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Closed libraries find new ways to serve customers

Librarians are offering books in a bag, expanding e-book catalogues and sharing book recommendations on Instagram.

Helsingin keskustakirjasto Oodi
With library doors shut, the Finnish Library Association encourages people to turn to online library services. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Libraries across the country which have closed doors as part of Finland’s emergency law to fight the coronavirus epidemic are finding new ways to cater to customers. Authorities are offering pick-up facilities, expanding the e-book catalogue and even sharing book recommendation on Instagram live.

Bookstores in the municipalities of Salla in Lapland and Kuhmo in Eastern Finland are offering a ‘book in a bag’ service through which library staff pack requested books in a bag and customers can pick it up at an agreed time.

A similar service is being considered in Helsinki — the only difference being that they are giving away books that are marked to be removed from the library catalogue.

Turku city library has taken to social media to offer an insta-live service where librarians' answer customers' questions and provide book recommendations on weekday mornings.

Growing demand for e-services

With library doors shut, the Finnish Library Association encouraged people to turn to their online services.

"Let's hope that as many people as possible start to use the libraries’ e-services," Director at Finnish Library Association Rauha Maarno said.

In recent years, municipalities have been investing a lot more in e-services with a growing number of readers turning to e-books and e-journals. With public spaces shut and everyone asked to stay indoors over the next few weeks, demand has shot up.

The number of book reservations has increased from 13,500 to 14,500 in a matter of days, revealed Virva Nousiainen-Hiiri, Head of Library Network Services at the City of Helsinki.

Although municipal libraries have been stocking up on digital material in recent years, it’s not nearly enough to meet the demand, according to the Finnish Library Association.

"I believe that during this corona crisis we will find that the current service structure cannot meet demand," Maarno said.

Though the cities of Helsinki and Turku are constantly buying more licenses for e-books, the library association calls for a more nationwide solution.

"A common e-library for all the municipalities could help create a wider supply," Maarno added.

Services to boost community spirit

Most libraries have employees reporting to work to help serve customers, even though their doors are closed to the public. In Helsinki, for instance, you can receive telephone services from libraries and request information via chat. In addition, they are working on services to boost community spirit.

"This could mean, for instance, online streaming of story hours or reading circles that customers could follow on the library's website," Nousiainen-Hiiri said.

Many libraries have to deal with privacy concerns in a new way with customers unable to physically access the library. Most digital services in the Helmet network (Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries) require a library card registration number and a pin code. But if the customer forgets the code, it won’t be possible to obtain a new code online due to privacy concerns.

“We have asked for legal advice and are working to find a solution as soon as possible,” Nousiainen-Hiiri said.

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