Name: Tommi Laitio
Title: Executive Director, Culture & Leisure
City: Helsinki, Finland
To say that the residents of Helsinki love their new central library is an understatement. Since the library opened in December, it’s drawn more than 500,000 visitors — this in a city of 650,000 people.
To Tommi Laitio, who runs the library and many other city services, the reason behind this success is core to his effort to more deeply engage residents throughout the city. “It starts from a generous assumption that people are curious and eager to learn and create,” he said.
They tap into this desire at the library by providing much more than books. There are also 3D printers, a gaming room, a recording studio, and sewing machines. “A lot of people are worried about the future, especially due to technology, that they don’t understand it and things are changing too fast,” Laitio said. “These things are there so people can experiment in a safe and welcoming space. It’s a very important message that there’s a place and role for all of us in the future as well.”
Another innovation coming to the library soon: robots. They’ll handle the work of returning boxes of books back to the shelves.
“The staff aren’t trained for lifting boxes. They’re trained on interaction with people and literature and information and organizing events,” Laitio said. “By letting robots do the sorting and lifting, we can make sure the staff can focus on the people.”
“For a democratic city to function, we have to create places where people can come into contact with other people who are different than they are.”
(Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo)