Luckily just before the coronavirus crisis, German business students Elisabeth von Babo and Johannes Baumann completed their Erasmus internship in Finland. The three-weeks work period all over Espoo City Library was way beyond what they had expected.

German business students Johannes Baumann and Elisabeth von Babo

Home in Würzburg, Elisabeth von Babo and Johannes Baumann are studying business at Klara-Oppenheimer-Schule: von Babo on the media and publishing, Baumann on the administration line of study. The usually three-year training is on-the-job learning, each week consisting of two days at school and three days paid work.

The idea of an internship in Finland came from their teacher.

”I thought it could be a great chance – I like the Scandinavian landscape, nature and the Nordic mindset”, Baumann says. As a future office assistant he is working for the humanitarian association Caritas, training in various administrative tasks e.g. the payroll for the organization´s kindergardens and service centers for senior citizens, or the secretary work.

Von Babo is working for the children‘s books and young adult (YA) publishing company Arena. ”Rotating from one department to another I get the big picture: from online marketing, distribution, customer service and commercial department, as well as the editors´ secretariat where we manage the contracts with authors. I also participate in book fairs like Frankfurt Book Fair where our company has a big booth with appointments from all over the world, including Finland.”

Klara-Oppenheimer-Schule´s Finnish partnering school Omnia soon linked the students with Espoo City Library. Sello Library became their home base and Library Adviser Heidi Malmström planned them a comprehensive schedule including various aspects of library work: acquisition, collection management, customer service, digital tools, logistics, library buses etc.

In addition to libraries in Espoo, the students visited the famous Library Oodi in Helsinki, Deutsche Bibliothek Helsinki, The National Library of Finland, and made an excursion to the city of Turku. Their sporty free time included hiking in Nuuksio National Park, swimming in the open air Allas Sea Pool and finally, smoke sauna and ice swimming in Lake Kuusijärvi.

”Library is for people”

Compared to quite crowded libraries in a mall, Elisabeth von Babo and Johannes Baumann prefer the genuine library feeling.

”An ideal library is like a community: the feeling in which everyone is doing something and you are a part of it. It is cozy and calming, but you still can be productive: studying is more motivating because there are also others studying, not just chilling around.”

Sello Library´s foreign languages department, and its huge Russian books collection made an impact to von Babo: ”I think when a lot of languages come together in one place it is fascinating. If Sello would have only books, it would be awesome, but now it´s more than awesome. I was impressed by the music department and the makerspace, it almost goes beyond what we understand by a library. And everything is free, I couldn´t believe it!”

”When we think of a library it is usually books and studying, but here the library is also for fun, music and makerspace. So many tools and machines: you can take copies and use computers, 3D printers, music rooms and VR rooms. Immerse yourself in magazines or go to ukulele courses. Even the smaller libraries like Tapiola are very well equipped. And library dogs we had seen nowhere else!”, Baumann adds.

”Library is for people. Here library is deeply rooted in society, more than in Germany.”

Baumann´s favourite was Sello´s youth department Pointti: ”There is so much to do, new things I didn´t know there are in libraries. Something happens every day. In Germany young people don´t want to spend time in libraries with their friends because the youth departments are not made for hanging out; and sometimes they are not wanted there as groups of young people can be quite noisy.”

Von Babo gives respect to the Pointti staff: ”It is very important work they do: they are not only librarians but forming a social network of professional people working together with young people. It is very nice there is a place to go after school, and the employees at Pointti are so welcoming.”

”Passion for knowledge and sharing ideas”

Based on their internship experiences, Elisabeth von Babo and Johannes Baumann believe that the future job of a librarian is not just knowing books. ”Librarians explain things on a computer and in a makerspace. It is actually quite futuristic compared to German libraries.”

”Therefore, an open personality, communicational skills for many reasons, and wide language skills are needed.”

”Having patience and tolerance because you´re dealing with customers. Motivation to improve and learn new skills as librarians see new things coming in and need to explain them to customers, too. An ability to adapt and deal with new things – a kind of passion for knowledge,” von Babo suggests.

”Passion for community and for sharing ideas, social thinking”, Baumann sums up.

Concerning not only libraries but publishers as well, von Babo sees that the future is basically a question of surviving: ”With all the technological innovations ahead, to keep your audience and attract new readers is very important. Furthermore, talking about books, magazines, information and political situations, we are in the era of fake news. Information is spreading so fast online. People are doubting what the actual truth is, or what is allowed to say. We need to remember how precious the freedom of press is. Don´t take it for granted.”

Text and photos:
Asta Sjöblom

The author is a freelance journalist and communications professional interested in people, business and corporate culture.

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