Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
It’s not the only example of Finland’s national obsession with playback singing.
A public library in Finland has found a new way to keep relevant to its users. It’s doubling as a Karaoke bar.
The library, located in the Helsinki suburb of Tikkurila, has installed a soundproofed karaoke booth where library cardholders can book a free two-hour session. While it might seem like sacrilege to introduce caterwauling singers into an environment where even loud page turning can normally get you shushed, Tikkurila Library clearly knows which way the wind is blowing. Since 1980, the number of Finnish pubic libraries has halved, and the tendency to consolidate many sites into larger branches makes smaller institutions particularly prone to be sidelined. By providing 3,300 songs to sing (and a suitably muffled isolation chamber in which to do so), the library is wisely pushing its role as a community meeting place.
But Karaoke? Choosing it as a crowd-puller is perhaps less odd than it sounds. This is Finland, after all, which founded the Karaoke World Championships in 2003 and where playback singing is a particular national obsession (well documented in this photo piece). This isn’t even the first time a Finnish institution has used Karaoke to attract more users. In 2014, Finnish State Railways installed a singing booth in the restaurant car of the Helsinki to Oulu express.
Finland’s karaoke library isn’t just about getting people to use a service whose popularity has dropped, however. It’s also about creating a third space for socializing. The Finns have a reputation for being hard drinkers—such is the high cost of alcohol taxes in the country (or so the popular truism goes) that if Finns are going to go to a bar and spend, they want to achieve an at least medium level of inebriation to make up for the cost. By providing a place to sing without drinking, the library is providing a space for people who are put off or intimidated by a boozy crowd. As library regular Anniina Rantanen told Finnish broadcaster YLE:
"I get so nervous. Fortunately you can practice the songs in peace here and you can sing while you’re sober."
This sounds like a healthy enough innovation for people who hate bars. Now all the rest of us need is libraries where you can read while drunk.