This paper was presented as part of IFLA'98 Session 158B:
School Libraries and Resource Centres: Morning Workshop
On Thursday, 20 August, 1998 at Hotel Mecure Amsterdam
Aan De Amstel, Joan Muyskenweg 10, 1096 CJ
Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Finland Experience
Liisa Niinikangas, Lighthouse Consulting Ltd, Tampere, Finland



IASL and IFLA have provided funding for an international study of the principal’s role in developing and supporting information literacy. In this paper, the researcher describes and reports on the progress of the study in one of the participating countries, Finland. Some preliminary findings are presented related to the situation in Finland, where school libraries are highly controversial.


1. Background to the Research

1.1.School library background in Finland
School library issues are controversial in Finland. In the words of the Chief Executive of the Finnish Library Association, Tuula Haavisto: "There are no school libraries in Finland. This will not be changed in the new (library) act. It is considered that the network of public libraries is sufficient for the needs of school children. Our experience supports the view that common libraries for children and adults make better use of library resources than do separate institutions. People continue to use the same library after leaving school because they do not have to cross new thresholds." The fact is, however, that we still have school libraries, even if the latest statistics date back to the 1980s. The economic recession of the early 1990s cut many school libraries, but it seems clear that most schools have them. They are run 1-5 hours per week mostly by teachers without a library qualification. There are also qualified school librarians working in school libraries, but their number is unknown.

There is, especially in vocational schools and new polytechnics, a growing number of very modern libraries called learning support centers or information centers. These schools have undergone a major educational change. In order to gain their goals the schools have had to renew their whole pedagogical environment and school libraries.

In the library legislation of 1990, responsibility for activities within school libraries was given to public libraries. The problem, of course, is money: how to fund public and school libraries fairly. In the new library legislation, which is due this autumn, school libraries are not mentioned.

Unfortunately, there is no clear school library policy in Finland. In the Ministry of Education no one is responsible for the strategic planning of school libraries, although public libraries and schools are central actors in the national Information Society Strategies (Information Superhighway). Schools are given funding for the Information Society projects, too. Due to the unclear position of school libraries, the money inside schools has been allocated to computer classrooms instead of school libraries.

The National Board of Education forms the tactical level of educational policy in Finland. It sets the goals of schooling, establishes curriculum guidelines and requirements and evaluates student learning. One of the many tasks of the chief inspector for the teaching of the Finnish language is to develop school libraries.

The whole education system has undergone a profound change: a new educational legislation will take effect in 1999. From a rigid and highly centralized system of top-down administration, Finland has moved towards a more flexible system of decentralized decision-making. This means much greater autonomy for educational institutions themselves and for their owners.

In the new education law school libraries are mentioned for the first time ever: "In a school there can be a school library for achieving the pedagogical goals of the school. The school library will be financed by the budget of the school." It is still to be seen how this challenge can best be used for the benefit of school libraries. The supporting role of local deciding bodies and principals will be emphasized.

The academic programs in librarianship at Finnish universities (Tampere, Oulu, Åbo Akademi) do not offer possibilities to specialize in school librarianship. There is no education for teacher-librarianship, either. The basic ideas of libraries supporting learning have become familiar in the in-service workshops or continuing education courses offered mainly by the Continuing Education Centre for Vocational Schools (AK-KK) in Tampere. Some recent research and strategies (Niinikangas 1995, Niinikangas 1996) have also been done, and the idea has been advocated also in Finnish library journals.

The School Library Association of Finland has proclaimed its goals for the development of Finnish school libraries. There is also a growing number of politicians, teachers, principals and parents who think that a real innovation of the school is impossible without a school library resource center.

1.2. Finnish educational system
The Finnish education system comprises of comprehensive schools (grades 1-9), post compulsory general and vocational education (grades10-12), higher education and adult education (supplement 1). The language of teaching is Finnish or Swedish: official bilingualism guarantees the Swedish-speaking minority (about 6 per cent of the population) equal opportunities at all levels. Ministry of Education is a central coordinating body for Finnish education. Comprehensive, postcompulsory general and vocational education, belong to the municipal authorities.

Compulsory comprehensive school education starts at the age of seven and continues for 9 years. Comprehensive education is free of charge for all pupils. 581.000 pupils were attending approximately 4400 schools in 1995. Just over one per cent of the schools are private; they are also supervised by the Ministry of Education.

1.3. Target of the international school library research in Finland: Upper secondary schools
Since the early 1980s, educational planning in Finland has been based on the principle of offering either vocational or higher education to the entire age group. On entering the 21st century, the policy will be to provide upper secondary education, either general or vocational, to the entire age group, and further higher education to 60-65 per cent of the age group.

After leaving comprehensive school, a young person may apply for a place at a general upper secondary school or at a vocational school. There is also an experiment under way in upper secondary education which aims at providing a wider range of opportunities than before to obtain vocational diplomas and to complete the upper secondary school syllabus. This is being carried out through collaboration among vocational institutions and upper secondary schools: their students can choose courses from both institutions.

Upper secondary schools normally provide general education to prepare the pupils for further studies. At the end of schooling, the pupil takes the national matriculation examination, which is a general eligibility criterion for university or polytechnic admission. Schools follow a fairly homogeneous curriculum. They can also specialize in languages, science, sports, music or the arts. The curriculum reform of 1994 increased the range of choices in the curriculum. All instruction is given in the form of courses. Pupils are allowed to take their courses at their own pace, so the upper secondary level can last from two to four years.

In 1995, 54 per cent of comprehensive school pupils went straight on to study at an upper secondary school and 31 per cent at a vocational school. Education is free of charge in both schools. There were about 440 upper secondary schools with over 109.000 pupils in 1995.

2. How the School Library Research in Finland was carried out

2.1. Research sample
The study was conducted in upper secondary schools of the southern Finland. The Helsinki region, the only metropolitan area in Finland, with the population of more than one million (incl.towns Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen) was the target area of the research. Helsinki is the capital of Finland and the biggest town in Finland.

Two towns to the north of Helsinki, Tampere (pop. 180 000) and Lahti (pop. 70 000, a well known school library town with experimental mixed upper secondary and vocational schools) were also included.

The sample of the Finnish research was all upper secondary schools and those vocational schools taking part in the ‘mixed’ educational experiment in chosen areas. Swedish schools were not included. The number of the participating schools was 86. Educational directories, statistical yearbooks and telephone catalogues of each town were used to identify them.

Why this area and why these schools...
For library and school library policy reasons: In the Helsinki region there are the largest schools. There the variety of upper secondary schools is the highest, there are both private and municipal schools. There has been a tendency to establish school libraries in upper secondary schools. This is the area where the population is a challenge in the Finnish scale, because Finland is a sparsely inhabited country.

We wanted to receive new data about the true school library situation in Finland. What kind of school libraries do really exist in Finland? Most of the qualified Finnish school librarians work in the Helsinki area. What is their current situation?

2.2. The practicality of the Finnish research
BA Eeva-Maria Suojarvi, a librarian familiar with school library terminology translated the three research instruments for the principal and school librarian into Finnish. The Finnish version of the questionnaire was pilot tested in the printed form by the library assistant students of Tampere College of Business. The comments given by them and their teacher MA Leena Aaltonen made us clarify the typographical format, Finnish terminology and the following letter of intent. The piloting phase showed clearly that it was essential to explain the underlying school library philosophy and the purpose of the questionnaire, because they seemed unfamiliar and difficult.

No new Finnish terms needed to be invented, because all the basic theory is known. However, the following questions were added/ changed in Finland to get national information:

Are you a member of the Finnish School Library Association?

Do you follow any library listservs? (There is not a special listserv for school librarians in Finland)

Questions about the Internet were translated using the relevant Finnish terms but the questions were mostly misunderstood. In Finland we have a national plan to connect all schools to the Internet by the year 2000, and the program is at different levels in various schools. The answers reflect the situation at the end of 1997, and after that the situation has quickly changed. Reasons for the misunderstandings could be:

Most school librarians are mother tongue teachers who have little knowledge about computers or the Internet. They might be confused by the questions concerning access points and connections.

Internet access is arranged differently in different towns and also in different private schools. There are town wide strategic plans for schools to access the Internet and there are single school solutions. It is easy for the principals, too, to be confused with the number of connections and access points.

In Finnish schools, computers and Internet usually are in hands of computer teachers.

The National Board of Education was contacted at the beginning of the research for moral support and financial assistance. On November 14th , 1997, permission was given to send the supportive letter as an attachment (supplement 2), but no funding was allocated to the research. The Finnish School Library Association also promised to support the research. We had two complimentary mainstays to be used to gain research permission from the local authorities and later, hopefully, more answers from the schools.

Letters asking for study permission (supplement 3) were sent to the educational authorities of each chosen town after this. Every town gave its consent before December 4th , 1997. Mauno Rissanen, the leading principal of Tampere upper secondary schools, wrote in his letter of consent: "These questions seem to reflect a reality totally different from Finland with working possibilities totally different from ours, yet it may be that just the things worth developing became visible in this questionnaire."

Both the principal’s and school librarian’s research instruments were sent out in the same envelope to each school library by the sixth of December 1997 (supplement 4). The questionnaire was in paper form with my letter telling about the research and with another letter by the National Board of Education. - Why in paper form? It was known that not all schools had the Internet access. Many participants were also supposed to be inexperienced Internet users, so the online survey format could diminish the amount of answers. Most responses arrived by 20.12.1997, before Christmas leave. The last ones arrived when principals and teachers returned to work at the beginning of January 1998. No reminder letters were sent in Finland.

The overall response percentage in Finland was 49 per cent. Principals and school librarians in pairs answered 38%, principals alone in 5 cases, school librarians alone in three cases. The principal and school librarian was the same person in two cases. Research instrument 3 was left unanswered by eight principals and three school librarians, and it was answered partially by ten principals and seven school librarians. Many research instruments were answered partially. There were empty spaces and question marks in the answers. Reasons for the low response percentage might be: Research instruments were complicated to complete. The whole survey was very long and detailed. It was very busy time at schools before Christmas leave. Still, however, it seemed to be very accurate to some respondents, who even attached detailed letters with their answers.

A Finnish student translated January 1998 the research data into English. The researcher loaded the data into the Finnish Web-site during one week in early February 1998.
  Nr of schools Total schools replied Principal only School- librarian only Principal = school  
Principal & School – 
librarian pairs
Total persons replied
Vantaa 10 3   2   1 4
%   30   20   10 20
Tampere 12 9 1     8 17
%   75       67 71
Espoo 11 6     2 4 10
%   55       36 45
Kauniainen 1 1       1 2
%   100       100 100
Lahti 14 5 1     4 9
%   36       29 32
Helsinki 38 18 2 1   15 33
%   47       39 43
TOTAL 86 42 4 3 2 33 75
TOTAL % 49         38 44

3. Survey Findings

3.1. Demographics of the schools
All schools in the research were located in urban area. Most schools were quite small, 75% of schools had max. 599 students. More than half of schools (65%) have max. 39 teachers. Usually the school was a community school (67%). Private schools were 25% and governmental schools 8% of the research sample. Most schools were ordinary upper secondary schools, 37% of schools were reform schools, combined usually of an upper secondary school and either a vocational school or a business college. 18% of ordinary upper secondary schools were specialized in arts, 9% in business, 36% in languages, 9% in media, 9% in sciences and 18% in sports.

Most schools (65%) have not a full time school librarian, but 35% of schools have a qualified school librarian. The questions about the Internet have been misunderstood: School librarians replied that 96% had 0-4 Internet connections in the school library, but 14% told that they had more than 5 Internet access point in the school library. Principals replied that 30% of the schools had more than 100 Internet connections and 17% had more than 100 Internet access points at their schools. It can be seen from the answers that schools usually have Internet connections and access in the computer classrooms but not in the school library.

3. 2. Analysis of the data
The quantitative data analysis was done in Australia for the whole international research. The following results are based on the analysis and quality interpretations of the data.

3. 2. 1. School librarians
The Finnish school librarian is mainly a female MA, over 40 years of age. She is usually appointed through an unadvertised position. School librarianship belongs to her as the duty of mother tongue teacher. As teacher librarian she takes care of the school library less than nine hours per week, most common 2 – 3 hours per week. She has been a school librarian for either less than four years or more than five years (50%- 50%). She has been a teacher prior to appointment as school librarian more than four years. She has no library qualifications. She is a member of the teachers’ union and the Association of the Mother Tongue Teachers. If she is a qualified librarian, she does not belong to the teaching staff. Being a teacher she does not follow Finnish library listservs or Finnish library journals, instead, she reads journals of her own subject area and of the Teachers’ Union.

The majority of the school librarians believe that the following statements are accurate (appendices 1,3):

They felt that the following statements are not so accurate (appendix 4): The quantitative analysis (appendix 5) demonstrated that school librarians believe their principals should be spending more time in future on the following tasks than they feel they currently do: 3.2.2. Principals
The Finnish principal is usually male (57%) in his late fifties He has been in his current position less than 10 years (70%) and in an executive position more than ten years (57%). He has worked with one school librarian (56%). He belongs to the Union of the Finnish Principals and also to at least one professional association. His academic qualification is MA, and he has been a teacher prior to appointment for at least 10 years.

Principals differed to school librarians in that they felt the following statements to be accurate (appendix 4):

Analysis (appendix 6) demonstrated that principals believe they should be spending more time in the future on the following tasks than they feel they currently do: In general, the principals view themselves as spending more time on school library tasks than the school librarians perceive them spending. Principals also perceive themselves as generally needing to spend a little less on these tasks in the future than the school librarians perceived in the future.

3.2.3. Sample findings from the research instrument 3 and open questions
Research instrument 3 and open questions were analyzed as follows: After the responses to individual questions have been analyzed, the responses to instrument 3 provided by teacher-librarians and principals in the same school were examined for possible patterns.

4. Conclusion

Following results are preliminary: Principals and school librarians in Finland differ significantly in gender, and age. Whilst school librarians are primaly female, principals are primaly male. Whilst school librarians are likely to be between 40-49 years of age, principals are likely to be between 50-59 years of age. Their co-operation varies, too. The analysis of all the answers shows three probable types of co-operation between principals and school librarians in Finnish upper secondary schools:

The research showed the weaknesses of Finnish school libraries: The lack of school library vision and competence at all levels. There are small resources inside the school, the lack of space, the lack of materials, no IT. The traditional vision of the school library is linked only with books and to promoting reading. The school librarian is struggling without support. Inside the school there are rigid subject areas. Teachers teach traditionally from the textbooks. No need for a learning resource center. This all reflects the difficulties to define the school library as an organic part of learning and teaching within schools.

This survey also aims at showing the challenges of the Finnish school libraries:

5. What Next in Finland?

Principals and school librarians should be equal partners in a shared process. The earlier studies (Hafsteinsdottir (1997), Hay, Henri & Oberg (1998), Oberg (1997), have shown that principal’s support is vital to the well-being and development of the school library. The school librarian should also bear her/his part of the challenge of the educational reform. Above all, the educational policy and the socio-economic factors within each country establish possibilities for school libraries.

This research gave some hints for developing Finnish school libraries, whether in collaboration with public libraries or inside schools as the school’s learning resource centers. The results of the research may not be valid for a small amount of the participating schools, but they can and need to be used for the benefit of Finnish learners and teachers.



Haavisto, Tuula: Country focus – Finland. In: Information Europe, spring 1998, s.28-29.

Hafsteinsdottir, Hafdis Dögg: The attitude of Icelandic principals towards school libraries. Paper presented at IFLA council and general conference, Sect. School libraries and resource centres, Copenhagen, 1997. Available:

Hay, Lyn, Henri, James & Oberg, Dianne: The principal’s role in developing information literacy: Findings from Australia and Canada. Paper presented at IASL conference, Jerusalem, 1998.

Niinikangas, Liisa: An Open learning environment – new challenges for the Finnish school library. Scandinavian Public Library Quarterly 28(1995): 4, 4-10

Niinikangas, Liisa: Uudesta kirjastosta ammattikorkeakoulun ylpeys. Ammattikorkeakoulukirjastojen nykytila ja ehdotuksia kehittämisvaihtoehdoiksi ja-mahdollisuuksiksi. Ammattikasvatushallinnon koulutuskeskuksen julkaisuja 2/1996. Tampere, 1996.

Oberg, Dianne: Principal support: a research from Canada. Paper presented at IFLA council and general conference, Sect. School libraries and resource centers, Copenhagen, 1997. Available:



Appendix 1: Descriptive Statistics from frequency analysis for Teacher Librarians
perception of time spent on tasks/ or in support of tasks by the Principal
Question Present Present Future Future
  Mean SD Mean SD
1 3.25 1.05 3.81 .40
2 2.89 1.26 3.64 .76
3 3.39 .96 3.64 .76
4 2.61 1.10 3.42 .81
5 2.56 1.21 3.17 1.03
6 2.47 1.38 3.31 .89
7 1.64 1.38 2.22 1.59
8 2.69 1.55 3.11 1.37
9 2.17 1.13 2.97 1.18
10 1.81 1.26 2.67 1.29
11 3.03 1.28 3.14 1.27
12 1.69 1.31 2.58 1.48
13 3.11 1.14 3.06 1.24
14 2.44 1.46 3.67 .76
15 2.56 1.32 3.39 1.15
16 1.39 1.34 2.31 1.45
17 2.64 .99 2.94 1.01
18 1.44 1.05 2.06 1.26
19 2.03 1.32 2.44 1.34
20 1.72 1.03 1.78 1.33
21 2.61 1.50 3.0 1.20
22 1.39 .90 1.56 1.32
23 1.06 1.04 1.19 1.26
24 2.56 1.54 3.19 1.09
25 1.22 .99 1.61 1.42
26 1.17 .88 1.92 1.32
27 1.56 1.13 1.83 1.36
28 2.33 1.55 2.94 1.37
29 1.83 1.18 3.03 1.08
30 1.61 1.50 3.11 1.14
31 1.14 1.13 2.50 1.32

Appendix 2: Descriptive Statistics from frequency analysis for Principals perception of
time spent on tasks/ or in support of tasks by themselves
Question Present Present Future Future
  Mean  SD Mean SD
1 3.40 .78 3.5 1.09
2 3.25 .49 3.47 .78
3 3.68 .73 3.67 .92
4 2.78 .95 3.10 1.08
5 2.83 1.13 3.22 1.05
6 3.05 .75 3.32 .76
7 1.70 1.34 2.05 1.30
8 2.15 1.35 2.45 1.38
9 2.70 1.04 3.15 .95
10 2.62 1.03 3.07 1.10
11 3.67 .47 3.70 .72
12 2.42 .96 2.95 .99
13 3.28 .60 3.40 .81
14 3.18 .81 3.38 .77
15 2.85 1.17 2.88 1.26
16 1.75 .87 2.15 1.05
17 2.80 1.14 2.90 1.24
18 2.05 1.11 2.32 1.12
19 2.30 1.09 2.53 1.22
20 1.90 .98 2.07 1.14
21 3.00 1.34 3.15 1.21
22 1.62 .87 1.80 1.24
23 1.63 1.10 1.63 1.10
24 3.4 .63 3.48 .78
25 1.65 1.12 2.05 1.36
26 1.28 .85 1.80 .07
27 2.02 1.21 2.20 1.32
28 2.90 .98 3.07 1.12
29 2.10 1.08 2.53 1.20
30 2.08 1.25 2.37 1.41
31 1.85 .98 2.17 1.22

Appendix 3: Descriptive Statistics from frequency analysis for Teacher Librarians Beliefs

Mean of 2.10 of under is considered disagreement.
Mean of 2.90 or over is considered agreement.
Question Mean SD
32 2.67 1.12
33 2.67 1.33
34 2.72 1.34
35 2.22 1.59
36 2.17 1.21
37 2.67 1.43
38 1.94 1.55
39 1.61 .96
40 1.81 1.60
41 3.56 .97
42 3.44 .97
43 1.83 1.32
44 1.89 1.35
45 2.56 1.40
46 2.19 1.64
47 1.78 1.40
48 1.50 1.46
49 2.08 1.18
50 2.97 1.06
51 3.53 .77
52 1.19 1.14
53 2.42 1.34

Appendix 4: Descriptive Statistics from frequency analysis for Principals Beliefs
Question Mean SD
32 2.72 1.18
33 3.08 .80
34 3.35 .58
35 2.50 1.40
36 1.80 1.16
37 2.88 1.21
38 2.33 1.33
39 1.65 1.10
40 1.85 1.39
41 3.55 .93
42 3.63 .74
43 1.75 1.21
44 2.55 1.15
45 3.07 1.05
46 2.77 1.37
47 1.75 1.28
48 1.38 1.44
49 2.25 1.35
50 1.67 1.37

Appendix 5: T –Tests – Present vs. Future Analysis – School librarians
Question Present  Present Future Future P value
  Mean SD Mean SD  
1 3.25 1.052 3.806 .401 .002
2 2.89 1.26 3.64 .762 .000
4 2.61 1.103 3.42 .81 .000
5 2.56 1.206 3.167 1.03 .004
6 2.47 1.38 3.31 .89 .000
9 2.17 1.13 2.97 1.18 .000
10 1.806 1.26 2.67 1.29 .000
12 1.69 1.31 2.58 1.48 .000
13 3.11 1.14 3.67 .76 .002
14 2.44 1.46 3.06 1.24 .003
15 2.56 1.32 3.39 1.15 .000
16 1.39 1.34 2.31 1.45 .000
18 1.44 1.05 2.06 1.26 .000
26 1.17 .88 1.92 1.32 .000
28 2.33 1.55 2.94 1.37 .004
29 1.83 1.18 3.03 1.08 .000
30 1.61 1.50 3.11 1.14 .000
31 1.14 1.13 2.5 1.32 .000
Due to limited space only the questions that yielded significant differences between
time currently spent and time perceived to be required in the future are presented.
To be considered significant a difference had to be significant at p =/< .005.


Appendix 6: T –Tests – Present vs Future Analysis - Principals
Question Present Present Future Future P value
  Mean SD Mean SD  
10 2.625 1.03 3.075 1.092 .002
12 2.425 .958 2.95 .986 .003
16 1.75 .870 2.15 1.051 .000
26 1.275 .847 1.8 1.067 .000
29 2.1 1.081 2.53 1.198 .004


Appendix 7: Present and Future Overall
  Present Future Beliefs
Teacher Librarian - Mean 66 85.19 41.31
Teacher Librarian - SD 20.79 20.99 11.32
Principal - Mean 77.88 85.48 44.83
Principal - SD 17.24 23.10 10.76
Levenes F-value .785 .212 .116
Levenes p-value .378 .646 .741
t-value -2.72 -.06 -1.39
df 74 74 74
p-value .008 .956 .169


Appendix 8: Other Variables
  Age Gender
TL - Mean 3.22 1.08
TL - SD 1.045 .28
Principal - Mean 3.95 1.58
Principal- SD .552 .501
Levenes F-value 23.004 74.315
Levenes p-value .000 .000
t-value -3.74 -5.35
df 51.87 62.46
p-value .000 .000


IFLA IRRG Principals Project Web Site Coordinator Lyn Hay
Updated 11 August 1999.
Copyright 1999