Reshape 2017 library conference looked bravely into the future

The international library conference, 21–22 September, focused on people and spaces. What kinds of library spaces are ideal now, when the relationship between people and the library is transforming?

Library professionals from, for example, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Latvia, France, Belgium, Norway, Russia, Estonia and Iceland attended the Reshape conference to tell the stories of their new libraries. Naturally, representatives of Oodi, currently under construction, were also among the participants.

The guiding idea behind the conference was compassion and the library’s role as a provider and generator of compassion. The speech by Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi focused on compassion in a public space. It is important how people behave in a space they share with others; what their active role in relation to others is.

An atmosphere of trust and positivity encourages innovations, wellbeing, joy, creativity and development of cognitive skills – everything that the library wants to promote. Pessi reminds people that compassion is infectious!

Anne Birgitta Pessi believes that the skill of compassion shapes public spaces

Anne Birgitta Pessi believes that the skill of compassion shapes public spaces

Shared soundscape

Citizens will make libraries into their own spaces. As a public space, the library is an institute that best promotes a sense of togetherness – all visitors own it, together. The sense of togetherness is created easily also between different libraries, regardless of country or nationality.

Both joys and problems are universal. For example, the conference brought up the challenging soundscape of reforming libraries, the adaptability of library premises, robotics, new staff arrangements, multiculturalism and virtual technology.

Many of the speakers touched upon the soundscapes of flexible spaces. Meri Kytö from the University of Tampere played examples of library sounds from a tape and talked about customer expectations. What should a library sound like? Everything we do makes a noise. Sound is a communication tool, and many sounds have a certain function.

Before, libraries were monumental institutions where the most popular word was ‘shhhh’. Now, they are changing into urban café milieus, even though many still long for silent spaces. The staff should listen to the sounds of their library and the feedback from the customers and carry out concrete, often quite small measures to achieve a more pleasant soundscape.

Technology as a helping hand

The end of the 2010s is a time of rapid development. During the conference days, the visitors had the opportunity to visit Oodi, in an experience provided by virtual glasses. Sakari Salli spoke about how virtual modelling can be used as a part of the design process. VR-Oodi also offers a look at the outdoor areas, presenting the future of Töölönlahti.

Sakari Salli presents how virtual technology enables showing how sunlight would look, shining through the library windows.

Sakari Salli presents how virtual technology enables showing how sunlight would look, shining through the library windows.

Cristina Andersson’s fascinating speech concerning robotics opened up new perspectives. Due to their expensiveness, robots have become a part of the service structure at a slower pace than expected. However, Andersson says that technology will arrive faster than we realise.

People are worried about whether robots will take our jobs. According to Andersson, the teachable robots will work alongside humans, learning from us. People will always find work. The duty of robots is to be efficient: they can process massive amounts of data, do not have vacations, are able to cope without coffee, always stay healthy and do not complain behind others’ backs.

Cristina Andersson presented the robot experiments around the world. Robot technology will be introduced also in Finnish libraries in the near future.

Cristina Andersson presented the robot experiments around the world. Robot technology will be introduced also in Finnish libraries in the near future.

Sara Jorgensen from Herning library in Denmark presented a new digital library model, in which the website has its own library host or hostess and where the books are presented like in a Netflix selection, available for browsing and loaning.

Peer encouragement

The highlights of the conference were the speeches by library representatives from different countries. It is useful to compare the development of our Oodi to that of other new libraries.

The speech by Sanne Caft from the Copenhagen main library was thought-provoking. ‘The Copenhagen model’ is strict and based on heavy-handed trimming. The staff simplifies and redesigns everything, learns to say no to unnecessary assignments, adapts new roles at a quick pace and reduces face-to-face service. They must be flexible in everything.

In many libraries, such as Dokk-1 in Aarhus, Denmark, people have noticed that both partners and visitors challenge the library all the time. Masses of people and the adaptability of the building are not easy to control. Krist Biebauw from Ghent library in Belgium mentioned a fact brought up by many others: the customers’ paths inside the buildings have surprised the designers. They are often contrary to expectations.

In the end, even in all the new libraries, it is all about a group of stories. Nizar Keblawi from Malmö spoke about story workshops with immigrant children and Marian Morgan-Bindon, our farthest guest from Gold Coast in Australia, about the sense of community in their large country.

Stories will remain a part of libraries because we create new ones ourselves. Chief Librarian Hólmkell Hreinsson from Akureyri in Iceland summarised the entire conference with one sentence: “Libraries change, but the human heart stays the same.” We want to be together, as a part of the story.

See all the conference addresses:

Text: Siru Valleala
Main picture of Meri Kytö: Sampo Matikainen/Hanna Hopea

Construction work on the Helsinki Central Library started 1.9.2015

The construction of the Helsinki Central Library started, when the bucket of the excavator broke the asphalt of the construction site for the first time. Here it goes, and the construction will go on for almost three years. The steering group for the project followed this historic city moment with joy and it had invited friends of the library to join. The Chairperson of the steering group for the Helsinki Central Library project is Ritva Viljanen.

The first excavator will started digging at the Central Library construction site on 1 September.

”Helsinki is being built as a city with an increasing sense of community, as our population is growing at a good rate. The Central Library is a diversified meeting place of city culture for the people of Helsinki and for visitors. It brings us a lot of joy and culture as well as new ideas”, says Ritva Viljanen, Deputy Mayor for Education and Cultural Affairs of the City of Helsinki.

When completed, the Central Library will reach some 10,000 visitors per day and some 2.5 million visitors annually.

”The Central Library complements the exceptional library network of Helsinki, which includes the likes of the Kallio Library, the Rikhardinkatu Library as well as the Kaisa Library and the National Library, which are all attractions in their own right. The Central Library will finally bring a house of literature and literary art to the Töölönlahti cultural campus. The construction of the Central Library is both on schedule and on budget and many big tendering processes have already been completed”, says Viljanen.

The construction phase’s effect on the employment is approximately 1,200–1,500 man-years for the whole economy. The total costs for the building are € 98 million.

The Central Library will be constructed close to the Helsinki Central railway station, just off the Kansalaistori Square. It is located centrally in an urban space and conveniently by public transport connections.

The Helsinki Central Library is a part of the project honouring the centennial anniversary of Finland’s independence. The library will be completed on 6 December, 2018.


Library conference an invitation to a time machine

When books are assembled into a collection, they form a library. When people assemble, they likewise form a rich, diverse compilation. In late March, such a multi-voiced community convened in Helsinki at an international library conference called Designing Today, Destination Tomorrow: Libraries Equipped to Serve and Innovate.

As in other countries, the library industry in Finland is undergoing a great transition, and the creation of the Helsinki Central Library is in the process of introducing a new library complex. In addition to representatives from Finland, the conference in Helsinki attracted visitors from Canada, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic countries and Estonia. Most of the attendees were library employees and architects.

Even though the themes of the conference focused on future challenges that may be difficult, the atmosphere was relaxed, thereby inspiring discussion.

Anne Stenros, Design Director at Kone Oy, addressed the topic of peopleoriented cities.

Anne Stenros, Design Director at Kone Oy, addressed the topic of peopleoriented cities.

A glimpse outside the industry

Anne Stenros, Design Director at KONE, presented thoughtprovoking ideas and figures. Future libraries involve many variables – including changes in human behaviour. Ms Stenros addressed the upheaval of lifestyles and of public facilities which are in the turmoil of change even as we speak. Urbanisation and demographic growth are not about to subside, but instead gaining dimensions which will have consequences that are difficult to predict. By 2050, 72% of the Earth’s population will live in cities. This will affect purchase power and education requirements, among other things.

Stenros anticipates that future generations will value work, education and tackling poverty above family and home. The number of single people is increasing and freelance work is becoming more and more common. How can public facilities best serve young people to whom “bleasure” (”business + pleasure”) is an everyday affair at the “coffice” (“office + coffee house”)?

According to Stenros, people are already increasingly interested in neutral ground – “third facilities” – where new ideas are generated in cooperation with others. Facilities where a peer is comfortable and finds an atmosphere that generates pleasure.


Conference hostess Meiju Niskala with Knud Schulz, the Manager of the Aarhus Main Library

A review of the new library designs

In addition to an introduction of the Helsinki Central Library, the twoday seminar programme included presentations by Knud Schulz and Britta Bitsch from the Main Library in Aarhus in Denmark, Reinert Mithassel from Oslo, Kirsi Lukkanen from the University of Helsinki Main Library in Kaisa House, Åsa Kachan and George Cotaras from Halifax in Canada, Simona Ziliene from Vilnius and Anne-Marie Evers from Stockholm.

Halifax is a historic city. The key characteristic of the Halifax Central Library, opened in December 2014, is flexibility. “When people enter the library, the first thing they do is move the tables and chairs into the configuration they want,” say Chief Librarian Åsa Kachan and architect George Cotaras. “The facility changes when it is modified. Families may come to the library to spend a day together.” In Halifax, architects have designed the library together with the library services without an architectural competition.

The new central library in Vilnius has been modified into part of the landscape, whilst the old, artistic Stockholm Public Library is fighting ventilation problems. These two libraries form a juxtaposition of old and new.

However, humans form the key element of all change. New and old libraries alike are modified for human use and in accordance with the wishes of people. According to Knud Schulz, people want to create, participate, discover and experience, be inspired, learn, encounter and present things.


The architect and director of the central library opened in Halifax in December, George Cotaras and Åsa Kachan, respectively

Discussion on the changing roles of the library

The public also had the opportunity to share their thoughts and discuss the future job description of a library employee:

  • a library employee should manage a range of roles from psychiatric nurse to IT wizard
  • the employees can learn a lot from the customers’ skills
  • challenges can be encountered by working together with the customers
  • learning how to approach a customer is a key skill: the approach should not be intrusive, but not distant either
  • flexible, personal service: each customer needs a specific style
  • studying the relationship between different customer groups: what do young people need and seniors wish?
  • attitude: a positive approach to change, adaptability and fearlessness


Tuula Haavisto, George Cotaras, Katti Hoflin, Anne-Marie Evers, Åsa Kachan and Antti Nousjoki in discussion

Practical implementation

One question began to emerge more and more persistently towards the end of the conference: how to do all this? How to squeeze all these fine ideas, model examples from across the world and citizens’ wishes into a single library building?

The final panel addressed the topic of the Helsinki Central Library once more. The Central Library architect Antti Nousjoki voiced an important question: what if too many people come to the library – will the building continue to work? How can the facilities be tested for days of excessive traffic?

Helsinki residents have been key participants in brainstorming future activities. However, the final process is always unpleasant, Library Director Tuula Haavisto notes. Even some good ideas need to be discarded. According to Nousjoki, not focusing on absolutely everything is a good idea. “Introducing too many uses may not produce a serviceable outcome,” says Nousjoki. Åsa Kachan wonders how to choose the right partners and know when to say ‘no’ to some.

Finally, Reinert Mithassel amused everyone by saying: “No one’s mentioned books yet!” He reminded the attendees that the employees’ perspective is completely different from that of the people who will actually use the library in their lives. Moreover, all changes are slow – both internal and external – so we do not need to rush. “The process will not end, and that is a good thing. Flexibility increases flexibility. When we cooperate flexibly and are prepared to share, we will move from dreams to an awakening and engage in practical implementation.”


Project Manager Reinert Mithassel from Oslo summed up the themes of the conference

Text: Siru Valleala
Photos: Maisa Hopeakunnas

More information, videos, presentations

Conference: Designing today, destination tomorrow

Libraries equipped to serve and innovate

Welcome to Helsinki, Finland on March 19-20, 2015 to get the inside scoop about some of the newest top quality libraries being planned and built in different cities!

New libraries are currently being planned or have recently been completed in many cities around the world. New technologies and changes in individual behavior alter the way in which we approach familiar services in such an evolving environment.

It requires that we rethink how we approach the design of these services, the services themselves, and the structure in which they are housed.

How do these libraries of tomorrow need to look? What will happen inside them? What is required of the staff to adjust?

Helsinki is planning a new central library scheduled to open in 2018. In planning for this, the Helsinki City Library is organizing a conference to share experiences and ideas. Design Director of the global KONE Corporation, Anne Stenros, will get the ball rolling with her keynote address.

Come and hear what is currently happening in different parts of the world, for example the recently opened new central library in Halifax, Canada.

Join us in Helsinki, Finland for two days March 19-20, 2015. We’ll explore the new architectural and service methods, designs, and innovations that will help today’s library serve its patrons long into the future.

Here is the program.

Here is more information about the speakers.

The registration fee is €150, which includes coffee and lunch on both days and dinner on Thursday evening. Accommodation can be booked through us, but payment is to be made directly to the hotel at check out. The hotel booking through us is €135/night for a single room and €155/night for a double room.

For more information please contact Kristina Virtanen:

If you can not make it to the conference, you can watch the whole conference online in the Kirjastokaista:

If you missed the live stream, we’ll link the archived version here later.

More information:

Do touch the City Wheel!

The Library designed, Stara built and the Multicoloured Dreams team finished a 40-metre long and 2.5-metre high city art wall and game board situated in Kansalaistori Square at the Central Library site. It formed the City Wheel (Kaupunkihyrrä) game, unveiled on 16 June. The wheel will mark the location planned for the Central Library in Töölönlahti and amuse the people enjoying summer in the city. Read more »

Library bikes entice people to the Plot Party

There’s much excitement in the air – the winner of The Heart of the Metropolis — Helsinki Central Library Architectural Competition will be announced on 14 June. For a long time now, the new-generation library has been in the process of planning together with residents. Therefore, we want to be where everyone is on this festive occasion.

The library belongs where all people are, on the streets and in the alleys, wherever people get together, run their errands and live their lives. The Central Library is taking the skills, information and stories of a library to the people with the help of six bikes, and is inviting them to discover the new and exciting possibilities of doing things together. Read more »

Designs proposed for the library of the future on display

The proposed designs selected for the second stage of the Helsinki Central Library architectural competition will be put on public display at Helsinki Art Museum Meilahti.

Heart of the Metropolis, the architectural competition on the Helsinki Central Library, is part of the programme of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012. The six designs selected for the second stage of the competition will be on public display from 23 March to 5 April. The public is welcome to give feedback on the designs.  

The architects and teams of the second competition stage have been given an opportunity to develop their designs further on the basis of guidelines from the jury. The exhibition in Meilahti will include images of the reworked designs and architectural models of the designs. Visitors can give feedback both at the exhibition and online. Feedback can also be given on digital city screens located in various sections of Helsinki. Read more »

City residents decide on funding – library to launch the selected pilot projects next year

The participants of the three participatory budgeting workshops held on 25 Oct, 29 Oct and 30 Oct delved into the question of how next year’s development budget of €100,000 should be spent with excitement and a torrent of ideas. ”This is exciting, but in a way it also feels difficult,” commented one lady standing at the door of the library group work room. It’s very true that the atmosphere in the workshops was not all fun and games. At times, ardent discussions were needed to bring about consensus. There was also a lot of joking and laughter. But more than anything, there was a lot of work to be done and a fantastic result: four pilot projects will be launched by the library next year.

Read more »

Residents of Helsinki! Help us make budget decisions

For the very first time, the library is offering Helsinki residents the opportunity to collectively decide how €100,000 of development money will be spent. The money is part of the Central Library’s budget and will be used on pilot schemes for developing the library of the future. Come and help us decide which of the schemes will be launched in libraries next year! You can influence the planning of the library of the future today. Let’s make a new library together, piece by piece.

Participate in workshops and online:

Discuss, comment and ask questions online in week 42 at

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Knit’n’Tag – 130 metres of knit graffiti and over a hundred dreams

People were inspired to dream around the dressed-up trees. City residents shared their ideas about the Central Library at the Knit’n’Tag event held in Helsinki’s Vanha kirkkopuisto Park on 25 August. Suggestions, hopes and dreams were hung on two trees to whisper in the wind and minds. The trees were decorated and united by a communal chain of yarn crocheted in workshops during the summer. Its soft colours and hard “chain-like” appearance invited people to fiddle with it and to continue the chain. Many passers-by sat down to try out their crocheting skills under the Dream Tree of the Central Library. Read more »