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The World’s Most Literate Country Gets a Library From the Future

By Kathleen Rellihan

12.05.18

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Designed by Finland’s ALA Architects, Oodi is located in the heart of Helsinki.

Photo by Tuomas Uusheimo

Designed by Finland’s ALA Architects, Oodi is located in the heart of Helsinki.

Suddenly working or reading in a coffee shop seems so old-fashioned, thanks to Oodi, Helsinki’s new forward-thinking central library.

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Finland ranks as the most literate country in the world, so it’s no surprise it is opening a library of the future, a “living meeting space” complete with robot librarians, a cinema, and a “nerd loft,” on December 5, 2018, a day before its 101st birthday.

This nation of readers is also known for its love of playful, forward-thinking, and unexpected design, from its latest underground art playground Amos Rex to its avant-garde Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Now its next-level library is further cementing this Nordic city as a capital of modern culture.

Inside Helsinki’s New Underground Art Museum

Helsinki Central Library Oodi is a 185,677-square-foot public library that sits in the center of the city, directly opposite the Finnish Parliament. In Finland, access to all libraries is guaranteed by law, and this three-floor, energy-efficient library was designed by Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects to be a “living room for the nation” made with 99 miles of Finnish spruce timber. There are even nine living trees on the third level, bathed in light with floor-to-ceiling windows.  

The third floor reading room has nine living trees.
While this €98 million library will only use one third of its space to hold books—100,000 volumes in total—library users will have access to nearly 3.4 million items in its online distributed library system. Embracing technology as well as literature, the library will promote digital culture as well with soundproofed studios for music and video production, 3D printers, a gaming area (with VR headsets), coworking and meeting spaces, and a cinema.

Perhaps the most telling sign that this isn’t your grandma’s library is the fleet of robot librarians that will help return books to the shelves, leaving more time for the human librarians to interact with visitors. And in an oodi (ode in Finnish) to the country’s love for quirk and eccentricity, there will be a “nerd loft,” a designated place where people of all ages can come together, create, and, yes, make some noise, over game consoles and musical instruments, as well as take part in collaborative and cutting-edge workshops.

The library’s entrance hall serves as a meeting place and also has a café.

Libraries in Finland have also expanded into the sharing economy, and Oodi will let library users borrow a wide range of tools, such as a laser cutter, sticker printer, and sewing and embroidery machines.

Over 20 years of planning, the city’s residents were asked about what they’d want in this new library at events, workshops, and through various campaigns. Many residents envisioned a library of their dreams to include a cozy café and library bar. After all, this is the nation that not only reads the most, but also drinks the most coffee. The first floor of Oodi has a restaurant, café, and terrace, and the third floor has a café where you take your cup outside on the Citizens’ Balcony. Unfortunately, the hopes of adding a sauna and sauna-proof magazines and books have been doused for now.

Oodi is free to enter Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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