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Public Libraries – a vital part of an innovation eco-system

Finland is consistently ranked as one of the most innovative countries in the world, and for the upcoming Invotech visit to the country, perhaps time to reflect about an overlooked piece of knowledge society infrastructure: public libraries.

Libraries are the original co-working and community spaces in every city in the country; they have been the core for diverse learning activities for centuries, providing free services and facilities for everyone, which today are increasingly recognized as inclusive and low barrier societal innovation spaces.

One of the new sightseeing destinations for urban planners and innovators is the shopping centre Iso Omena (Big Apple) in Espo in the greater Helsinki region, where the library occupies a whole floor of the shopping centre with municipal and private services built around it. The idea to embed services around a library seemed logical to the planners, because that's where "people go anyway", says a city official.

While Iso Omena is roughly the same size as Hong Kong 's IFC mall (740,557 sq ft resp 800,000 sq ft), only 53,000 sq ft is taken up by shops. Imagine a whole floor in the IFC dedicated to non-commercial social and civic activities.

In Finland, libraries are considered primary agencies for building an inclusive knowledge-based society.

According to the Library Act, the objective of the library and information services provided by libraries is to promote equal opportunities among citizens for continuous development of knowledge, personal and civic skills, lifelong learning, as well as instilling a sense of “the big picture” of the world.

Libraries are becoming open environments for learning, moving beyond their traditional roles of maintaining and developing literacy and supporting reading as a leisure.

Today one can borrow much more than books; there are makerspaces, fully equipped fab labs, 3D printers and other technical equipment available, including people who help using the tools, soundproof rooms for playing music, seminar and meeting rooms, and of course coffee places.

Hong Kong libraries are beginning to rethink their role; last year, a joint project between LCSD, Kennisland (a Dutch social innovation catalyser) and the Good Lab started a five months project on community co-creation called LIBoratory in a library in Sham Shui Po, funded by the Jockey Club. That is a good start for library innovation in Hong Kong, and with more than 70 libraries in the territory, it seems there are a lot of opportunities to develop more libraries into societal innovation labs.

Editor’s Comment:

Invotech welcomes Ms W. Ritter’s blog article. It is well recognised that libraries constitute a source of knowledge for all citizens. Invotech agrees that libraries can be retooled to be a valuable component of Hong Kong’s innovation ecosystem. We look forward to hearing more about the LIBoratory in Sham Shui Po. We also encourage our Invotech members to share their ideas and comments on the topic.

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