The National Library Day in Finland is celebrated on Monday, 8 February. This year’s theme is cultural diversity and cultural encounters at the library.

Books in your language

According to a Statistics Finland listing about a year ago, 103 languages altogether were spoken by the inhabitants of Turku. The Turku City Library has library media in 118 languages.

- Our goal is to purchase new media on demand in languages spoken by immigrants, says Kaisa Hypén, service manager in charge of the library’s collection services. There are, however, practical problems, such as the scarcity of suppliers. The library staff’s lacking knowledge of the languages in question may slow down the process of getting books into circulation.

When needed, the collections of the library in Turku are complimented by the multi-language collection of the Helsinki City Library.

The immigrants have a strong need to learn the language, so the materials for learning Finnish are frequently checked out.

- We frequently fill our supplies, yet there are often no books left on the shelves, according to team leader Pauliina Vanhala at the non-fiction department.

For instance, dictionaries of the Somali language are rarely published, and consequently not many copies are available at the library, although the Somali community in Finland has a relatively long history.

Information specialist Gunnar Högnäs says there should be a law stipulating that every immigrant received a survival kit with dictionaries and Finnish language learning materials.

- Newborn babies in Finland receive a maternity box, I think there should be something similar for immigrants!

Fiction such as Arabian Nights and books by the Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini are popular in both Arabic and Persian at the Main Library. However, the popularity of books in immigrant languages cannot be estimated by the same standards as that of other materials, says librarian Silja Ketola. – Even items that aren’t borrowed that often can be considered well-circulating in this context.

Of books that have been translated from other languages especially Scandinavian detective stories such as those of Henning Mankell are popular in both Arabic and Persian. The library also has the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson or parts of it in languages such as Arabic, Albanian, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, Croatian and Vietnamese – all of which have been checked out regularly.

The most popular books in these language categories, however, are books originally written in the language in question, including non-fiction about subjects such as Islam and Finnish culture.

The Varissuo suburb in Turku has the relatively highest amount of immigrants of all areas in Finland. About one third of the inhabitants have their roots in a country other than Finland. However, the foreign language collections of the local library are limited. Novels in Russian are the most popular among adults’ books, whereas books in other languages are borrowed only sporadically.

By contrast, children’s books in foreign languages are frequently checked out.

- All sorts of [children's] books in all languages are borrowed, mostly by individual children or their parents but also by daycare centers, schools and other such groups, according to librarian Ilkka Manninen.