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Espoo’s web library turns the page on inaccessibility

Espoo’s web library turns the page on inaccessibility

A fine example of a digital service enhancing its offline counterpart

The city of Espoo in Finland is unique for its decentralized urban plan and the absence of a defined city centre. Rather, it is characterized by a network of five urban centres, all of which provide equal access to services and greenery for their residents. This decentralized approach has also been applied to the digital domain of the city with the electronic library project Headset.fi.

The electronic library is Espoo’s contribution to a European project called UserCentriCities, which, as its name suggests, promotes user orientation of city services. Helmet.fi was deemed so good by the project organizers that it was named one of three finalists for the UserCentriCities Awards, held today.

A whole library in your pocket

Espoo is also home to the highest density of international talent and the highest level of education of any Finnish city. 52% of residents over the age of 24 hold a university degree and English has official status as the language of public service. With these stats in mind, it’s no wonder that reading and news consumption take priority there.

The arrival of the COVID pandemic and accompanying restrictions have shown the need for guaranteed access to library services at scale. The idea of ​​an electronic library was born much earlier than that, however, and the city was ahead of its time in its interest in increasing its presence digitally.

The result is a joint online library service serving more than one million people in Espoo, Helsinki, Kauniainen and Vantaa. The service is available in multiple languages, such as English, Finnish, and Swedish, and can be accessed through the Taskukirjasto app, which means pocket library in Finnish.

The app contains the user’s library card barcode, essentially making it a digital version of said map. Users can make reservations, renew loans, get reading recommendations, list their favorites and borrow material from friends. In addition, from e-books to e-magazines via music and training, the catalog of more than three million items is free and open to everyone.

The joint e-library service caters to the greater Helsinki metropolitan area, which apart from Espoo also includes Helsinki proper, Vantaa and Kauniainen. Of Helmet’s 30 million library visits per year, 17 million are online, and a city survey found the app boasts a 98% acceptance rate among citizens.