There were many twists and turns on the way, as is often the case in redesign projects. All of the University of Helsinki library facilities were redesigned between 2014 and 2021, with Viikki Campus Library’s turn coming last.
Helsinki University Library launched the Viikki Campus Library redesign project as early as 2018 when the project plan was approved by the library’s management group in June. The idea was to create a diverse and flexible learning environment at Viikki Campus Library in smaller facilities than before, but without reducing the number of study spaces and groupwork facilities. Another aim was to clarify the placement of library collections.
From the outset, the planning took into account partnerships and collaboration with other parties housed in the Info Centre, particularly the Helsinki City Library and the University’s facilities services. The library’s facility redesign project was part of a larger University of Helsinki renovation and remodelling project, during which the Info Centre will be comprehensively transformed. The more extensive University project began in spring 2019 and will continue at the Info Centre until summer 2022.
The library launched its own project by exploring various learning environment solutions, pruning collections and engaging both staff and facility users in planning. In autumn 2018, students at Viikki Campus were asked to give feedback on the library facilities on flip charts and the Flinga online platform.
The refurbishment of the Info Centre was scheduled to begin in summer 2020. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced most library staff to work from home just before the facilities were supposed to be emptied ahead of the renovation. Emptying premises and moving collections to temporary facilities cannot be done remotely, so staff had to quickly develop methods and practices allowing on-site work, while ensuring health and safety. Those working on-site wore protective face masks and maintained safe social distancing.
During the renovation of the Info Centre, customers had access to a joint pop-up library established by the Helsinki City Library and the Viikki Campus Library. It was opened in August 2020 on the fourth floor of the Info Centre after the necessary furniture alterations had been made, collections and equipment had been transferred, and temporary signs had been put up.
We were open to the public for a short while until our customer facilities had to be closed when the pandemic showed signs of worsening in Finland, and consequently we were only able to operate a book collection service. In these exceptional circumstances, however, we had the opportunity to become better acquainted with the staff of the Helsinki City Library by working side by side with them and to familiarise ourselves with our future collaboration: in the redesigned work facilities, we would eventually share both a service desk and back office and break facilities with the city library staff.
The design of the learning environment as well as the planning of facility operations and furniture took place on a fully remote basis between summer 2020 and winter 2021. Some amendments and alterations were made when the facilities were taken into use in autumn 2021. At this point, we were finally able to return to the site and see whether the planned solutions worked in practice.
The pandemic also affected the availability of furniture and its delivery: we faced an anxious wait until the last minute to see whether we would have everything in place before the opening ceremony. The day before the opening was a long and busy one.
The opening ceremony on 1 October 2021 was a festive and joyful occasion. There were many reasons to feel happy: we were able to come together in person, the collections were well-organised, the customer service and self-service equipment was in place, and although not all of the furniture had arrived, there was a sufficient amount to meet the needs of the moment.
Despite the difficulties involved, the refurbishment of the Viikki library facilities had been completed as scheduled. It took a great deal of collaboration both on site and via remote connections. The light and airy result, both in the library facilities and the thoroughly refurbished Info Centre with its café and learning plaza, delights both customers and project participants. We are pleased to now have a spacious and diverse learning environment at Viikki Campus. We look forward to gaining more user experiences when teachers, students and the traditional hustle and bustle of university life return to campus.