Oodi Library

Harri Annala

Librarian, Helsinki Central Library Oodi

Oodi Library

Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Töölönlahdenkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki, Finland


IFLA / Systematic Public Library of the Year Award 2019


Helsinki Central Library Oodi: An Ode to Literacy, Learning, and Democracy




Helsinki Central Library Oodi is an inspiring and highly functional addition to Helsinki’s urban life. The origins of Oodi began as a desire to create a central library in the downtown area. It would provide library services and activities that could constantly be updated and modified to reflect the ever-changing needs of society. The City of Helsinki was in favor of this idea and actively began planning the project in 2010. An important milestone in bringing the central library project to fruition was when the Finnish government made it the key cultural project for Finland’s 100-year jubilee, contributing roughly a third of the construction budget.

Oodi was designed together with the city’s residents, corresponding to the wishes and needs of its future users. That collaborative planning began as early as 2010. Over 2300 different ideas were collected from various urban events and campaigns. The key idea was that librarians, together with library users, planned the services of the new library. The architects in turn designed a building to meet those needs.

The building opens directly to the surrounding cityscape on Kansalaistori (Citizen’s Square), drawing people inside with its appealing architecture. Oodi has 10 000m2 of public space and is open 90 hours per week. Only 5% of the building space is for staff. This is crucial. Oodi is the central library and should not be confused with the main library, where the administration and centralized services are located. The vast majority of Oodi’s interior is open to the public, and in this way, the public truly has their own building in the city centre. During its first year Oodi had more than three million visitors and organized over 1500 events.

A three-story bridge

Oodi’s spatial concept is based on building the library as an inhabited bridge with three distinct public floors. Under the bridge is the first floor. It is an extension of the Citizen’s Square and is like an urban street with fixed and pop-up public services, a restaurant, cinema, and a multipurpose hall. Likewise, the activities in Oodi can also extend out to the Citizen’s Square. The interior wall surfaces on the first floor serve as giant screens. Oodi has several large projectors where the public can present digital or media art. This is a new opportunity among libraries in Helsinki, giving all members of the public the opportunity to experience different forms of culture.

The second floor is within the bridge structure itself. This floor is dedicated to learning, learning by doing and sharing skills. While the large steel arches and other structural elements visibly demonstrate the workload they are performing, the windowed studios, glass-walled workrooms, and open makerspace area visibly demonstrate the activities and creativity people are performing. The urban workshop has a long list of equipment from 3D printers to an embroidery machine. A 9-studio hub allows for music rehearsal and recording, photography, and editing of audio and video. There are 4 gaming rooms and 19 rooms for working and learning. The konehuone (engine room) has a wide range of professional tools: a soldering station, laser cutter and UV-printer to name a few. These services enhance sustainability as users can refashion existing materials, make spare parts, and do repair work with sewing and other machines. Patrons can use the facilities and equipment by themselves or with the assistance of staff members. All these rooms and equipment can be reserved online free of charge.


On top of the bridge is the third floor, which is affectionately called 'Book Heaven'. Here one finds the best features of a modern public library. Lighting and acoustic elements have practical and aesthetic functions. The open space with living trees is topped with a cloud-like ceiling, giving the impression of a sheltered indoor park with shelves of books, movies, and games. The north end is designed specifically for families, particularly those with younger children. The south end often hosts author interviews and classical music performances. The top floor also offers unobstructed panoramic views and a large public balcony serviced by a café.


Innovation in design

Oodi has four unique spaces that can host public events or be rented for private functions. The multipurpose Maijansali (Maija’s Hall) can host concerts, lectures, panel discussions, and even opening night cocktail events. All events can be recorded and streamed. In the evening Kino Regina hosts movies curated by the National Audiovisual Institute. During the day, it can serve as a conference venue, host film festivals, or even become a puppet theater for children. Kuutio (Cube) is a high tech immersive room, which can be used to display art, but also to promote learning in new ways. Finally, the fully equipped Keittiö (Kitchen) can be used for both instructional courses or for private cooking events.

The building itself is very energy efficient, and much of the construction materials were locally sourced. Oodi’s rooms, spaces and venues are multifunctional. All public levels of the building are equipped with access floors that allow for technological changes during the estimated 150-year life span of the building. The fact that the bottom and top floors are practically column-free also makes it easier to redesign interior functions.

Oodi uses innovative digital and robotic solutions to improve work efficiency and enhance the customer experience. This is most visible with the management and logistics of the library materials. Staff have collection management programs on mobile devices. Mobile robots work at the sorting machine in the basement and deliver materials to the first and third floors. They also are part of pilot projects where they interact with library users. The human resources that are freed up by these solutions allow us to focus more on customer service and content production.


We are Oodi

Staff at Oodi work in self-managed teams. We use different decision-making tools, like quick voting or advisory methods. These flexible working processes ensure that Oodi provides the best possible services to users. Staff can act and react quickly as arduous meetings and permission seeking is minimal. Team members are encouraged to use their own networks to develop services together with users.

Oodi is a public space where everyone is welcome. Together with patrons, we have formed principles that we strive for at Oodi. We are a place that shows respect, equality and safety to all. We take a proactive role in society to increase understanding. We organize discussions and events that give information about topics from global warming to services for the elderly or unemployed. We actively work to ensure people will have the skills needed to be active members of society.

Oodi thrives from change, and it will never stop advancing. Oodi maintains its relevancy by collaborating with residents, organizations and the city. Oodi’s new ways of working ensures that it has a compelling work environment for those with needed and relevant skills. This ensures that we can adapt quickly and incorporate innovations. We facilitate the transfer of the building’s ownership from the library to its users. Oodi actively encourages programs that emphasize democracy, freedom of speech, and social issues. We work to bring a variety of events to the library and to establish a nourishing environment, where all members of the public have free and equal access to information, culture, and life-long leaning.


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