way to ensure its usability. It is perhaps too extreme to say that every outdated book kills ten which are up to date, but there is some truth in this. Browsing just cannot feel like you are travelling back in time. It is also important to consider how to display the material. Like in bookstores, the covers are a way to attract people to take books in their hands. This in turn increases the probability that they will also loan it. The simplest way to test this is to organize a themed book display. Same books which have rested few months in shelves are suddenly back in circulation.
The arrival of completely electronic library collection looms far away in the horizon. The City Library of Iisalmi is like nearly nearly all Finnish public libraries which struggle to get even a decent size e-book collection. Still, there are some positive signs. The most interesting is the Ebib-service currently tested by Helsinki Metropolitan Area libraries. It offers advanced features like book streaming and has already quite varied selection of new books. According to Helmet the system will be available to other public libraries at the beginning of next year, but there has not been an official announcement. Personally I hope that all public libraries get this system as soon as possible. Locally, the most important part of our electronic collection has been a small but high quality set of e-books sponsored by FinELib consortium. It is only temporarily available, so we have been keeping low profile about it. Still, compared to much larger libraries, the number of downloads at the Rutakko-network have been a pleasant surprise. But they are not enough and if we do not soon have a better alternative, the public will learn to get their e-reading from somewhere else. In a high tech country like Finland, majority of people already have a device capable of displaying e-books, they just don’t know it yet.
Organizing events is one of the most pleasant aspects of library work. They offer variation and break the daily routine. They don’t have to be massive and like many things in life, small and simple is the most beautiful. Here at Iisalmi my best personal experiences have been the trade fair events where we have taken part with our mobile car (Pokkari). All that is needed is just some preselected bags of used books sold at very cheap prices, friendly staff and nice weather to get a lot of smiling customers. These events also show that our limited resources can be turned into strengths. From the ideological standpoint public libraries are the opposite of commercialism. We should make this kind of brand even better known and emphasize “softer” values in everything that we do. The openness library space is our second strong asset. Commercial spaces are becoming more and more regulated filled with discriminatory practices. In contrast, public libraries offer places where you can just hang out without the need to buy anything. Everyone is welcome is and should always be our most important principle. And by sticking to this rule, the City Library of Iisalmi can easily overcome all challenges which are waiting for us.