When Helsinki’s libraries shut down in March due to the coronavirus outbreak, it didn’t take long for Helsinki City Library to start live streaming content several times a week. Mornings are often dedicated to fun activities for families with small children, while afternoons feature author interviews and discussions of current affairs.
Recordings produced from the streaming can be viewed afterwards at the City of Helsinki’s online video service Helsinki-kanava, where dozens of video recordings from the Helsinki City Library have already been collected. The metropolitan area library network’s Helmet website updates the roster of scheduled events regularly in Finnish. Most of the live streams are broadcast live from the Helsinki Central Library Oodi, but some videos have also been filmed at other libraries throughout the city.
“I’m so proud of the flexibility and dexterity our library staff has shown under these exceptional circumstances. Immediately after the decision to close the libraries, they doubled down and organised the content and technical execution of new remote and digital services and literature-focused live streams – all in the space of a few days,” says Katri Vänttinen, director of Helsinki library services.
The streamed content is an intriguing cross section of the wide range of events that take place in Helsinki libraries. The spring programme includes interviews with A-class authors like Sofi Oksanen and Emmi-Liia Sjöhölm, as well as film director Dome Karukoski. The month of May will be devoted to poetry, with guest appearances from several poets and authors of less widely distributed material. Music is also in the works, as musician Samuli Putro is planning a performance, and hip-hop artists Laineen Kasperi and F will also appear on Oodi’s Maijansali stage.
In addition, hardly a day goes by without a live stream of some kind of children’s story or playtime. Library staff is working to create content for every age group, in several different languages. The Helsinki-kanava website currently has videos in Finnish, Swedish and English, and a bilingual Finnish-Estonian story hour is coming up soon.
The state of emergency-induced closure of Helsinki’s libraries and the cancellations that resulted caused concern among many library employees about the welfare of writers and performing artists, as many of them have lost job opportunities and income because of the crisis. The live streams from the Helsinki City Library are not just meant to cheer up Helsinki’s homebound residents, but also to show solidarity with the arts and culture community who have been affected by the lockdown measures. Oodi acts as the production hub, and several other libraries in the city are also participating in the project. A small events budget has made it possible to provide each of the performers with remuneration for their contributions.
“Here we are, in the midst of this bewildering situation, doing our work with joy and enthusiasm. The richness of the content and the technical quality of the productions is a testament to the impressively wide-ranging talents of our library employees,” says Niina Holm, the Oodi information specialist coordinating the live stream content.