Rikhardinkatu Library, Helsinki – the oldest public library in Finland

Written by Library Planet editor Marie Eiriksson, library consultant, Denmark.

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In march I had the great luck to be able to go on a study trip to Helsinki with a colleague. While there I made it a point to visit local Libraries and was lucky to get an offer for a guided tour by local librarian Tobias.

The Rikhardinkatu Library was the main public library of Helsinki for over a 100 years from 1881 to 1986. The library was designed by architect Theodor Höijer and was the first public library in the Nordic countries designed specially for library purposes

Upon entering the first thing I noticed was a very relaxed and homey atmosphere. The interior of the building has stayed true to the original layout and style with heavy drapes and a historic feel.

The biggest wow factor in the Library was the beautiful white spiral staircase in the heart of the library. Walking up towards the beautiful skylight, we were able to get a good sense of the different levels and stunning decor.

I instantly got the library feeling. People were sitting alone or in small groups. Hushed vioces interupted by an occasional laugh. Students in groups focused on papers and books. A homeless person taking a nap was left in peace to rest by both staff and other patrons. When afsked if this was common the reply was, it is cold out and the library is his space as much as the other patrons.

Every room we saw was its very own.

The cosy childrens library had cute pictures of the beloved finish moomin characters as well as never childrens books heroes.

Some rooms had an abundance of fresh plants some were full of comfortable sofas with pillows and blankets.

In a corner an old card catalogue had been turned in to a little gift central.

You can take what you need from the drawers and leave something you don’t need for someone else. We saw poetry, packets of seeds, games, little art works and home made jewelery. Very cute idea.

The library has a special art collection. They have been acquiring a collection of artists’ books since 2000. Rikhardinkatu Library houses not only books but also works of art. Currently there are approximately 400 pieces in the collection.

I really enjoyed my visit there.



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