HELSINKI, Finland — Two days earlier than the opening on Wednesday of Oodi, Helsinki’s new central library, its director, Anna-Maria Soininvaara, stood earlier than a few of the high-tech tools that might quickly be obtainable for the general public to make use of. She wasn’t fully positive what all of it did, she mentioned sheepishly.
The gadgets included a laser cutter, computerized embroidery machines and tools to digitally sculpt wooden. In one glassed-in space on the constructing’s second flooring, Helsinki residents might restore private digital objects by 3D-printing substitute components and soldering them collectively.
Ms. Soininvaara’s uncertainty was comprehensible: The 59-year-old, who has labored within the Finnish library system for 3 many years, is extra of an skilled on literature than on high-tech engraving, and Oodi — which implies “ode” in Finnish — isn’t precisely a traditional library. Given its breadth of providers, one is perhaps forgiven for questioning whether or not Oodi must be thought of a library in any respect.
A swooping three-story development of wooden, metal and glass that appears like a ship topped with a layer of ice, the brand new constructing, which price 98 million euros, or round $110 million, together with tools, is without doubt one of the most anticipated public initiatives within the nation in years. It is an bold try by one of the crucial literate and digitally savvy nations on the earth to reinvent the library for its inhabitants’s future wants.
“Books are important, but it’s not the whole library,” Ms. Soininvaara mentioned. She pointed to Oodi’s recording studios, kitchen, gaming room with PlayStation consoles, and an “immersive 3-D space,” a room whose partitions will be illuminated with digital projections, obtainable to artists or for company shows.
The results of twenty years of planning and public session, every of Oodi’s three flooring was constructed to satisfy a unique civic objective. Its expansive floor flooring, which features a restaurant, movie show, European Union data heart and a number of areas suited to concert events, is supposed for occasions that encourage Helsinki’s residents to mingle. The second flooring, with digital tools and workrooms, is for noisy inventive exercise, and the highest flooring, an open-plan, brightly lit “book heaven” with rows of white stacks, is a standard, if inordinately tasteful, studying room.
“We took into account the fact that libraries will always be changing,” mentioned Samuli Woolston, a companion at ALA Architects, the Finnish agency behind the constructing. “Already, their use is different now from what it was 10 years ago.” New features, he defined, might simply be accommodated into the constructing’s design.
Tommi Laitio, the town’s government director for tradition and leisure, defined that the constructing and its expansive technological choices have been partly meant as a bulwark towards populism. In 2015, the right-wing, populist Finns Party joined a coalition authorities. Jussi Halla-aho, the get together’s chief, as soon as argued that fixing Greece’s debt disaster would require a navy junta, and he has linked Islam to pedophilia.
“This is very much a political project,” Mr. Laitio mentioned, arguing that threats to democracy throughout the globe in recent times may very well be defined partly by folks’s uncertainty about technological advances.
Oodi’s high-tech tools is meant to counteract these fears. “It allows people to experience the future so it doesn’t feel so intimidating,” he defined.
Finland’s high-profile funding within the public library system runs counter to developments within the United States and Britain, the place many libraries have faced drastic budget cuts in recent years. Last year, a column in The Guardian argued that the cuts to the British system, which increasingly relies on volunteers, had been so severe that “the U.K. no longer has a national library system.”
Oodi “fits very well into the Nordic story of how societies work,” Mr. Laitio said. “There are so few of us here, so we have to make sure everyone can develop to their fullest potential.”
With their generous publicly funded benefits, Nordic countries place a high premium on social integration and education, and, based on 2014 figures from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Finnish government spends more than one and a half times as much per capita on libraries as the United States.
The Nordic countries are emerging as leaders in library design. Dokk1, a state-of-the-art “hybrid library” with “maker spaces,” a passport office and a playground, opened in Aarhus, Denmark, in 2015. It was named “public library of the year” by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions a year later, and its visitor numbers have grown significantly.
Oslo’s new central library, which is due to open in early 2020 on the Norwegian capital’s waterfront, is expected to include a movie theater, gaming area and workshop for visitors to use digital equipment.
The Nordic countries have been faster to embrace digital technology than most, and Mr. Laitio argued that Oodi points to a way forward for library systems across the world that have struggled with digitization and budget cuts. The building, he said, is intended for use as a co-working space and a town square, and tries to appeal to a broad range of demographics.
“We have to make sure that libraries aren’t just relevant for people who can’t afford books or a computer,” he said.
Oodi is to begin mostly normal operations on Friday, after a two-day opening celebration with concerts and speeches by politicians, including the Finnish president. Its architects noted that the building’s balcony was built to be at the same level as the stairs to the Parliament building across the square, a symbolic gesture to indicate that learning is as important in Finnish society as politics.
“We often think that things like social cohesion or democracy are just words, but in spaces like these they really come to life,” Mr. Laitio said. “You need some social infrastructure for communities to work. You can’t build them on friendship, or this abstract idea of living together.”