Across the Globe with 13 Books

Finns love their libraries, and borrow about 13 books per capita annually

Reading is a key aspect of the Finnish culture. Each inhabitant borrows an average of 13 books per year from Finland’s Finnish libraries. If these books were lined up end to end, the volumes borrowed by Finland’s 5.4 million citizens would exceed the earth’s diameter (1). By comparison, Germany’s inhabitants borrow only an average of three print media per capita annually from public libraries (2). In Austria, this figure is two per capita annually (3) and 4.5 per capita annually in Switzerland (4).

The Finnish library system is the Finn’s most important cultural asset and serves as a role model all over the world, for which the Finns are justifiably proud. In a survey by the Finnish Cultural Foundation last year, the library system was chosen as the country’s most important cultural service. Approximately 93 percent of the survey participants considered it important or very important to have a library nearby. Readers in Finland enjoy the services of the country’s 827 libraries, 151 of which are mobile libraries that make over 12,000 scheduled stops. There is even a library boat that stops at eleven different ports.

Finnish libraries are characterized by the fact that all library services are free. These libraries also host outstanding collections of books, music and films. Some libraries also loan out board games, sports equipment and even electric drills. Each Finn visits a library an average of ten times a year. Visiting a library means not just borrowing books, but also reading and relaxing in airy, modern surroundings as well. Web-based technology is a common element in these libraries. Users have access to virtual and interactive online services, as well as the traditional print media.

Käännös by ALA Architects

Photo by ALA Architects

“Käännös” by ALA Architects Ltd Helsinki won the architectural competition for the Central Library Helsinki


Helsinki’s new Central Library is scheduled to open at Töölönlahti Bay in 2017 – the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. In addition to its traditional functions, the Central Library will also serve as the country’s “living room” – a gathering place and venue for meetings, as well as a center for culture and entertainment.


1) average length of a book = 20cm

2) German Library Statistics, print media borrowed from public libraries, 2012

3) Data: Austrian association of libraries, print media borrowed from public libraries, 2012

4)  Data: Swiss Federal Office for Statistics, Library Statistics public libraries cities and municipalities, number of overall print and audio-visual products borrowed,2012