Internet use has spread rapidly in Finnish public libraries , partly because of the national information society strategies. Finnish public libraries also have a long tradition of networking in other areas, which has helped the swift implementation of network technologies in libraries. By the end of 1997 70% of public libraries will be connected to the Internet, more than 50% will provide Internet services for the public.
Along with the use of the Internet cooperation between libraries has increased and intensified. The writer will look at some national and regional collaborative projects, most notably the PULSE. The Finnish PUblic Libraries Enterpage is a single point of contact to distributed library resources in Finland and around the world. The different uses of Internet as an every day public library tool (information retrieval, inter-library lending, communication and material production) will be presented. The writer will also discuss the results of a survey on public library Internet use in 1996.
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 3-year project started in 1995. It is financed by the Ministry of Education and administered by the Finnish Library Association. In mid-February 1996, three full-time coordinators were hired to run the project, with qualifications and experience as librarians. The tasks of the coordinators include evaluating and developing search tools for librarians to use, informing libraries of local and regional plans and projects, coordinating Internet collaboration and keeping in touch with international development in the field.
One of the aims of the House of Knowledge Project is also to enhance 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 in electronic publishing on the Internet: e.g. the Finnish Comics Society produced a directory of Finnish drawers and writers of comics, and the Finnish Literature Forum presented Finnish fiction in English.
In 1996 the Ministry of Education subsidized the network projects of the public libraries by 10 million FIM. Roughly a third of the amount was used in hiring network experts in all the regional libraries. These specialists give technical advise to the libraries in the area, and also train the staff. The specialists come from different backgrounds: some are librarians with network skills, others have qualifications in computer science. The network specialists will continue to work for the duration of the 4-year information society program financed by the Ministry of Education.
Internet use has spread rapidly in Finland, partly because of the above mentioned national information society strategies. Finnish public libraries also have a long tradition of networking in other areas, which has helped the swift implementation of network technolgies in libraries. Along with the use of the Internet cooperation between libraries has increased and intensified.
Over 90% of the libraries providing public access do so free of charge. Those 15-odd libraries who charge for Internet access are mostly small public libraries using a modem connection. All of these libraries offer access through a graphical interface, none use a text-based connection.
Almost all of the 18 regional central libraries and a number of smaller libraries offer Internet user instruction in the form of lectures and hands-on experience. These occasions have attracted a wide range of patrons: middle-aged men and women, old-age pensioners, people who are unemployed and those who need knowledge of the Internet at work, students and school children.
All the regional central libraries were using the Internet for information retrieval last June. 78% of all respondents felt the Internet to be a very helpful tool in professional information retrieval, a slightly smaller proportion of respondents (62%) said the Internet was of great help in reference work. Especially on topics where little or no printed information exists, the Internet has been particularly useful.
158 librarians answered questions about information retrieval on the Internet. 18% were using the Internet daily, 40% weekly and 48% occasionally for either reference work or other professional purposes.
Internet is most frequently used when searching information on:
About half the respondents from the regional libraries had not encountered significant problems in information retrieval. Where libraries had met with problems, these were most often connected with the enormous amount of references retrieved or the relevance of the documents. The inadequacy of the search tools was seen as a problem; the different search logics and commands also made information retrieval somewhat difficult. Links to non-existing documents, the amount of traffic on the networks and inadequate equipment in terms of transfer speed were seen as hindrances.
The respondents suggested directories of evaluated links as one solution to the problems in information retrieval. Classification and indexing of the documents were seen as one possible way of improving information retrieval. The titles of the documents should also be more informative.
In 1997, the House of Knowledge together with the Central Library Office at Helsinki City Library and the Cable Book Library in Helsinki, have started to work on a national directory of resources for use in library work. The directory will be based on the help-server customer support program developed by Akumiitti Ltd. And will be launched in May 1997. The production of the directory will be distributed and made as easy as possible. Librarians can send in the bibliographic and descriptive data via a www form by using a password. As the resources will be encountered in every day reference work, the directory will eventually facilitate everyday information retrieval on the Internet.
A few libraries have produced small special databases, such as Wanki in Vaasa Regional Library. Wanki includes bibliographic information on a collection of old books (from 1853 backwards), which had not been previously catalogued. Vaasa Regional Library also produces Electronic Book Exhibitions with reviews, comments and excerpts from the books. Vaasa, Kokkola and Seinäjoki Regional Libraries have also produced a database, Botnia, with references on the regional collections of 13 libraries in the area. Other regional collections will follow later on this year.
In Satakunta Regional Library several regional databases are being produced under a single user interface. These include Tiivis, abstracts of theses and dissertations from the local Polytechnic, and Leviite, with full-text articles from a local newspaper. The journalists have agreed on a copyright contract, where the library first paid a lump sum for the articles up to 1996, then a yearly sum for additional articles. The database does not include all the articles from the paper, though, only those with information on the area of Satakunta Region.
A directory of Lappish contemporary writers can be found on the web pages of Lappi Regional Library, smilar directories with biographical information, bibliographies and interviews have been produced in four other libraries.
Over 100 public libraries are planning to give access to their OPACs through the Internet within a year. A simultanious search of all the Finnish public library webbed online catalogues is being developed in the House of Knowledge.
PULSE includes a list of Finnish public libraries with web pages, but also links to libraries abroad. There are links to several search engines, the instructions of which have been translated into Finnish. PULSE also includes an alpabetical index of all the topics covered on the pages, plus a search facility. There is information on the administration of Finnish libraries, library schools, university faculties which offer studies in the field, links to reference tools on several topics etc.
The plans for 1997 include the above mentioned directory of networked resources produced by the libraries themselves, and a library register in database form. This would include contact information, names of contact persons in libraries, information on special collections, information on library architecture, statistics on circulation, expenditure, library visits etc. All the information will be stored in a database with several search facilities. New, improved notice board pages will also be developed this year: these will inform libraries nationally of library events, further education and training in the field, news and positions. It will also provide for an easy-to-use information channel for all libraries. Libraries can themselves submit the information to the appropriate category by using a password and out-dated information will be removed automatically. The information can be browsed according to subject and date.
68% of respondents saw their own lack of experience and skills as a problem. Obviously, those with more experience of Internet use, saw neither lack of time or skills as a problem. Almost 70% mentioned technical questions and only 40% the lack of (financial) resources as a problem. The Finnish PUblic Libraries Enterpage as a single point of contact to distributed library resources in Finland will help librarians overcome these problems.
Public libraries clearly see their role in Internet provision to be of importance in quaranteeing equitable access to electronic information for the citizens. 76% of respondents said providing public access to the Internet was important.
The improved image and status of public libraries with the public and especially with the local politicians was also seen as a benefit by the majority of respondents (74%). Over 60% saw the enhanced opportunities for communication as a clear benefit of Internet use, around half the respondents saw Internet as a PR tool.
Remote use of library collections and services will gradually increase self-service when not every patron has to come to the library with a request for a book or a reference question. Still, libraries have to become even more pro-active than before: school children and students may become information literate and learn the use of networks at school, but the adult population needs a place where they can acquaint themselves with the use and the contents of the Internet. This is something which the majority of Finnish public libraries clearly agrees on: librarians will not become obsolete, for their services will be needed for a long time in virtual and actual library work.