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Updated: 08 MAY 00

The Role of Libraries
in the Information Society
Finland - Background Information

In connection with research on the role of libraries in the information society , we have collected a fair amount of information on how the situation is evolving in different countries. This document provides background information on Finland.

Generic data

In 1993, Finland had 5.1 million inhabitants and an area of 338,127 sq. km., which gives a population density of 15 inhabitants per square kilometre. In 1990, Finland spent 0.28% of its GDP on libraries.

Higher education libraries

Higher education libraries in Finland had 30 administrative units in 1993 and 457 service points in 1990. In 1995, the number of volumes in book collections was 15,3 million (in comparison to 12.3 million in 1992). In 1990, there were 135,000 registered users who loaned 2.6 million volumes.

Research libraries

The statistics on the operations of research libraries in Finland in 1995 provide information of 327 research libraries, of which a major part, 262 are connected to the universities or other educational institutions. Further data in respect of 61 special libraries and four educational institutions is included. The number of physical units in collections totalled 19.4 million publications. In 1995 there were 9.5 million registered library visits and the number of loans totalled 6.5 million (in comparison to 5.7 million in the previous year).

The current expenditure in 1995 in university and research libraries was 341 million FIM, of which 61 per cent was allocated for staff. The budget appropriations covered 84 per cent of the operating costs and 8.3 per cent was covered by commercially rendered services and 7.7 per cent by funds from miscellaneous sources.

Public libraries

Public libraries in Finland had 1200 service points in 1995.
In 1997:
Number of municipalities 436
Number of libraries (main and branches) 992
Number of other service units 932
Number of bookmobiles 210

In 1997: there were 40 million volumes in collections and 1.9 million volumes were added. There were almost 2,5 million registered library users paying 64 million visits to public libraries and borrowing 102 million volumes, i.e. 20 volumes per inhabitant.

Current expenditure in 1993 was 1057 million FIM, of which 57 % was allocated for staff. In 1994, expenditure was 1016 million FIM and in 1995 it was 1072 million FIM and in 1997current expenditure was 1159 million FIM, of which 57% was allocated for staff.

Statistical data on libraries

The statistics concerning the Finnish National Bibliography for monographs, serials, cartographic and audio-visual material (excluding printed music) are as follows:
Number of records at the end of the year
Number of records added in relation to the previous year
Number of Cataloguing In Publication records
1990 199000 -- 2000
1991 255000 56000 2500
1992 300000 45000 4000
1993 345000 45000 3000
1994 403000 58000 7300
1995 465000 62000 6100
1996 525000 60000 6800

In 1997, the average circulation figure per inhabitant was 20, with 12.6 visits per inhabitant. Every second Finn was a registered library user in 1997 but it was estimated that 60 to 80% of the Finnish population use public libraries in one way or another.

There are 19 regional central libraries in Finland which co-ordinate the inter-library loan services of the area, maintain a regional reference collection and inform the smaller libraries of new developments in the field and organise meetings and training.

In early 1998, there were 70 regional networks with 290 co-operating municipalities. About 67% of Finnish public libraries belonged to a regional co-operative network. In June 1998, there were 34 library catalogues available via the Web. As most of these are union catalogues covering several public libraries, there were actually 98 public libraries with Web-catalogues in Finland.

Approximately 84% of public libraries were automated in 1995. More than 10 different library systems are represented in the Finnish public libraries primarily of Finnish origin. Not all functions of the housekeeping system were used by all libraries. In 1996, as more libraries acquired an automated library system, the rate of automation was expected to be around 90% by the end of the year.

232 public libraries can access the catalogue of the regional library.

75% of higher education and public libraries offer access to on-line databases. 68% of them do so free of charge, the remaining 32% requiring a fee.

In Finland, the depository library is common for higher education and public libraries, and is government owned and financed.

Libraries and the Internet

According to the list maintained by the Helsinki City Library , there were, in June 1998, 198 Finnish public libraries on the Web.

The Networked Public Library Services Unit maintains , which includes a national Ask-A-Librarian Service, a database of basic public library information, Link Library, which is a directory of web resources catalogued by librarians.

In June 1998, the Internet connectivity rate for public libraries was around 90%, with 70-80% of public libraries providing public access to the Internet.

One of the means by which the use of networks in public libraries will be promoted in Finland is the House of Knowledge Project. This project started in 1995. During the first three years (1995 - 1997) the project was administered by the Finnish Library Association. From 1 April 1998, the House of Knowledge has been administered by Helsinki City Library - Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland.

Policy issues on libraries

According to legislation and policies, public libraries are considered to be among the basic public services.

Financing for Finnish public libraries comes in equal parts from the state and from the municipalities, and the principle of the service is free of charge, according to the Library Act.

Nevertheless, there are fee-based services, such as reservations, overdue fines, and in some cases interloans and on-line searches. An income also comes from the sell of old books , auditoriums and other premises hiring for outsiders.

This non-tax income in local libraries corresponds to 5 to 10% of all the financing, with an average of 6-7%.

The amount of money coming from sponsors to public libraries is marginal.

In regard to higher education libraries, the government-owned units are financed 100%. Additional incomes are sought through charging for some special services such as interloans, information searches from on-line databases and selling of publications. In general higher education libraries charge more than public libraries.

The most significant investment involving state funding is the equipping of all libraries and schools with modern computer technology. In large part, this can be covered by existing channels, but central development projects and information campaigns will require additional funding.

The political attitude towards public libraries was positive in the early nineties and became part of the Finnish Information Society plans.

In Finland, the Ministry of Education has presented two scenarios, which are the first ones to contain a satisfactory discussion on the role of libraries in the information society. The ministry also has presented several concrete proposals for action and has also funded library-related IT projects, for instance the House of Knowledge project, which aims at co-ordination and development of Internet activities in public libraries. Moreover, the public libraries and the research libraries are jointly creating an IT scenario for the next decade.

According to the Finnish Government, "Everyone should have the chance to acquire sufficient basic skills in IT and information resource management. There must be sufficient research to ensure rapid development of the Information Society and information produced in or stored by the public sector must be made more readily accessible through public information networks and libraries. There must be a basic everyman's right to information."

In 1994, the Ministry of Finance prepared a national information management strategy 'Towards a Finnish Information Society'. The strategy places the different media, schools and libraries in a central position. By the year 2000 all of Finland's schools and public libraries will be connected to information networks. The goal for the library system is to serve as an access point for all citizens and also to promote network literacy and life-long learning.

In its decision in principle of 18 January 1995, the Council of State noted that: "Public libraries will be supported as open information network nodes, and information network services will be introduced throughout the library system as soon as possible".

The Ministries were then given the task of preparing a set of actions to reach the desired goals set by the Council of State.

According to the information highway policy of the Finnish Government, the three-year project, 'Towards the Finnish Information Society' has been set up with a total allowance of 10 million FIM for public libraries' projects in 1996 - 1999.

One of the means by which the use of networks in public libraries is being promoted in Finland is the House of Knowledge Project. This national project started in 1995. It is financed by the Ministry of Education and during the first three years was administered by the Finnish Library Association. From April 1998, the project has been administered by the Helsinky City Library - Central Library for Public Libraries in Finland.

The main aim of the House of Knowledge project is to promote the ability of the public libraries to act as users, producers and suppliers of network services.
One of the aims of the House of Knowledge Project is also to promote the production of cultural contents in networks. In its first year, the project concentrated on helping public libraries to connect to Internet but it also supported several projects on electronic publishing over the Internet.

In 1996, the House of Knowledge Project received 84 applications for funding (the total budget for information production in 1996 was 750 000 FIM). All in all, 102 projects were supported through the funds in 1995 - 1997.

Statistics have shown that, although Finns and Danes use libraries in similar amounts, the Finns are served by remarkably cheaper network costs than the Danes.

This is the consequence of the fact that the tele-infrastructure in Finland is exceptionally good. The whole country has a wide digital connection, which makes the use of the Internet easier, more reliable and quicker than via analogue lines. Also, a large number of local communities already use fixed cables/leased lines, that are generally cheaper and quicker than modem dial-up connections. Finally, the Finnish libraries have networked in interloans and resource sharing for decades, leading to a positive attitude to participate in the "networking society".

Since the implementation of the Finnish information highway policy, funding for the development and provision of new electronic services for the public through libraries has been easier to find. Still, most libraries were unsure of the expenditures involved in Internet use last year. Especially the smaller libraries, which would benefit greatly from the use of networks, have limited funds to purchase equipment and cover the running costs. Since 1996, the Ministry of Education has prioritised the small libraries servicing a population of less than 2000. There are 81 such public libraries in Finland (55 of them applied for additional funds for their network projects this year), 49 of which were supported financially by the Ministry of Education.

Government and industry are spending 2 billion FIM this year to train 600,000 students and 400,000 adults on the Internet. All Helsinki schools are being connected to the Internet and Helsinki's telephone company HPY has introduced a multimedia network into the established telephone system and is creating a model of the city around which people can travel aboard their PCs.

Activities on the school data network started in 1993. The idea of the network is to increase opportunities for schools to communicate. Several nordic and international school development projects function solely through Internet contacts. Furthermore, it is the intention to develop education in various subjects, to offer multi-disciplinary instruction and to give access to global information. In the government programme of spring 1995, high priority is given to the development of computer skills throughout the educational sector. The goal is to link all schools and vocational colleges by the year 2000.

The Finnish Library Act , adopted in December 1998, prescribes the library and information services to be provided by municipal public libraries, and the promotion of these services both nationally and regionally.

An English résumé of a Green Paper published in 1996 by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture concerning cultural policies and the Information Society is available from the Finnish Ministry of Education web site.

Report on the situation of libraries, museums and archives prepared in February 1998 by the Finnish National Focal Point for the European Commission's Libraries Sector.
European Commission

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