In the house of books

Tonight I was on my way back home and I passed by the library in Leppävaara and I felt this big urge to go inside and see what a library is like in Finland. While I’m here I would like to experience as much as possible the Finnish way of living or to at least get an idea of what that involves.

However, I am always weary of the fact that I’m a foreigner and that I’m maybe invading the Finns’ space, so I often wonder if I should do this or that, just like I was hesitating tonight outside the library. And this very hesitation makes me feel a bit like a savage, it accentuates the contrast I feel between my country and this one, between how much these people have experienced so far as opposed to what I have.

First of all, I was not sure I could go in there without a pass. In Romania you don’t go inside places just to wander around and see what it’s like. You go in if you actually have some business there. OK, maybe they wouldn’t let me walk around in a police station just to see what it’s like but you get my point.

So I had to ask one of my Finnish friends if it’s ok to go inside even without a pass and if anybody would ask what I was doing there. The question probably sounded funny to him, but I don’t know any place in Romania where you could go and grab a book and just start reading. Even after I entered I was trying to make myself as small as possible so that nobody would notice me, and I kept looking at the employees, convinced that if I act unnaturally one of them would come and ask me what I was doing there.

But nobody asked me anything and I could just walk around the shelves looking at the books (I would’ve definitely done a more thorough check if I could understand the language without having to look up every word) and being impressed once again by how smart the people in this country are. I mean this is how you make sure of your progress, right? By giving your people the access to knowledge.

The place was pretty alive too. Lots of people (even though it was a quarter of an hour before closing time), definitely not just academics or teachers like you would see in Romania, and of various ages. I loved so much that there were parents walking around with their kids: they had probably come to get a new set for them to read (there was a big kids’ section on the ground floor). And students. Students in a library. At 8pm. Actually studying. Well done, Finland!

I read some of the labels on the shelves upstairs and I discovered subjects from almost every domain: technology, poems, geography, religion, there were even books about vegetables and cooking books. Not to mention the pretty well supplied shelves of books in five or six foreign languages.

Remember those articles where the Nordics are said to be reading like mad, where their book markets are estimated at tenths or hundreds of millions of euros, the tops with the Europeans who read the most where they rank among the highest? Yup, it’s all true.

Whether it’s because it’s so often very dark or cold or both outside and they need an indoor activity or is it that they understood that education is the way to go forward, these guys are definitely still offering reading a good place in their lives. My friend said that is a public place so of course you can go inside and read. Oh, and have I mentioned nobody asked me if I took a book with me a home without bothering to let them know? I didn’t check what security systems they had in place, if any, but in Romania something would definitely beep somewhere if you left with an unscanned book.

Well done, Finland! Once again I bow down in front of you.


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