Come together

The evolving social role of libraries

Featured in

  • Published 20200726
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-50-4
  • Extent: 304pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

AS LIBRARY-­BASED complexes have evolved in recent decades to foster important community making, interculturalism and egalitarian learning, Australia and Finland have led the way with twenty-­first-­century design. Despite their geographical separation, the two countries share similarities that have motivated their strategic use of libraries to promote social engagement and gathering. Australia and Finland are both relatively young countries and strong democracies with advanced education systems. Given their small and dispersed populations, there is a particular value to civic centres and libraries, which play a key role in structuring and representing communities. With the long, cold Finnish winters and long, hot Australian summers, libraries represent the type of facilities where recreational time can be spent in a public and climatically controlled environment with free Wi-­Fi. Australian and Finnish societies are becoming increasingly multiethnic and mobile, and libraries offer activities and services that are pluralistic and multicultural. This has generated a significant shift in the design of the established typology of the library – a place that has served for centuries as the sanctuary of knowledge and repository of books.

Given these parallels, it is no surprise that an update of the Standards and Guidelines for Australian Public Libraries commissioned by the Australian Library and Information Association, Australian Public Library Alliance and National and State Libraries Australasia in January 2016 drew heavily on Finland’s ‘quality recommendations’ for public libraries. At the same time, Australian architects have looked to twentieth-­century Finnish library design as a source of inspiration, with at least two generations of Australian architects undertaking pilgrimages to Finland to visit the famous libraries designed by Alvar Aalto (1889–1976) – particularly those in Helsinki, Seinäjoki and Rovaniemi – as well as his exemplary Viipuri Library in what is now the Russian city of Vyborg.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at

Share article

About the author

Esa Laaksonen

Esa Laaksonen is a Finnish architect and art critic. He was the first director of the Alvar Aalto Academy (1999–2020). He has a practice...

More from this edition


Picture Gallery Christian Thompson’s digital photographic prints could be stills from a morality play in which he performs the sole protagonist. Composed as overtly poetic allegories...

Lords of the ring

EssayVIENNA’S RINGSTRASSE, BUILT from 1865 on the site of the old city wall, has long been derided for its architecture. Because it is a...

Siege mentality

EssayI FIRST CAME to Hungary thirty years ago as a young Australian diplomat, witnessing its democratic transition and conversion to a market economy after...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.