How come a tiny country in the Northern Europe has managed to produce so well-educated citizens with such high literacy rate? The education system has its advantages, but I’d say there’s one more secret weapon, which is too often underrated even in Finland: the Finnish Public Library System.
What Would I Do without Them?
I am in great debt to libraries. Most of the books I review in my blog are borrowed from the library. I checked my “loaning history” – the list of books I’ve borrowed presented in my virtual library account – and during the past 6 months I’ve borrowed around 100 books. Most of them to read myself, some for my kids – who of course have their own library cards too. Kids usually get their library card at preschool age, when they start to read by themselves.
When I was at elementary school we had a library practically next door to our house. I used to visit it almost daily (and often with my dog, who sat with the library ladies receiving a whole lot of patting) and borrow as many books as I could carry. Oh those wonderful afternoons after school, when I had a batch of The Famous Five in my hands and I could throw myself on the bed and devour them all at once…
Libraries: Books for Free
Let’s get to the beef of the matter – libraries. Finland has a nationwide public library system, which guarantees books are available all around the country. The three largest cities, capital Helsinki and its neighbours Espoo and Vantaa, have their libraries collaborate, which means if you live in this area, you can freely borrow books from any of their libraries and return them to any other library. Did you pay attention to the words free and any library?
While reading other book bloggers’ posts, I have sometimes noticed them saying they received the book “free from library”. To me this sounds absurd – are there libraries where it costs to borrow books? In Finland there isn’t.
The Finnish public library is free of charges. You can get yourself a library card by registering at any library, and with the card you can:
- borrow books freely in your area (at maximum 50 books being in loan simultaneously),
- the loan period is one month per book,
- you can redo it via internet five times consecutively before returning the book to a library,
- you can make requests for books that are in other libraries and they are then sent to the library of your choice, where you can pick them up.
- All this with no cost at all!
Very popular new titles are labelled as “best-sellers” and their loan period is two weeks. There are books available in several languages and if you want to see a certain new novel in your library, you can suggest it to the new titles list.
The only scenarios where you need to pay charges are, when you’re returning books too late or when you have damaged or lost a book.
And naturally, the libraries have a whole lot other things besides books for you to borrow: cds, dvds, games, board games, music sheets, sewing machines, skis, tools…
Reading and Writing Go Hand in Hand
A library system has an effect at a nation. If you can read as much as you like for free, it is more likely you’ll read than if you would have to pay for each book. And reading is – without a doubt – good for you. And it is popular. Statistics tell us everything: The public libraries had 49 million client visits in 2015 and people made 89 million loans. Communes used approximately 58,3 euros to library services per resident. There are 288 public main libraries and 450 subsidiary libraries in Finland. 140 library busses circulate scarcely populated areas and visit schools. Libraries offered a selection of 44 313 ebooks in 2015, which gathered 265 000 loans. 1,8 million new titles were acquired and 2,8 million old titles were discarded.
Besides reading, Finns are eager to write books. About 4000 new titles are released every year, with only 17% of them being translations from other languages. There are around 3500 publishers in Finland (with the population of 5,5 million) of whom about 100 are members of the Finnish Book Publishers’ Association. The 10 largest publishers account for 33% of the new releases, 55% of the overall book production and 90% of the sales volume. About 31% of books are sold in bookshops, 18% in department stores, kiosks and supermarkets, and about 6% over the Internet. Book clubs account for about 10% of sales.
P.S. You may ask, whether Finland really is that well-educated and literate? Let me quote the Wikipedia: “The Education Index, published with the UN‘s Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists Finland as 0.993, amongst the highest in the world, tied for first with Denmark, Australia and New Zealand.” and the Guardian: “Finland is the world’s most literate nation, according to new research, with the UK coming in 17th, behind countries including the US, Canada and Australia.” as a few examples.