The development and design of Helsinki Central Library Oodi reflects the evolution of service design thinking within the City of Helsinki. The success of the 10-year library development process is manifest in Oodi’s popularity.
The number of visitors welcomed by Helsinki’s new central library Oodi since the library opening in early December 2018 has exceeded 20,000 on the busiest days, twice the predicted number.
Oodi Director Anna-Maria Soininvaara says that the weeks following the opening have been demanding. “Our resources have been stretched,” she admits.
“But our intention is soon to continue the development process that started more than 10 years ago. Oodi is a development library. We’re tasked to test and to produce services for all libraries,” Soininvaara asserts.
“10 years ago, general awareness of the user-centred design framework was gaining strength. The concept of Oodi has been built piece by piece on that framework,” Soininvaara explains the philosophy of Oodi’s continuing development process.
“Our guiding principle in the central library development has been the voice of citizens,” says the project’s leading planner Pirjo Lipasti.
The development commenced with a broad survey in 2008, followed by the project planning phase. Helsinki’s library administration City Library participated in project planning by dividing staff into teams that focused on specific topics.
In 2010, an idea emerged among the staff for public dreaming. Lipasti explains, “We encouraged citizens to share their ideas and wishes for the central library by posting them onto the Tree of Dreams. This virtual tree gathered 2,300 library dreams from the public.”
The public dreaming continued with a “megaphone call” in 2012: citizens were urged by well-known public figures to visit the Tree of Dreams.
City Library employees mingled with people in public places to collect spontaneous feedback.
Many of the spontaneous meetings were held in conjunction with the major design programme of Helsinki as World Design Capital 2012. The central library project was a natural part of this programme, which focused on embedding design in all aspects of everyday life, putting the user in the centre of service development.
From workshops to established development community
Experts and potential partners of the central library gathered together in workshops and networking events to brainstorm about services that they could provide with the library.
The workshops evolved into regular meetings between library users and experts. Central Library Friends in 2014–2015 worked on details related to the library design. They evolved into Library Friends, tasked to make the users’ voices heard in all Helsinki libraries. Today the development community works through Kirjastoheimo (library tribe) customer panels, each of which focuses on a specific theme in regular meetings.
At the roots of participatory budgeting
The central library development was supported by the City of Helsinki’s first participatory budgeting initiative in 2012. Citizens were encouraged to propose how City Library should spend 100,000 euros of its budget. The proposals were worked into four projects in open workshops.
The concepts of all projects have been realized at Oodi in one way or another.
Service design agencies contribute their expertise
“When we moved from library dreams to implementation, the work was joined by service design professionals,” Lipasti says.
Service design agency Hellon built the Oodi customer service map, that is, a visual representation of all the components of customers’ interaction with Oodi.
Palmu produced concepts for the lobby and lounge areas. The agency sought to ensure that the customer experience would remain the same regardless of the medium that the customer uses to approach Oodi.
Design Studio Muotohiomo focused on services for families.
Participatory design as basis of architectural design competition
The preparation of Oodi’s open international architectural design competition was launched in 2011. The competition became a part of World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 and so supported the crucial role of the design year in the establishment of Helsinki’s international reputation as a city of design.
A City Library team made summaries of the library dreams gathered from citizens to ensure that the user perspective would be included in the competition criteria. The summaries clearly spelled out the users’ main wishes: tranquility, services for families, peer learning and learning by doing, events, and digital services.
The competition received an amazing 544 design entries from all over the world. All entries were put on public display, and visitors were invited to bestow their favourite designs with hearts. Six designs were shortlisted and put on display on interactive screens in public places, where people were encouraged to like their favourites.
The winner and the design to be realized was the entry by ALA Architects of Helsinki. The entry was one of the top favourites in both public votes.
“ALA Architects has ingeniously implemented the library dreams of the public and combined all main wishes,” Soininvaara says.
The tranquility asked for by the public is realized in the Book Heaven of the third floor, which is a traditional library environment. Services for families can be found in the third floor’s family library and the section assigned to Playground Loru on the first floor, which is also the space for public events and encounters. The second floor is the space for learning by doing and houses urban workshops, studios and spaces for study and work.
“The huge popularity of Oodi reflects the success of the participatory design process,” Lipasti rejoices.