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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

Internet in Every Day Public Library Use

Paivi Jokitalo
House of Knowledge Project
Finnish Library Association
Helsinki Finland


Internet use has spread rapidly in Finnish public libraries , partly because of the national information society strategies. Finnish public libraries also have a long tradition of networking in other areas, which has helped the swift implementation of network technologies in libraries. By the end of 1997 70% of public libraries will be connected to the Internet, more than 50% will provide Internet services for the public.

Along with the use of the Internet cooperation between libraries has increased and intensified. The writer will look at some national and regional collaborative projects, most notably the PULSE. The Finnish PUblic Libraries Enterpage is a single point of contact to distributed library resources in Finland and around the world. The different uses of Internet as an every day public library tool (information retrieval, inter-library lending, communication and material production) will be presented. The writer will also discuss the results of a survey on public library Internet use in 1996.


National information policy in Finland

In 1994, the Ministry of Finance prepared a national information management strategy 'Towards a Finnish Information Society'. The strategy places the different media, schools and libraries in a central position. The goal for the library system is to serve as an access point for all citizens and also to promote network literacy and life-long learning.

One of the means by which the use of networks in public libraries is being promoted in Finland is the House of Knowledge Project. This 3-year project started in 1995. It is financed by the Ministry of Education and administered by the Finnish Library Association. In mid-February 1996, three full-time coordinators were hired to run the project, with qualifications and experience as librarians. The tasks of the coordinators include evaluating and developing search tools for librarians to use, informing libraries of local and regional plans and projects, coordinating Internet collaboration and keeping in touch with international development in the field.

One of the aims of the House of Knowledge Project is also to enhance the production of cultural contents in networks. In its first year, the project concentrated on helping public libraries to connect to Internet, but it also supported several projects in electronic publishing on the Internet: e.g. the Finnish Comics Society produced a directory of Finnish drawers and writers of comics, and the Finnish Literature Forum presented Finnish fiction in English.

In 1996 the Ministry of Education subsidized the network projects of the public libraries by 10 million FIM. Roughly a third of the amount was used in hiring network experts in all the regional libraries. These specialists give technical advise to the libraries in the area, and also train the staff. The specialists come from different backgrounds: some are librarians with network skills, others have qualifications in computer science. The network specialists will continue to work for the duration of the 4-year information society program financed by the Ministry of Education.

Internet use has spread rapidly in Finland, partly because of the above mentioned national information society strategies. Finnish public libraries also have a long tradition of networking in other areas, which has helped the swift implementation of network technolgies in libraries. Along with the use of the Internet cooperation between libraries has increased and intensified.

Internet public library connectivity in Finland

In 1994, 14 of Finland’s 439 main public libraries were connected to the Internet. Three libraries provided public access to the Internet. In June 1996, almost 40% of Finnish public libraries used the Internet as a tool in library work and 30% provided public access. By the end of 1997 75% of public libraries will be connected to the Internet, more than 50% will provide Internet services for the public. In late 1996, the figures were around 60 and 50 per cent, respectively.

Over 90% of the libraries providing public access do so free of charge. Those 15-odd libraries who charge for Internet access are mostly small public libraries using a modem connection. All of these libraries offer access through a graphical interface, none use a text-based connection.

Almost all of the 18 regional central libraries and a number of smaller libraries offer Internet user instruction in the form of lectures and hands-on experience. These occasions have attracted a wide range of patrons: middle-aged men and women, old-age pensioners, people who are unemployed and those who need knowledge of the Internet at work, students and school children.

Information retrieval on the Internet

In 1996, a questionnaire on Internet use was sent to all 439 main public libraries in Finland. The response rate was 80%. The most frequently mentioned uses of the Internet were information retrieval, inter-library lending tasks and communication between libraries. Libraries also use the Internet in informing patrons and other partners about the services, collections, opening times and happenings in the library through email, mailing-lists and web-pages. Making information resources produced by the library available through the World Wide Web was seen as a new and exciting possibility for public libraries.

All the regional central libraries were using the Internet for information retrieval last June. 78% of all respondents felt the Internet to be a very helpful tool in professional information retrieval, a slightly smaller proportion of respondents (62%) said the Internet was of great help in reference work. Especially on topics where little or no printed information exists, the Internet has been particularly useful.

158 librarians answered questions about information retrieval on the Internet. 18% were using the Internet daily, 40% weekly and 48% occasionally for either reference work or other professional purposes.

Internet is most frequently used when searching information on:

About half the respondents from the regional libraries had not encountered significant problems in information retrieval. Where libraries had met with problems, these were most often connected with the enormous amount of references retrieved or the relevance of the documents. The inadequacy of the search tools was seen as a problem; the different search logics and commands also made information retrieval somewhat difficult. Links to non-existing documents, the amount of traffic on the networks and inadequate equipment in terms of transfer speed were seen as hindrances.

The respondents suggested directories of evaluated links as one solution to the problems in information retrieval. Classification and indexing of the documents were seen as one possible way of improving information retrieval. The titles of the documents should also be more informative.

In 1997, the House of Knowledge together with the Central Library Office at Helsinki City Library and the Cable Book Library in Helsinki, have started to work on a national directory of resources for use in library work. The directory will be based on the help-server customer support program developed by Akumiitti Ltd. And will be launched in May 1997. The production of the directory will be distributed and made as easy as possible. Librarians can send in the bibliographic and descriptive data via a www form by using a password. As the resources will be encountered in every day reference work, the directory will eventually facilitate everyday information retrieval on the Internet.

Internet in Inter-library Lending

Already in 1995, the majority of the respondents remarked that the Internet has been of great help in inter-library lending tasks: locating documents has become easier and the whole process is quicker, as the requests can be sent by email. Especially in small public libraries, inter-library lending tasks may increase manyfold, as the patrons have access to the Internet. This obviously means more work, but the tasks are easier to carry out with the help of networks. Some of the documents may also be available in full-text form via Internet. There is also a national mailing list concentrating on inter-library lending tasks, which is a useful tool.

Internet as a Tool in Communication

Almost 50% of the libraries who were using the Internet last summer, subscribed to kirjasto-kaapeli, the Finnish mailing-list for public libraries. At the moment the list has 460 subscribers, who come not only from public libraries but research and special libraries and universities as well. The subscribers also include a few library patrons. The topics discussed have included copyright questions, the selection and use of information technology and the pros and cons of electronic networks. As a couple of reference questions have appeared (and been solved) on the list, a separate Stumpers-style Finnish list was created in February. The regional network experts also have their own list.

Production of Material in Public Libraries

At the moment (April 1997) 110 public libraries' homepages can be found on the Net. An up-to-date list of these is maintained on the PULSE pages. The libraries have usually included information on opening hours, services and collections, staff, contact information and notices of current events in the region or at the library. Some libraries offer databases or simple lists of subscribed magazines and periodicals, lists of acquisitions, book reviews and lists of available material on different topics. Users can also send comments through feed-back forms.

A few libraries have produced small special databases, such as Wanki in Vaasa Regional Library. Wanki includes bibliographic information on a collection of old books (from 1853 backwards), which had not been previously catalogued. Vaasa Regional Library also produces Electronic Book Exhibitions with reviews, comments and excerpts from the books. Vaasa, Kokkola and Seinäjoki Regional Libraries have also produced a database, Botnia, with references on the regional collections of 13 libraries in the area. Other regional collections will follow later on this year.

In Satakunta Regional Library several regional databases are being produced under a single user interface. These include Tiivis, abstracts of theses and dissertations from the local Polytechnic, and Leviite, with full-text articles from a local newspaper. The journalists have agreed on a copyright contract, where the library first paid a lump sum for the articles up to 1996, then a yearly sum for additional articles. The database does not include all the articles from the paper, though, only those with information on the area of Satakunta Region.

A directory of Lappish contemporary writers can be found on the web pages of Lappi Regional Library, smilar directories with biographical information, bibliographies and interviews have been produced in four other libraries.

Opacs via Internet

In June 1996 only one public library OPAC was actually in use via WWW. The Fredrika is a union database of 12 small libraries on the Swedish-speaking West-coast of Finland. The union database of the metropolitan region, Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen, Plussa has been operational since late October 1996. The online catalogue, which contains over half a million records, shows the user the full records and availability of the material in real-time. The Index of Library Materials, Lukas, of the Public Libraries of Tammisaari, Hanko, Inkoo, Karjaa, Pohja and Siuntio, which are all bilingual municipalities in the Southwest of Finland and the Sydväst Polytechnics Library, is now accessible via World Wide Web. In February, Tampere City Library published their opac on the Internet in February 1997. In addition to checking the availability of material, patrons can make and cancel reservations and check what material they have on loan via World Wide Web. All they need is a password they can acquire at the library. Two other public library www catalogs have been made available via Internet in April 1997.

Over 100 public libraries are planning to give access to their OPACs through the Internet within a year. A simultanious search of all the Finnish public library webbed online catalogues is being developed in the House of Knowledge.

Co-operation in Public Libraries - PULSE

A new form of co-operation for public libraries is the PULSE, the Finnish PUblic LibrarieS Enterpage. The idea of PULSE came up already in late 1994, in June 1995 the first version was published on the Web. The aim was to create a tool for facilitating the use of networked resources, but also an electronic publishing channel for libraries. At the moment PULSE provides both a means of information retrieval and a tool for co-operation for libraries. In late 1996, PULSE pages were visited approximately 25 000 times a month.

PULSE includes a list of Finnish public libraries with web pages, but also links to libraries abroad. There are links to several search engines, the instructions of which have been translated into Finnish. PULSE also includes an alpabetical index of all the topics covered on the pages, plus a search facility. There is information on the administration of Finnish libraries, library schools, university faculties which offer studies in the field, links to reference tools on several topics etc.

The plans for 1997 include the above mentioned directory of networked resources produced by the libraries themselves, and a library register in database form. This would include contact information, names of contact persons in libraries, information on special collections, information on library architecture, statistics on circulation, expenditure, library visits etc. All the information will be stored in a database with several search facilities. New, improved notice board pages will also be developed this year: these will inform libraries nationally of library events, further education and training in the field, news and positions. It will also provide for an easy-to-use information channel for all libraries. Libraries can themselves submit the information to the appropriate category by using a password and out-dated information will be removed automatically. The information can be browsed according to subject and date.

Problems and Benefits of Internet Use

The most frequently mentioned problem in Internet use in last year’s questionnaire was the lack of time. Staff cannot afford to spend hours on getting acquainted with the contents and services of the Internet. Almost 80% of respondents saw this as the most difficult barrier in Internet use. The lack of time is closely related to the scarce human resources: there is simply not enough staff.

68% of respondents saw their own lack of experience and skills as a problem. Obviously, those with more experience of Internet use, saw neither lack of time or skills as a problem. Almost 70% mentioned technical questions and only 40% the lack of (financial) resources as a problem. The Finnish PUblic Libraries Enterpage as a single point of contact to distributed library resources in Finland will help librarians overcome these problems.

Public libraries clearly see their role in Internet provision to be of importance in quaranteeing equitable access to electronic information for the citizens. 76% of respondents said providing public access to the Internet was important.

The improved image and status of public libraries with the public and especially with the local politicians was also seen as a benefit by the majority of respondents (74%). Over 60% saw the enhanced opportunities for communication as a clear benefit of Internet use, around half the respondents saw Internet as a PR tool.

The role of public libraries in networking

The use of information networks seems to increase the amount of cooperative projects and collaboration on a regional and national level. Producing community information on the networks will be emphasized in the future. The publishing of material via Internet demands that public libraries take on a more active role: they are not merely preserving, archiving and acting as intermediaries of material, but also actively producing it. Librarians are also well equipped for selecting and organizing networked resources for further use and reference - they understand the importance of cataloguing, classifying and indexing, which no automatic indexing or information agent can totally replace.

Remote use of library collections and services will gradually increase self-service when not every patron has to come to the library with a request for a book or a reference question. Still, libraries have to become even more pro-active than before: school children and students may become information literate and learn the use of networks at school, but the adult population needs a place where they can acquaint themselves with the use and the contents of the Internet. This is something which the majority of Finnish public libraries clearly agrees on: librarians will not become obsolete, for their services will be needed for a long time in virtual and actual library work.