After seeing an intranet announcement about ERASMUS funding, I successfully applied for staff mobility funding, which helps staff members travel to other European institutions for professional development. Instead of trying to arrange my own exchange, I was honoured to have my application accepted to attend the International Staff Exchange Week (Library) at the University of Helsinki, Finland, along with 14 other European librarians. It comprised a week of library tours and activities and was incredibly valuable to expand my horizons and sector knowledge this way, and bring back ideas on how things work outside my ‘filter bubble’.

The University of Helsinki has 7,800 staff and 31,000 students across four campuses, with a main library at each site. There were a few differences in their educational context, as the public can use university services too because education is taxpayer-funded (about 30% of library usage is non-university people). Also, some library staff were non-military servicemen as community service such as library work is an alternative to national service in the military.

However, there were also similarities, with the library service focusing on the student experience and trying to rapidly adapt to provide the right balance of services for their users. There are always requests for more study space, no matter how much you provide!

Some innovations I loved at their sites were:

  • The ‘smart space’ in their Ubikampus. Study rooms are bookable online or in-person via the tablet at the door, desks automatically self-reserve using sensors, lockers are controlled simply by using any contactless card, and a dynamic map shows live data of availability as well as air quality and other ‘living lab’ data collection. Everything felt intuitive and a really positive use of technological capabilities.
  • The amount of rocking chairs was a personal favourite! Seating was always flexible with a variety of choices to suit everyone, but to me there’s nothing better than a rocking chair.
  • “Think Corner”, the living room of the university – with flexible meeting and working areas and an Escher-style staircase! (Shown in photo.)
  • A jigsaw in the atrium of several libraries, for de-stressing researchers!

As Research Data Manager, it was very interesting to hear about the setup of their RDM network (not team, as it draws staff from all departments) at the university, and the national open science agenda. The University of Helsinki seems to have great influence in national strategy and is developing excellent services all round, including offering publishing platforms for books and open access journals and a research visibility service using a variety of altmetric tools. It was interesting that they could obtain funding for a lot of this work.

Feel free to check out my ISEW photo album on Flickr – as well as Ubikampus, Think Corner, and the university’s central library, it includes photos of Helsinki’s amazing new public library, Oodi. This is another innovative architectural project with an open ground floor, an ‘attic’ for knowledge space (meeting rooms, sewing machines, 3D printers, studios, etc), and the wonderful ‘book heaven’ floor!

I still have so much to absorb and reflect on from the week, both from the University of Helsinki and from my experiences talking to amazing librarians from across Europe. If Erasmus funding continues to be available, I would highly recommend taking advantage of this fantastic learning opportunity, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the exchange week at the University of Helsinki!

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