My inspiration for this post comes from spending the past two weeks in the beautiful country of Finland (it was a fantastic vacation!).
If you are familiar with the current educational reform rhetoric in the U.S., you have probably heard about the wonders of the Finnish educational system. I’m not going to get into that, but I am going to talk about the wonders of the Finnish library system and how that relates to their educational system. (If you are interested in reading about the Finnish educational system, I highly recommend Pasi Sahlberg’s web site.)
Finns are avid readers. And avid library users. In a country about the size of Minnesota, with a comparable population (~5 million), the Finnish public library system is comprised of 312 libraries, 486 branch libraries, and 154 bookmobiles. Annual lending rates are about 18 per capita. Pretty impressive. When driving by the Turku City library pictured above at midday, I was impressed by the number of people I could see through the windows. Just reading. At midday. It made me proud of my Finnish heritage. Maybe my Finnish genes had something to do with me becoming a librarian:)
Now, let’s compare that to Minnesota, which is also known for it’s strong library systems (and large Finnish population). Minnesota has 138 public libraries, with 357 public outlets. Annual lending rates are roughly 11 per capita. For the U.S., that’s pretty good. But, it also gives you a picture of Finland’s culture of literacy. The Finnish library system is a library lover’s dream. (By the way, Finland leads the rest of Europe in public library statistics as well).
All librarians know that strong school systems require strong libraries. And I believe that the success of the Finnish educational system is intricately tied to the success of its library system. You will often find that in the U.S. as well – a community with a strong library system and high library usage correlates highly with a strong school system. To me, that means that any call for education reform in the U.S. must include a call for more library funding and stronger public library/public school relationships within communities. Finnish public libraries and public schools have long enjoyed a strong inter-relationship. And you can see it in their literacy and library usage statistics.
For more information on Finnish libraries, check out Finnish Libraries Now!