Helsinki’s libraries – “social media” rises to the challenge!

The virtual and the geographical complement each other, at least in this business of Helsinki’s library closures. In fact, the story got into the news initially more as an item about the use of “social media” – facebook primarily – i.e. using the internet as a medium and means of organising collective action. Last week within a few hours of it being set up, thousands had joined the facebook group Helsinkiläiset Kirjastojen Lakkauttamista Vastaan. Then The Usual reported on the enthusiasm but also the misinformation that had gone into circulation on the back of people’s outrage. E.g. that Vallila’s library is 100 years old, etc. when it’s actually a modern building by Juha Leiviskä. (No pic of the library available, alas, but another of JL’s recent additions to public building in Helsinki was featured here some weeks ago).

The majority of the libraries facing the possible chop are the local, suburban ones. Those are exactly the kinds of services which politicians and other worthies have been saying have to be prioritised in planning. They are the ones that serve people where they are, and of course, the more people there are around, and the more ordinary the things they do – like going to the library once a week – the safer the whole area is. No wonder it’s been so fashionable to go on about this virtuous circle. In that respect, of course, that much more distressing that the City could even contemplate the closures.

Yesterday’s protest wasn’t huge, but it seems it was enough. The City’s own website has a few stories up now about some of the people who initiated responses to the new of possible closures. Interesting, but not surprising perhaps, to read that their enthusiasm for the libraries is born of experience – having lived in Buenos Aires and London, one campaigner knows how to cherish a good library system. This sign reads:

“Finland is the world’s Number 1 in libraries and beer drinking. Will be left with just the beer drinking?”

The Left Alliance (we believe) have set up a website to challenge the decision makers to stop cutting on public services, http://www.peliseis.net, now up and running. One thing you can find out about there is the “let’s-empty-the-shelves-at-Puistola” protest action, from 10 to 12.December, the idea presumably being to get users to borrow as much as they can. If not that, there’ll be a conventional protest demonstration at the library on Saturday. From the website: OSALLISTU MIELENOSOITUKSEEN/JOIN THE DEMONSTRATION 12.12. klo 13 Puistola os./addr. Nurkkatie 2

Kansan Uutiset, the real left’s newspaper, likens the chopping of public services (to be debated in January so there is still time to protest) to the massacres of Reds back in the Civil War. Class, it often seems, isn’t an issue in Finland, and it’ll be interesting to see how readers and political competitors react to using this tragic history to get attention to current problems. On the other hand when municipal governemnt starts to support the agendas of the wealthy and to subsidise private gain rather than to ensure public welfare, perhaps it’s not surprising to see hints of class politics, even in Helsinki’s still homogenous December greyness.

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