Borrowing is an alternative to owning. Photo: Daniel Leiviskä

Libraries as sharing economy pioneers

Helsinki City Library tackles the theme of ecological lifestyles in its spring campaign and presents its services from the perspective of resource-efficiency. Borrowing and sharing of spaces, materials and items are alternatives to owning them. 

The sharing economy and other manifestations of collaborative consumption are new phenomena to many consumers, but Helsinki City Library has acted on their principles from the beginning of its operations. The City Library collection of books, totalling 1,560,000 volumes, constitutes a shared bookshelf of all citizens. The books, magazines, CDs and DVDs for loan form the core of City Library, but sharing of items and spaces has become part of the library function. 

“City Library’s field of operation has expanded, even officially with the new law on libraries, and it’s natural for us to create and to test different types of new activities with our customers, including offering devices and other items for loan,” says Library Director Katri Vänttinen.

“I’m extremely pleased that libraries now offer meeting spaces for customers, and with library renovations there will be more meeting spaces for us to share. People have found these spaces well. In cooperation with our partner organizations, we can also provide guidance in the operation of special devices, and this gives people opportunities to test some new device before possibly buying one,” Vänttinen continues. 

Cooperation with partners enables City Library to lend such devices and items as drills, rare musical instruments and sporting equipment. The Kallio library lends a package to movers, which includes a ladder, a humidity meter, a hand truck and a stream cleaner. People in a city have limited space, so sharing is not only ecological and economical but saves space. 

Asta Kuosmanen, a senior expert at the Martha Organization, sees the expansion of the range of items for loan as a positive trend. “The operational philosophy of libraries, that is, lending, supports resource-smart lifestyles and helps to save natural resources. It’s a good trend that the range of materials for loan has expanded from books to other items. The workshop activities of libraries are a magnificent thing, with their normal and overlock sewing machines, and so are such tools for loan that people don’t need in their everyday lives and are not worth buying to lie around in the closet,” Kuosmanen says.

Helsinki has 37 libraries, which serve as shared spaces for citizens. The spaces are also put to increasingly efficient use for all citizens. A library is a magnificent place where to work, to hold a meeting or to organize an event. Sewing machines, 3D printers, music studios and game rooms at libraries enable diverse activities and creation.  

High ecological values are a pervasive characteristic of library operations. Borrowing is an alternative to owning. Vesa-Matti Lahti, a senior Sitra expert, regards libraries as pioneers of the sharing economy. “Libraries play an important role in ecological lifestyles, and this role bears great significance. The sharing economy and shared resources help people to diminish their carbon footprint. The more extensive such operation is, the more it matters. Every small sharing act is valuable compared to owning something. Every drill not purchased counts. One person can’t solve the problem of climate change alone, but everyone can take steps in the right direction,” Lahti asserts.