The janitor provides directions: ‘Just take the lift to the fourth floor!’ and soon we are seated on the cosy top floor of activity centre Happi, our eyes scaling the rooftops of Helsinki as we wait for the Central Library youngsters’ workshop to begin. ‘The last episode of Putous was no good,’ reports an upper-secondary-school-aged workshop participant sitting next to me. The youngster flashes a beautiful smile and gazes expectantly toward the video projector light. The theme of the day is reflected on the screen: ‘The Central Library – a future workshop for young people, method: video opinion essays’.
Young people taking to video essays
This is no assembly of sleepyheads. The youngsters set to work at full speed. A group of upper-secondary-school students have been challenged to participate in the workshop and to share their vision of the future library through video opinion essays. The workshop was implemented in co-operation with activity centre Happi and producer Ismo Kiesiläinen. This method allows youngsters to employ visual methods for influencing Central Library content and services and for expressing their opinion. In addition to video work, today’s workshop features informal conversation on library-related visions and just letting energy flow freely.
At the end of the workshop, the Central Library project workers and Deputy Library Director Saara Ihamäki watch the finished videos and talk to the young participants about their wishes.
What would the young people emphasise if they were to design the new library?
A cultural courtyard in Töölönlahti!
The old warehouse buildings, makasiinit, represent to this young generation what the Lepakko building did for older generations. Today’s youngsters clearly long for an open public facility within the city, a place where they can leave their mark. ‘If the Central Library is built in Töölönlahti, it will become a ‘cultural courtyard’ with Kiasma and the Music Centre as neighbours,’ comments Aleksei, 17. ‘We could go to the library to do something fun and sensible. In the winter, we sometimes try on shoes at Stockmann just to have someplace warm to spend time together in the city centre. Cafés are pretty expensive if you are a student,’ nods Meri-Tuuli, 17. All of these young people agree that the designated Central Library location is just perfect.
A statement for collectivity?
‘Nowadays people say happiness starts with the individual. I would like to donate a little love to the Central Library building process, because I think that happiness may be found in the community as well. The library is a place everyone can share,’ says Raakel, 17. Hmm, is this what the new and responsible generation Y is like? ‘The Central Library foyer would be a great place for some kind of communal urban artwork that keeps on evolving and that the people in the city could mould the way they want to on a daily basis. Like a big wall, where people of different ages could paint their own mementoes,’ contemplates Meri-Tuuli.
‘The common thread of all the happenings and goings‑on in the library could be that they are easy to take part in, close to people and intimate. The idea here, the youngsters all agree, is that big mass events are probably not the best way to approach things, they lack soul. ‘Also, the library should market its services more effectively. Often you find out about an event only after it is over,’ says Raakel.
Peace and relaxed chatting
These kids are not just concerned with what’s ‘cool’; they are thinking up settings for basic day‑to‑day activities. ‘Just picture a typical library reading room – they leave a lot to be desired! In the future, the library should have different kinds of acoustic spaces: both ‘half-loud’ interactive spaces for group work and for talking about math homework and totally hushed places for rewinding and independent concentration,’ says Raakel.
‘A café would be a bonus. And even just being allowed to eat in the library. You should be allowed to sit at the cafeteria tables without having to order something. And you should also be allowed to read library books in the cafeteria,’ she continues. ‘Plus you need a lot of basic stuff like lots of natural light, plants, soft reading nests, and different kinds of surfaces and colours,’ contemplates Meri-Tuuli. The young advisers hope the library will be livened up with splashes of spring green, yellow, and red.
One particular experience is shared by many: getting lost in a big library. ‘Space is an important thing. It is the first step on the way to meeting the world of library services,’ points out Meri-Tuuli. Library services, events, content, and materials are often difficult to find. ‘Personnel should be around for when you need them or when you get lost. It would be nice if the library had many staff anyway,’ says Aleksei. Despair is not an unknown feeling for those who have squatted between the shelves, peering at book spines. The young people emphasise that they need functional, easy‑to‑use facilities. The facilities should have adequate directions and function as user interfaces for the services provided. Multifunctionality, diversity, and a comfortable atmosphere are also in demand.
‘I hope they get a great architect for the new library,’ concludes Aleksei.
Youngsters’ wish list:
- an ecologically functional building that reflects its environmentally friendly character through facilities that are connected to a garden or maybe through artwork and colours that remind visitors of forests
- young artists’ artwork being available for viewing and borrowing
- elegant displaying of library materials and new, surprising methods of display
- communicative services and content: the library is meant for everyone, equally, and its services and content should be easy to find and reach
- effective dissemination of information and marketing of services and events
- an affordable cafeteria or restaurant
- sensible activities for young people in the city centre – good traffic connections are essential
- diverse workshops that promote participation and creativity
- hobby groups for different subcultures and age groups, which could meet in the library and sometimes allow joint participation so that children / young people and the elderly interact
- inviting facilities for reading and relaxing, lots of natural light, and plants
- expanding around the concept of books, with, for example, a book flea market and ‘word art’
- the possibility of hiring hobby equipment, and facilities such as a chess table
- longer opening hours and a space that is open 24/7
- users’ events on the library stage, visibility for users’ personal productions in the library
- a pillow room, with a fluffy carpet, where you could lie down, and a ‘bird’s nest’ – a chair or a big hugging bear to coddle up to when you have a bad day
- an urban artwork that you can work on everyday, located in the library foyer
Text: Siru Valleala & Virve Miettinen
Images: Virve Miettinen