License to cure – the new Finnish Library Act gives a mandate for better citizenship
Library services are the most used cultural services in Finland, 50 % of all citizens use the library at least once a month and 20 % use it weekly. A national user inquiry from 2013 showed that experiences of the users according the benefits of the library are remarkable. Nine out of ten respondents told that libraries have made their life better. Finnish people are also heavy library users, last year my library, Tampere City Library, had 22.5 lends/inhabitant. Lending is not decreasing, for example children´s loans went up 6 % last year!
Finland is one of the few countries in the world that has own Library Act, the law that defines tasks and official guidelines to public library`s work. The first Finnish Library Act was published 1928 and it has been renewed several times during decades. The Act must live and develop with the society and it has to reflect surrounding environment and changes in the society. Digitization, economic crises and the changes in the municipalities requires authorities to update the Library Act in Finland.
I had an opportunity to be in the group which prepared the proposal for the new Library Act. The group consisted of the specialists of different institutions like Ministry of Culture and Education, library sectors, library associations and universities. We started our job in Spring 2015 and the work was finished in May 2016. The proposal had been admitted to the Ministry of Culture and Education and will be decided in the Finnish Parliament next autumn. Before that it has a wide statement round in Finnish authorities, libraries etc.
Equality and democracy – basis for the act
The new act enhances in the new way libraries’ tasks in the society. The act´ s goal is to promote among other things citizen´s equal possibilities to civilization and culture, possibilities to lifelong learning, active citizenship and democracy. To implement these goals the baselines are commonality, diversity and multiculturalism.
The former Library Act defined very strictly qualifications for library staff, in the new one we don´t have such exact requirements anymore, just the mention that the person who is in charge of library services in the city or municipality must have higher academic degree and a good experience and knowledge in the library field. There is also mentioning that in the library must have enough staff to take care of the library.
Library services are free of charge in Finland and that matter is crucial and has a long tradition. Libraries and their services must be open and free to everyone despite of destitution or poverty. This paragraph is also in the new law and not just for free lending – also reserving material must be free of charge.
The Library Act is very important to libraries and librarians in Finland, because it gives public libraries rights and at the same time possibilities to act and do their important work in the society and for the society. Of course it is also important for guarantee funding to public libraries. With the act we have a license to make better citizens.
Finnish Public Library Strategy 2016-2020
Another remarkable document for Finnish public libraries was published this year: Library for Citizens – The Way Forward for Public Libraries 2016–2020. There are many similar basic elements in this paper as in the new Library Act, only this is more like a tool for every librarian to cope in everyday work.