Building a safer space together

In autumn 2023, Helsinki University Library introduced principles for safer spaces in the library’s learning facilities and at events organised by the library. The principles were drawn up in cooperation with the library’s customers.
Towards an increasingly equal University community

As an organisation, the University of Helsinki is committed to promoting equality and non-discrimination in all of its operations. As a key operator at the University, Helsinki University Library is naturally committed to the same values and goals. The library strives to provide all of its customers with a safe environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. 

The library is a shared workspace for the entire University community. With its versatile facilities for work and study, it serves as a central meeting point and focal point at the heart of the campuses, particularly for the student community. Consulting students when drawing up the principles was of primary importance to the library, and the aim was to reach them as widely as possible during the process. 

Safer spaces are created from within the community

In recent years, many public operators and public events have adopted their own principles for safer spaces. Even though these principles differ little in content between operators, commitment to such principles requires that they have been established from within the specific community. The principles drawn up together are a practical tool for creating an equal and respectful atmosphere. The concept of safer space includes the assumption of physical safety.

In autumn 2023, the principles for safer spaces were drafted in workshops open to all library customers, organised at Kaisa House and the campus libraries. Customers also had the opportunity to contribute to the drafting through a trilingual online survey conducted in September. 

Workshop participants and survey respondents were able to choose, from among more than 20 proposals, the principles for safer spaces they considered the most important. Open-ended responses were accepted in both the workshops and the survey. As a result, the eight principles considered most important by students were chosen, on the basis of which the library’s principles for safer spaces were drafted.

Customers commended the library particularly for the encounters that occurred in the workshops. The student community values the library’s efforts to make the learning environment safer and more equal. During the process, the library also collaborated with the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, student associations and other key stakeholders at the University. 

Support from harassment contact persons

The principles for safer spaces were published on the library website and on social media channels in November 2023. They are displayed on information screens in public library facilities, as well as on printed signage in groupwork and toilet facilities. Those booking or renting library facilities for their own events also commit to the principles for safer spaces. The principles also apply to library staff, and are displayed on staff premises. 

Any challenging interaction situations will continue to be resolved primarily with the help of the library’s customer service staff. Along with the safer space principles, the library has also introduced harassment contact persons whom customers can contact when necessary. These contact persons provide confidential support, and their contact details can be found in connection with the principles on the library premises.

Safer spaces are an everyday practice

Safer spaces are created or undermined in everyday interaction. Creating an equal and inclusive atmosphere is a continuous process that requires the input of the entire University community. Diversity is valued at the University of Helsinki, and the goal is to make it possible for everyone to take part, regardless of their background or personal characteristics.

The library’s principles for safer spaces were established as part of the University’s year of responsible interaction, which was aimed at establishing a bold and safe culture of interaction at the University to prevent experiences of discrimination, harassment and inappropriate behaviour. 

The topic has also evoked interest outside the University, and experts from Helsinki University Library have visited other higher education libraries to share their experiences and discuss the process of drawing up the principles. 

Katri Nevalainen
Information Specialist, Harrasment Advisor in the library