Gareth Griffiths


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Dear Maris and Henrik,

I have been following lesswrong for some time, but this is my first comment. Both your comments on libraries in relation to Henrik's superb text on Alexander was the inspiration. As a Brit living in Finland, I have noted how 800 libraries have closed in the UK since 2000 (source: Guardian, 6.12.2019). The picture is much better here in Finland, especially in Helsinki; but there is a new trend developing, keyed into the eductation system generally. The stand-out example is Helsinki's new city library, called Oodi, where, much like the examples given by Maris, the building is not a library in the traditional sense: only one of 3 floors dedicated to books, but even much of that space taken up by "lounge space", while the rest of the building is comprised of "fab labs", areas of machines for fabrication  (eg. sewing machines) metal and woodworking , banks of computers, film-making equipment, as well as "cubicles" bookable as office spaces. And even in-house advisors to help out those in need of assistance. Would Alexander have approved? But the fear is, that with all these activities happening in a single "super active" building in the very heart of Helsinki, branch libraries are under threat and other less glamorous activity locations will close. This has already happened in the case of the Helsinki film archive which has been moved to the building. To give a parallel example, the library designed by Alvar Aalto for the former Helsinki University of Technology (nowadays Aalto University) has been "converted" into a "learning centre": the space for open-shelf books has reduced considerably [even the few staff remaining argue that students get nearly all their sources online], and more space given to a fab-lab, virtual-reality workshops, but with the building's central space given over to ... a cafe. This can all be explained away as a new attitude to libraries. Yet my own favourite library is the Finnish National Library, a building where books are still central and where "silence" still reigns: that might also explain why it is mostly empty and underused.

Gareth Griffiths