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Powerful library women, Helle and Maija


The naming of the area between the front door of Oodi and Kansalaistori square as ‘Helle Kannilan aukio’ is a tribute to the Library Counsellor Helle Kannila (1896–1972), the mother of Finnish librarians. Kannila’s library career began as far back as the time of Finnish independence as an unpaid trainee librarian, and continued for a total of 45 years. She worked for decades as, among other things, Chair of the Finnish Library Association and head of the State Library Bureau.

It was Helle Kannila who introduced to Finland the idea of a public library, open and free of charge to all and maintained by tax revenues. She created a firm foundation for the Finnish library institution and for library-related legislation. Kannila also contributed greatly to the professional skill of Finnish librarians, by creating practices that are still in force today when she was a lecturer in library studies at the School of Social Sciences (now the University of Tampere).

In addition to Helle Kannila, Oodi also honours another powerful woman in the library sector. At the opening ceremony for Oodi, Maijansali was revealed as the name for the multifunction room on the first floor in honour of Maija Berndtson (born 1947), the former Helsinki Library Director. Just like Kannila, her career in library work stretches over four decades. In addition to working for Helsinki City Library, Berndtson also influenced the wider development of the sector in, for example, the Finnish Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations. She also served on the panel of judges in many architectural competitions for libraries.

Berndtson was an important figure in the creation of Oodi, as she persistently pushed the project forward until the then Minister of Culture, Claes Andersson, proposed the idea of a new central library some 20 years ago. Now with Oodi finally standing by Töölönlahti bay, it aspires to fulfil not only the needs of its users but also Maija Berndtson’s visions of a new kind of library where people can easily come to work, find information, engage in hobbies and have fun.

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