The use of e-materials in libraries is rising rapidly – a one-stop-shop e-library would bring the offering genuinely within the reach of all Finns

In 2020, the use of libraries’ e-materials has reached unprecedented heights. The exceptional situation during the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to this, but the rising trend has been visible since 2014. At the moment, however, not all Finns are in an equal position, because the availability of e-materials in libraries differs from one municipality to another. This is one of the problems that the libraries’ digital media project aiming at a one-stop-shop e-library wants to change. 

In the Helmet libraries in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area in 2020, the use of e-magazines rose by a staggering 118%, the use of e-audiobooks by 41% and the use of e-books by 20%. At the libraries of Kainuu and North Ostrobothnia, the use of e-magazines increased by 151% and that of e-audiobooks by 68%. The same figures for the libraries of Jyväskylä are 65% (e-magazines) and 39% (e-audiobooks). Similar development has already been occurring all around Finland for a while: in 2014–2019, the number of e-book loans across the whole country increased by 336% and that of e-magazines by 390%. 

“The year of the coronavirus has clearly increased Finns’ interest in the libraries’ e-materials. However, their loan numbers have already been constantly increasing for the last six years, and I’m convinced that the development trend will continue regardless of the coronavirus situation. This means that there’s a great need for an equal and easy-to-use one-stop-shop e-library. The success of the project determines what the library collections will be like in 20 years,” says Virva Nousiainen-Hiiri, Head of Library Network Services. 

The libraries’ digital media project funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture aims for one single digital library, to which everyone has equal access and that is easy to use both for library users and staff. Publishers could also access usage data with greater ease than before, and income formation would become more transparent. The project is currently in the investigation phase, and results are expected by the end of April. 

In addition to the increased use of e-materials in libraries, the selection of digital books and magazines is growing at a rapid pace, and libraries need to be able to offer them to their customers more easily. The book and publishing industry plays a key role here, and it has been included in a close cooperation with the project. 

“Together, we are looking for sustainable, long-term solutions for literature and the book industry. When new library services are developed, special care must be taken to reserve enough funding for purchasing e-materials,” says Suvi Oinonen, Executive Director of the Union of Finnish Writers. 

Everyone benefits from the one-stop-shop e-library 

Finns love their libraries, and year after year, they are found among the most popular municipal services. More extensive and easily accessible library services would support the vitality of municipalities.  

The current status of e-services varies, however, because libraries’ e-materials are a confusing jumble split over several different service platforms. Availability varies depending on which municipality you live in, and using e-materials is difficult for customers. For example, not all areas were able to meet the increased need for e-materials during the closure of libraries.  

In addition to the one-stop-shop library ensuring that all library users are in an equal position, it would also make the work of the library staff easier. When the operating procedures are clarified, work becomes faster and more cost-effective.  

“I believe that the reform will happen, because it benefits all parties. First and foremost, the one-stop-shop e-library will promote the status of Finnish literature and the Finnish language,” Nousiainen-Hiiri says. 

Image: City of Helsinki/Satu Haavisto 

More information about the project (in Finnish): Lisätietoa hankkeesta kirjastot.fi/digimediahanke.