Oodi, a new central library for Helsinki, will open on December 5, 2018, a day before Finland marks its 101st anniversary as an independent country. Described as the nation’s birthday gift to its citizens, the 17,250 sq m library has been designed by Finnish architecture firm ALA Architects, led by Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki and Samuli Woolston.
Oodi Central Library embodies a new era of libraries in Finland and responds to the country’s 2017 update of its Public Libraries Act, which established a mandate for libraries to promote lifelong learning, active citizenship, democracy and freedom of expression. Oodi is located opposite the Finnish Parliament, a site chosen to symbolise the relationship between the government and the populace: with their two houses facing one another across a civic square surrounded by institutions of the arts and culture including the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, the offices of the Helsingin Sanomat Newspaper and the Musiikktalo Concert Hall.
The design and programme of Oodi embraces technology to create new opportunities for access to books and culture. Only one third of the space within the library is used to hold books - a relatively modest 100,000 volumes at any time. However, thanks to online services and a team of book-sorting robots, users of the library will have access to nearly 3.4 million items at the click of a mouse, making Oodi the principal service point within a much larger, distributed library system. Oodi is supported by the already well-established HelMet online library catalogue and ordering system, which gives access the Helsinki Metropolitan Area’s full collection.
The shift in priorities away from storage of a large static collection of books meant that Oodi’s librarians and designers were able to reconsider the role of the library. By entering into an extensive programme of workshops and consultation with library users, they chose instead to explore new and more inclusive ways of creating access. The resulting library is an indoor extension of public space, a civic “living room” that offers facilities such as a movie theatre, recording studios and a maker space, access to public services, exhibitions and community events in addition to books.