From Swahili to Singhalese – Multilingual library covers all

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments


In the mood for some romantic literature written in Thai, or a Moomin book in Latvian? Or how about couple of most recent Chinese publications or classic Finnish literature in Arabic? These and thousands of other books can be found in multilingual collection at the Pasila Library in Helsinki. All together Multilingual library covers over 80 different languages in its shelves.

Information specialist Riitta Hämäläinen walks through the Multilingual library section at the Pasila library. There is an interesting display of Chinese literature, with beautiful cover art. Some readers are busy leafing through the Japanese book section. There is a hefty book by John Irving in Czech, waiting to be shelved there is a pile of books in Somali.

Riitta Hämäläinen has been working as an information specialist at the Multilingual library already for 17 years. The language selection in the collection has gotten wider and keeps changing with times.

“We keep a close eye on the changes in our society. For example in 2015 the rise in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland increased the demand for books is Arabic. At the moment Arabic is the biggest language group in our selection”, Hämäläinen explains.

Service available to anyone

Multilingual library was founded in 1995. It serves not only people residing in Helsinki, but the whole country. Anyone, anywhere in Finland can walk into the nearest library and ask for books in their native language. if that language is not found in the Multilingual library selection, it will be purchased.

“Most recent hunt was for books written in Malayalam. It is one of the official languages in India and there are 36 million speakers world wide”, Hämäläinen explains.

Some of the speakers of Malayalam can be found in Espoo, Finland and have requested books in their native language. Finding books in Malayalam in Finland was impossible, but in the end some could be found through a specialized book store in London. In a few weeks books in Malayalam reached enthusiastic readers in Espoo.

The role of language

Multilingual library collection does not only consist of books, but also movies, magazines and music. Important emphasis are material for children and young adults. Multilingual library does not store books written in main European languages, nor Nordic languages, as they can be found elsewhere in Helsinki City library collections. Multilingual library does not specifically search for translations of work by Finnish authors, but they can be found in the collection as well.

Riitta Hämäläinen explains, that strengthening the language skills in native language is part of integration process.

“There is research, that when Finnish language and native language are being supported at the same time, it is the best way to help integration to a new culture.”

Multilanguage library does not shun away from material forbidden elsewhere. This results in feedback as sometimes the material in the collection does not match the outlook of the reader. Hämäläinen emphasizes that library is a place where all views can be present.

“Only illegal or racist material is not accepted.”

Cultures coming together

Pasila library is a multicultural meeting point. Few times a week a Finnish language café meets there to chat in Finnish and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. The topics vary from etymology of words to travel tips. Participants are divided in different groups depending on their language ability.

In the beginner group sisters Phuong And, 20 and Hoang Anh, 25 take part in lively discussion. Originally from Vietnam, they keep up their native language by following news from the region. Books are another interests, but reading in Vietnamese is not so popular, sisters explain.

Hoang Anh is studying at the Hanken School of Economics says that she is particularly interested in history, but does most of her reading in English.

“Vietnamese is not one of the big main languages in the world, that’s why it is important to study other languages as well. But Vietnamese is important to me as well, how else would I talk with my sister”, Hoang laughs.

Editor and photos: Anna Gustafsson


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