The posts on this LIBHIST SIG blog aim to identify turning points in the history of libraries around the world. This post is the first in a series of histories from libraries in various countries written by members of the LIBHIST SIG. We have invited to write this first post Kaisa Sinikara (University of Helsinki), researcher and university librarian emerita.
Libraries are the Heart of the
by Kaisa Sinikara
30 April 2023
The development of Finnish academic
education and libraries
Scandinavia, academic libraries have many similarities; the National Library
and the university libraries are open to all and collaboration between
libraries is strong. In this text, I write about the basic development of the
university libraries in Finland, focusing on the oldest university, and the
international influence supporting the changing periods.
establishment of universities in Finland follows that of international
university history. Queen Cristina of Sweden founded the first university, the
Royal Academy of Turku in 1640; the country was several hundred years part of
Sweden. Finland’s period of autonomy as a Grand Duchy of Russia was between
1809 and 1917; The University was named Imperial Alexander University. After
Finnish independence (in 1917), the official name was changed to the University
of Helsinki. It was the only institute for the higher education to 1908.
1908–1920, four new institutes of higher education, complete with libraries,
were established in southern Finland.[i]
From 1958 to 1993, a total of 15 universities were established around
the country, motivated by changes in society and the need to provide education
opportunities for post-war generations. The establishment of polytechnics began
in the 1990s; there are 22 universities of applied sciences. Many of the
universities have later been merged into larger units.
national libraries and the university libraries in Scandinavian countries
Scandinavian countries have implemented different solutions concerning the
organizational structures of the national library and the university library of
the capital city. In Denmark and Iceland, the university and the national
library together form one organization which reports to a ministry. In Sweden
and Norway, the university library and the national library have been
separated; the university library is a part of the university, and the national
library reports to a ministry.[ii]
The National Library is the main memory institution in
Finland; for historical reasons, it was the main library of the University of
Helsinki 1640–2006. Centuries of the library have been discussed in a separate
study (Knapas 2012).[iii] The development of the faculty and
department libraries at the University of Helsinki remained unknown; only a
study concerning the Undergraduate Library was published in 2011.[iv] The history of the new Helsinki
University Library (1828–2012) was the first time discussed in my recent study
(Sinikara 2022), available as an open access monograph.[v]
The first departmental and seminar
libraries from 1850 onward
The departmental and seminar (later faculty) libraries
began to emerge alongside the main library following the University’s move in
1828 from Turku to Helsinki, the country’s new capital, after a big fire
destroyed the buildings and collections of the Academy of Turku. The increasing
specialization seen especially in the natural sciences and in the medical
sciences would have required a great deal of attention to be focused on new
international publications. The University’s main library did not have the
resources to rise to the challenge. A similar development of departmental
libraries was taking place in Germany and other parts of Central Europe that
served as sources of scholarly inspiration.
To support new teaching methods, seminar libraries began to
emerge in the field of humanities from the 1880s onward. The first actors in
this field were young professors of linguistics, who adopted the seminar model
of the Humboldt University (Germany) around the same time as the first
universities in the US. The Faculty of Theology and Faculty of Law also
established seminar libraries at the beginning of the century. The faculties
appointed a professor to supervise the libraries, as well as a part-time
librarian, who was usually a member of the teaching staff, to handle practical
matters. Reports about library operations became an established part of the
University’s annual reviews.
The model of having an independent library expanded to the
1970s, when every faculty and institution had its own independent library. The
library network of the University of Helsinki followed the tripartite model of
old European universities in the early 1990s.
International influence and library
professionals before and after the 2nd World War
International development of the
science and the academic libraries were actively monitored in Finland, first by
the professors then by the library professionals. As already mentioned, Germany
and other parts of Central Europe served as sources of scholarly inspiration
during 19th century and in the early 20th century.
Before the 2nd World War,
the number of librarians was small but international collaboration was seen
essential. The Finnish Library Association was established in 1910. The Finnish
Research Library Association established in 1929, especially for being able to
take part in the international collaboration; university librarian Georg
Schauman was 1929–1930 the first chairman and after his death, his successor
Lauri O. Th. Tudeer 1931–1938. The chairmen of both Finnish library
associations participated in the first international library congress in Rome
and the associations have been members of IFLA since 1929.[vi] The first Finnish President of IFLA
2013–2015 was Sinikka Sipilä, the secretary general of Finnish Library
Association 1997–2015. (https://www.stks.fi/in-english/)
Following World War II, scholarly influence was sought
increasingly from the Anglo-Saxon world. The language of science shifted
gradually from German to English, which was also reflected in the university
libraries’ collections. Library work on the faculty libraries became
increasingly professional from the 1930s onward, when the first librarian´s
posts were created in a couple of faculty libraries. It took another quarter of
a century for professional library staff to become common in other faculties.
The 1970s was a period of active library planning both
nationally and at the University of Helsinki. The Information Age development
progressed in the libraries from the 1960s onward. International collaboration
between scientific libraries was supported by the establishment of LIBER (The
Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche) in 1971. There have been two Finnish Presidents of LIBER: 1995–1998
Professor Esko Häkli (National and university librarian 1976–2001) and 2014–2018
Kristiina Hormia (Director of Library Network Services, National Library).[vii]
Several library professionals who had worked as Fulbright
scholars in the US also came with new ideas. One of the proposals was to
establish a national library, operating under the Ministry of Education, and to
transfer the national services of the main library to that entity. All the other library services at the
University of Helsinki would then be merged into a single organization. The
number of library staff continued to increase. The University of Tampere began
to provide higher education in the field.
However, instead of merging the libraries, what took place
was an increasing divide and polarization of relations between faculty
libraries and the main university library. The polarization was partly
caused by the core values of the faculty and departmental libraries.
Established by professors, they were closely linked to their background, and
professors continued to be involved in the management of libraries long after
library work had been transferred to professional library staff.
Structural changes are needed for the
e-environment during the
1990s and the 2000s
A new period began in the 1990s. Wide-ranging changes in
library services were prompted by the introduction of IT and the related need
to harmonize processes. In the early 1990s, Finnish university libraries
introduced a common IT library system. Increasingly strong cooperation led to
the next step. At the end of the decade, a national service unit and a
consortium for negotiating e-publication licences were established. The
Ministry of Education gave central responsibility for the national library
network’s system services to the main library of the University of Helsinki.
When the national responsibilities further expanded to encompass the country’s
entire library network, the name of the library was changed to the National
Library of Finland in 2006. Administratively, the library remained part of the
University of Helsinki.
In the 1990s, the network of faculty libraries went through
major changes after the crises experienced by the University. The severe
recession that hit Finland led to cuts in resources. The performance management
model was also introduced in central government at this time. Extensive
redevelopment was launched, and the University’s decision of clustering closely
related disciplines onto four main campuses also triggered the development of
campus libraries. The introduction of IT made the collections visible to
everyone, paving the way for centralized operations. The digitalization of
scholarly publications required reforming and centralization the personnel’s
competence. In 1998–2001, a campus library was created for medical sciences,
for applied natural sciences, agriculture and forestry and for “hard” natural
sciences. The libraries of the humanities and social sciences were merged into
a single campus library ten years later than the other three campus libraries.
The proposed library merger, which initially provoked internal polarization
within the library network, was carried out in 2010, when the university
established the new Helsinki University Library, the largest university library
in Finland. This encompassed four campus libraries and a centralized unit for
internal services. The new main library in the city centre was opened in 2012.
The new organization was based on the plans that had been
prepared to address the changes arising from the digital data revolution. This
planning had been prompted by the international peer evaluations (the panel
members from Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland) carried out in 2000
and 2004 and the development needs to be observed in them. One important
decision in 2002 was, that the University created the post of development
director in charge of coordination of the libraries. This post later became
that of the university librarian at Helsinki University Library, launched in
2010. The establishment of Helsinki University Library required the University
and faculty management to make a strong commitment to change.
The need to centralize library operations because of
changes in the operating and information environment can be seen in all Finnish
universities. Faculty and departmental libraries were not a feature of the
older universities alone. In fact, the model was adopted in most of the
universities established in the 20th century. In the early 1990s, Finland had
21 universities, with a total of approximately 460 library units. A decade
later, the number had been halved, partly because of the increasing automation
of libraries. The centralization trend grew stronger in the 2000s and 2010s,
and the number of universities dropped from 21 to 15. Their library services
have been concentrated in just under 40 service units.
Libraries as the partners of the academic
The history of the University libraries is closely linked
to the events taking place at the University and in society overall. Years of
growth and expansion have time and again been slowed down by crises, including
two world wars and economic meltdowns, such as the collapse following the civil
war after the country gained independence, the depression of the 1930s, and the
recession of the 1990s. Setbacks such as these have been followed by years of
intense activity, involving structural changes, or at least attempts to make
changes, and the introduction of new ways to produce and share
Libraries are not just part of the university's
infrastructure but an integral part of the academic community. They have been
used as metaphors for the heart of the university. It is only by studying the
history of libraries that one can understand the functioning of this heart at
[i] The University of Technology, the Helsinki School of Economics, Åbo
Akademi and the University of Turku. Of these, the University of Technology had
operated as a vocational school providing education in the field since the
[ii] Cotta-Schönberg, Michael & Kolding Nielsen, Erland. 2008.
The relationship between the National Library and the metropolitan University
Library. The Nordic scene. Alexandria. The journal of national &
international library and information issues. [5.4.2023]. Available: https://doi-org.libproxy.helsinki.fi/10.1177/095574900601800302.
[iii] Knapas, Rainer. 2012. Tiedon valtakunnassa. Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto.
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura; The Helsinki University Library
The National Library 1640–2010. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.
[iv] Kuusi, Hanna. 2011. Lainatut, viivatut,
tentityt. Ylioppilaskunnan kirjasto Helsingin yliopiston opiskelijakirjasto
1858–2009. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
[v] Sinikara, Kaisa. 2022. Tiedeyhteisön kumppanina. Laitoskirjastoista Helsingin
yliopiston kirjastoksi 1828–2012. [5.4.2023]. Helsinki: Helsingin yliopiston kirjasto. Available in
Helda Open Books: https://doi.org/10.31885/9789515150462. Abstract in English p. 347–352.
[vi] Ruhanen, Tuula & Sarvilinna, Marja. (Ed.) 2018.
Muutoksen tekijät hyvässä seurassa. Suomen tieteellinen kirjastoseura 1970–2010. Helsinki: Suomen tieteellinen kirjastoseura.
[vii] The history of LIBER:
Häkli, Esko. 2011. Innovation through co-operation. The history of
LIBER Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche 1971–2009. Copenhagen:
Museum Tusculanum Press.