Libraries are ready for restrictions to be lifted

The libraries in the metropolitan area are ready and able to open their facilities and services quickly once they are allowed to do so. Health plans have been prepared for the library facilities for the staff to ensure safe distances, for example.

“We are energetic and excited to warmly welcome customers again and offer them an inspiring environment for reading, studying and working. Events will come a bit later,” says Helsinki’s Director of Library Services Katri Vänttinen

Libraries are open  

Libraries have remained open throughout the winter, but only to a limited extent. This means that customers can pick up and return their reservations, use the computers and copy essential papers, among other things, but not spend time in the library.

The health and safety measures taken in the libraries ensure safety even if people start browsing the shelves more freely or stop for a while to read or work in the premises. 

“The customers have complied with all restrictions, and the restrictions being lifted did not cause a rush last year. We are looking forward to a similarly happy and safe reunion with customers this year,” Vänttinen says.

Libraries have been quiet

Since libraries have only been open for quick visits for the last five months, their visitor numbers have dropped throughout the Metropolitan Area. For example, visitors to Helsinki Central Library Oodi decreased by 91 per cent this February compared to the previous February. 

In 2020, February was the last normal month before the first COVID-19 restrictions in Finland. Back then, Oodi, also known as the living room for all Helsinki residents and the busiest library in the city, had 215,000 visitors, while it only received 18,600 visitors in February 2021.

At Espoo’s largest library, Sello, visitor numbers have decreased by 71 per cent. At Vantaa’s busiest library, Myyrmäki, visitor numbers have decreased by 74 per cent, while at Kauniainen library, the decrease is 66 per cent.

Customers have learned to reserve books in advance

Despite the waning number of visits, COVID-19 lockdown measures have inspired people to read more. The period of restricted services has shown that many customers have discovered the libraries’ digital materials, and increasing numbers are reserving physical materials in the Helmet online service, much like in a webshop. In fact, the number of reservations has been so high that the logistics of Helsinki and Vantaa city libraries were overloaded for weeks and customers had to wait longer than usual for their reservations. The situation is now under control.

“Naturally, the number of items borrowed has dropped to less than half of normal levels. Many loyal library customers have the habit of ‘impulse borrowing’: in normal conditions, they are constantly seeing something interesting that the staff have put on display or that they notice on the returns shelf,” says Director Vänttinen.

Director of Oodi Anna-Maria Soininvaara has also noticed that people have focused on specific titles this winter, when almost all loans have gone through the reservation system. 

“Everyone is queuing for the same books on the favourites lists. Reservations have been necessary during the lockdowns, but it would be wonderful if people got to make discoveries on the shelves soon! Then, the entire collection would be more readily available,” Soininvaara says, dreaming of the future. 

Photo: City of Helsinki / Virpi Peltola