The rustle of pages and Finnish language chatter fill a cosy house in Northern Tel Aviv on a Monday night. A couple of dozen guests head down through a small garden towards the ground floor or Aira and Meir Salpeter's house to a small Finnish library that is located there. In it one can find plenty of Finnish reading material, or at least some Finnish conversation, on the first Monday of each month.
The shelves of the small and tightly packed room squeak under the weight of Finnish language and translated literature, both old and new. "Detective stories are very popular," explained Eila Lebovics, who takes care of the library in her spare time. "One can say that the writer Laila Hietamies is especially well liked. I was a little surprised about that, but her books really take the reader back to Finland."
The twenty or so regular library goers are mainly Finns who have lived in Israel for a long time. All the work is done on a voluntary basis and books have been received as donations since the 1980s both from the Finland Society and library users. After new books have been loaned and old ones returned, the readers head upstairs for a cup of coffee. The visitors are almost exclusively women. Do men not read at all? "Yes, some men come as well, but usually only to carry our books," the ladies at the table laughed.
In the same city, but far away from the homely atmosphere of the little library, Finnish library expertise was showcased at an international conference for librarians at the beginning of February. In addition to other international guests, a presentation was given by Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen, the Deputy National Librarian and Director of Library Network Services at the National Library of Finland.
Both Finland and Israel are members of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) and representatives from the two countries meet at the library seminars. In addition, Finnish and Israeli libraries have at least one thing in common, the use of the library automation solutions offered by the Israeli company Ex Libris.
According to Hormia Poutanen, Finland could have much to offer to Israel and other countries. "Perhaps one fundamental difference in the library services in our countries could be the amount of cooperation. On an international scale, Finnish libraries cooperate with each other exceptionally closely," Hormia-Poutanen explains. Active library use in Finland also has a direct connection with the country's good results in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Learning is not a one way street, however, and Hormia-Poutanen said that during her visit she had been impressed with the lively discussions and social skills that Israelis displayed. "I'm not saying that this doesn't exist in Finland, but perhaps we could have some more of it."
Hormia-Poutanen's words bring back images of the lively discussion at the Finnish library in Tel Aviv. Perhaps this library, operated by volunteers, succeeds in combining the strengths of two countries; seamless cooperation and organisational skills together with lively debate.
The Embassy of Finland, Tel Aviv – Timo R. Stewart