Finns love libraries: almost two million Finns have borrowed something from one in 2019. That year, there were almost 54 million physical visits and more than 47 million online visits to libraries. These figures are high for a country populated by roughly 5.5 million people. The newest Public Libraries Act, which has now been in force for a few years, has clarified the duties of public libraries and places a greater emphasis on the rapid digital transformation of society.
Libraries have long played a significant role in the development of the media literacy skills of citizens. With the introduction of the new Act, this significance is now acknowledged better than before. One of the basic duties of public libraries is to provide information services, guidance and support in the acquisition and use of information and in versatile literacy skills.
“Regarding this section, the explanatory memorandum states that libraries support versatile literacy skills by guiding users in receiving and producing various media contents as well as in using information and communications technology. Media education falls within this duty”, says Leena Aaltonen, Senior Adviser at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.
According to her, the new Act also strongly acknowledges cooperation between libraries and other operators.
“With regard to media education, libraries already have established familiar cooperation partners, but we hope that the Act will also promote the active formation of new partnerships. Cooperation also includes the idea of a common objective and the operators’ different roles that utilise each party’s strengths.”
For his part, Senior Adviser Tapani Sainio hopes that libraries will encourage people of various ages to explore new types of content, taking the responsibilities and possible copyright related to the publication into account.
“The content available online and on various social media channels and other software have vastly increased the opportunities available for the creative use and publication of content”, Tapani Sainio says.
New national media education policies were published in Finland towards the end of 2019. They also seek to support libraries in media education work and its development. The significance of libraries is mentioned several times in the policies, and many experts in the field were involved in preparing the policy texts.
According to Tapani Sainio, the media literacy policies are ambitious and broad, as media literacy skills are now clearly seen as civic skills belonging to everyone, including adults.
“The policies provide libraries with a great many opportunities, and libraries are, of course, one of the places in which the policy turns into action.”
So much more than just books
Naturally, one of the main duties of libraries is to maintain a diverse collection and loan it out to the public free of charge. The main duties of public libraries in Finland also include supporting versatile literacy skills, ensuring citizens’ access to information and cultural content and promoting social and cultural dialogue. These broad subject areas can be promoted with the help of media education specifically. One way to ensure the realisation of diverse media education at libraries is by clearly designating responsible persons for it.
At Lahti Main Library, the person responsible for the development of media literacy skills is Inka Jousea, head of library services responsible for media education and music services. Having a separate head of media education highlights the development of media literacy skills as one of the basic duties of libraries.
“In my opinion, everything starts from media education being considered as one of the most important duties of libraries”, Jousea says.
According to Jousea, once media education is considered as part of the basic duties of libraries, it also becomes visible in the work responsibilities and duties of the personnel. Lahti is the eighth largest city in Finland, located near the capital, Helsinki. Whenever necessary, the libraries in Lahti have also always recruited media and communications professionals who do not necessarily have previous experience in the library sector. Media education for different age groups has also been incorporated into the work responsibilities of various people.
Although the development of media literacy skills has always been part of the basic work of libraries in one way or another and is part of everyday work at some libraries, for others tackling the topic and developing media education is still a new area full of uncertainties. Concerns may be raised in relation to the availability of time, learning new things, and the feeling that the other basic duties already cause enough work. Inka Jousea has an idea for how this problem can be overcome.
“We do have enough time and other resources when media education is put at the top of the to-do list, and what could be a more important and significant duty than promoting literacy? Of course, libraries of different sizes scale their services according to their own size.”
Find out more about the work of the Finnish Safer Internet Centre, including their awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.
Sources: Statistics Finland 2019, Finnish Public Libraries Statistics 2020, Libraries.fi