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At 170, National Library re-opens amid contemporary pressures

Following funding criticism from the library director, Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen skipped the re-opening ceremony.

Remontoitu kansalliskirjasto
Kupolisali. Image: Kansalliskirjasto

Finland's National Library re-opened on Tuesday after a restoration that lasted more than two years. It's now restored to its 1840s glory – and equipped with the latest technology including wireless internet.

Behind the gorgeous facade, though, the library faces the same grim future as other educational and cultural institutions: budget cuts and up to 50 redundancies.

The 170-year-old National Library is being hit by major budget cuts at the University of Helsinki, which owns the building.

"We're threatened with cutting 50 jobs, which is far too many," Library Director Kai Ekholm told Yle.

Ekholm has been outspoken in his criticism of the government's policies.

In a recent column, he described the cuts to culture and education by the three-party cabinet and Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen as "extremely uncivilised, naive, mediocre and deceitful".

"No government can threaten cultural heritage"

He argues that Finland's cultural heritage has a special status in society.

"We must keep in mind that it has constitutional protection. No government can threaten that," says Ekholm.

Ekholm asserts the National Library has been a collateral victim of the University of Helsinki's budget reductions. He plans to soon resume negotiations with the Ministry of Education and Culture over the library's future.

The library was reverently restored by more than 100 conservators. The result is a brighter, more functional space with its original doors and wooden floors. The project cost some 19 million euros. The National Library, designed by C.L. Engel, first opened in 1845.

Grahn-Laasonen skipped the re-opening ceremony. Officiating instead was author Jenni Haukio, the wife of President Sauli Niinistö.

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