Finland's information backbone

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Kai Ekholm has been director of the National Library of Finland since 2001. He is also chair of IFLA's Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE)

What is the role of Finland’s national library?

National libraries play different roles in different countries. As with many other national libraries, we have an extensive role serving our nation in collecting, preserving and making available the country’s books, journals and other published material. As a borderland between the west (Sweden) and the east (Russia), Finland has a very interesting cultural heritage and we have had a legal deposit requirement since 1640.

In addition, however, we have another role: serving the library network. FinELib, which is part of the National Library of Finland, is responsible for licensing electronic resources for the library network. FinELib represents more than 100 Finnish universities, universities of applied sciences, public libraries, research institutes and special libraries.

As part of this role, FinELib has recently joined SCOAP3, the international, open-access consortium for high-energy physics, on behalf of the country. Finland has had top research in this area for many years and open access is very much promoted in Finland, so we are extremely interested to see the results of this venture.

The National Library of Finland also hosts national databases and arranges digital library services such as library software.

What else does the library do?

The library is also involved in standards development and communication. Libraries should provide good knowledge of all standards relating to information society. With digital resources, there are not such big boundaries between libraries, museums and other cultural organisations as there used to be and people need to know about all the standards in these areas.

The METS standard is a hot topic at the moment and we are very involved in this. METS is a standard for encoding descriptive, administrative, and structural metadata about objects in a digital library. We have recently visited the Library of Congress, where METS is being maintained and developed, to discuss the standard.

How are you involved in Finland’s national digital library?

The Ministry of Education and Culture and the top government in Finland have recently agreed to put money into the national digital library. The Ministry of Education and Culture is providing 5.2 million euros to develop the national digital library over the next three years. This money is mostly for the infrastructure. The content will have additional money.

We are very enthusiastic about this project. It will give one-stop delivery and access to all library type activities. We are bringing in common back office workflows as the backbone of it.

How are you involved with the international library organisation, IFLA?

I have recently been nominated as chair of IFLA’s Committee on Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) for the term 2009-2011.

We take it for granted in countries like Finland that there is no censorship, but this is not true in all countries. FAIFE aims to enhance the public’s awareness of freedom of speech and expression in library operations. It comes from the same root as open access (OA) but OA is for scholars, whereas FAIFE is about wider education and the general public.

It is about how well infrastructure supports access and FAIFE activities have been very helpful in this. It is important to provide good examples to follow, rather than negative publicity about situations where there is not freedom of access.

What changes have you seen in libraries?

The transition to digital content has been quite slow but we have seen an extremely strong influence of technology. Now in national libraries there are lawyers, IT experts and production staff. National libraries have become production houses of cultural content. I see myself as a producer rather than a classical manager.

Libraries are cultural lighthouses. It’s not about the books, it’s the curating of resources that is the important issue. It turns all national libraries into central data providers. We have to take this role otherwise we will become invisible.

Interview by Siân Harris