The Cable Book and its Knot

An Internet Public Library

Published in Vine No 98 March 1995 [about VINE, see "a note from the publisher" , here; link added by MB on Feb 5, 2020]


The 35th branch of Helsinki City Library got its name, The Cable Book, from the Cable Factory, a massive industrial building in the central city area. The library is located on the ground floor, in one of the many former factory halls. It is open to the public Monday to Thursday from 12 pm to 20 pm and on Sundays from 12 pm to 18 pm. Thus it is supposed to be closed on Fridays and Saturdays. Very often, however, the place is open on Fridays and Saturdays as well, because of visiting groups, seminars and other events taking place in the library room.

Of course, The Cable Book is also a very suitable name for a library which has an own Internet site, the Knot at the Cable, and which is recognized to have been the world's first public library on a World Wide Web server (1). But Internet was not part of the original Cable Book plan. Our Internet public library actually came about with only a minimum of planning. No official committee and no regional planning department of strategic information technology development had foreseen it. It just started to grow by itself because the necessary elements suddenly gathered together in one place.

The "minimum of planning " was made ex tempore by Jyrki Kuoppala, a student of technology and computer science. A young nerd, in other words. In the summer of 1993, Jyrki wrote a paper on how Internet could be made accessible to the staff and the patrons of a public library. The paper is a concise technical description of the new interface to Internet, which had just hit the computer stage; in short, it described Internet's hypertext transfer service called the World Wide Web and the graphical NCSA Mosaic client software. This was the technique that, for the first time, had made something like a public Internet library into a realistic proposal. Jyrki did bring his plan to the attention of the chief-librarians of the Helsinki City Library. He also emailed it to me, in September 1993, and asked whether I could find some financial support for the plan among the members of the cooperative society Katto-Meny, of which I am the director. Well, I could not.

However, Katto-Meny and myself happened to be based in the Cable Factory, which has rapidly grown into one of the cultural centers of Helsinki because so many artists, ecologists, dancers, educational associations, theatre groups, museums, musicians, cultural journals etc have moved in with their studios and offices. And Jyrki's plan was no doubt very much in line with the plans of Katto-Meny. The general idea of Katto-Meny was to help the kind of groups and individuals who inhabit the Cable Factory to make use of various computer networks, especially NordNet, GreenNet, GlasNet and PeaceNet, i e the APC-network. Although I am not myself a young nerd, I also happened to have some first-hand experience of using Internet and the World Wide Web. So Jyrki's practical proposal on how to make these accessible via the public library seemed a really excellent one to me. I decided to do what I could do about it.

Very soon (by October 1993) there appeared an announcement in the internal newsletter of the Cable Factory. By the beginning of 1994, it said, we would expect a new neighbour, an "own" branch of the City Library. The chief-librarian of the Cable Book was already busy with the repair-works and the interior architecture of the library hall, and he would be interested in ideas from the side of the previous renters of space in the Cable Factory. The notice added a name, Erkki Lounasvuori, and a telephone number. I called that number. And so it was that Jyrki, Erkki and myself formed a team, the team of the Knot at the Cable.

The Cable Book opened its doors on February 8, 1994. Before that date, a number of more or less official instances had shown green light to our pilot project, as we spontaneously started to call it. Most importantly, the chiefs of the City Library, namely Maija Berndtson, Sirkka Svedberg and Hannu Taskinen, adopted a positive attitude to the project and agreed, step by step, to become more and more involved themselves. The Knot at the Cable was and it continues to be a common project, jointly undertaken by two partners: Helsinki City Library and the cooperative society Katto-Meny.

Nerds and their affordable systems

In January 1994, Jyrki installed the Linux operating system onto the harddisk of Katto-Meny's only computer, an ordinary 486 DX/50Mhz PC. That step didn't cost anything in license fees, since Linux is a free version of Unix, invented by Linus Torvalds, another young student of computer science here in Helsinki. Nowadays, a complete Linux-library with a massive amount of documentation can be obtained on CD-ROM for ca 50 USD. It can also be downloaded from the Internet which is, in fact, the environment where Linux was refined into a stable operating system for microcomputers by literally thousands of young (and older) computer programmers. For free, aus Liebe zur Kunst. So, before installing it, Jyrki downloaded the so called Linux slackware from the Net and copied it onto twenty or so diskettes.

With that Linux PC, we already had at our disposal the central piece of equipment needed to set up an Internet node of our own. Linux notably allows "multitasking", i.e. many users may simultaneously be logged into the machine which is run under Linux, while that same machine keeps track of the interaction with the Internet. Out of gratitude for the achievement of Linus Torvalds, we invited himself to the "official opening" of The Knot at the Cable, i.e. the library's Internet site, on February 28, 1994 (date corrected by MB on Feb 4, 2020 ), an event which was widely publicized in the press. But not because of Linus and Linux. They became famous (in their home town) only a couple of weeks later (in March) when the first "official version" (Version 1.0) of the Linux system was publicized at Helsinki University.

Finland, with its deregulated telecom policy, was one of the first countries (in Europe, at least) where it became possible for anybody to buy a complete Internet connection to an affordable price on the free, commercial market. The company which started to provide this (in 1993) was EUnet Finland Ltd, which is led by Johan Helsingius, still another computer nerd (who has reached international fame for his anonymous re-mail server on the Net). It was to him that we turned in order to get connected. For ca 1800 FIM (360 USD) per month, EUnet agreed to give us a fixed (24h per day) connection at 38 kbps over a leased telephone line. That was a price that even we could afford, since the library succeeded in getting an extra 70.000 FIM (ca 14.000 USD) for the Knot at the Cable-project from the Ministry of Education. The rest of the sum was used for Jyrki's salary. The telecommunication costs doubled, however, towards the end of the year, when the library system was up and running and the usage statistics started to show a sharp curve upwards.

Helsinki City library bought two new PCs to the Cable Book, one for the staff and the other for the patrons. Hewlett-Packard donated 3 PCs, a color printer and a color scanner; since August 1994 these are all at the public's disposal, including the one which is configured as a Linux-PC with a so called WWW-cache and offering the user the X-Windows System. The rest of the PCs are run MS-Windows. All are networked by Ethernet to the the Katto-Meny Linux-system. In addition, the library's internal net comprises some older PCs and terminals, with character-based user interfaces.

In January 1995, the City of Helsinki itself decided to get onto the Internet. Presently, the connections of the Cable Book are being reorganized. Henceforward the library will get its Internet connection directly via the municipal Internet node, while the cooperative society Katto-Meny has ordered a separate line for its members via one of them, a small Internet company called Clinet Ltd. Katto-Meny continues to maintain the technical system of the Knot at the Cable.

All staff and patrons of the Cable Book have free access to the services of Internet. These include telnet, FTP (file transfer), IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Gopher and World Wide Web. The last-mentioned service, which is accessed by means of the NCSA Mosaic graphical browser or the Lynx text-based browser, also provides Usenet News. The visitor may also read or write E-mail, provided that she or he owns (or has access to) a user account at one of the uncountable machines of the Net.

All these services are actually used by the staff and by the visitors. WWW is the most popular service, at least among the visitors. There were some 150.000 WWW-page accesses during the period September-December. Only ca half of this usage was from within the library. The other half was from other Internet sites, in Finland and elsewhere. The Knot at the Cable is also accessible, to users with their own login IDs and passwords (i.e. to the members of Katto-Meny and the staff of the library), via indialling modem-lines. Anonymous logins are possible via TeleSampo (a service of Finnish Telecom); in that way anybody with a computer and a modem can have access to the WWW-pages, by means of the Lynx browser. Similar gateways are provided to schools by Freenet Finland and, by another system also to some of the librarians in other branches of the City library.

The "Information Producers"

Equal access to information is one of the traditional goals of the public library; and equal access to Internet and electronic information is, of course, a goal of the Cable Book and the Knot at the Cable-project, too. Yet it was clear from the start that access to electronic information is not enough, if the information itself is poor in content or badly presented and when many (most?) of the authentic producers of information are still notoriously absent from the electrosphere.

Is any other institution better suited to host the electronic information than the public library? At least, there seems to be none which is more socially desirable. Located, as it is, between the state and the civil society, the public library can stay independent from both. The public library is also a true intermediary between science and popular culture, and between the culturally "high" and "low". The hypertext screens of the public library can mirror electronic information from all directions and in all directions. But the information cannot be collected and presented by some central office, or the result will be an informational farce. Information exists where it is produced and consumed, otherwise it is a dead, mathematical entity, something which only fills the cable's bandwith. The living information is always local, even individual.

By consequence, the staff of each library has to forge new social links to the actual, local "producers of information". In this new situation (which is called the information society) the library should take an active role in the actual production of (electronic) information.

Below is the current list of the "information producers" of the Knot at the Cable (2):

* AV-Arc / Audiovisual art center * Mikael Book / Publicist * Heidi Hautala / Member of the Euroopan parlament * Helsinki City Library * Helsinki Art Museum * Suomen Joogaliitto ry / Yoga Association * Kaapelitehdas / The Cable Factory * Kehitysyhteistyon palvelukeskus / Voluntary Service Center * Kirjakaapeli / The Cable Book * Kirjastopalvelu Oy / Library Service Ltd * Like kustannus Oy / Publisher * Leena Krohn / Author * Kultti ry / Association of the journals of opinion and culture * Int'l Council of Societies of Industrial Design * Nihil Interit / A group of poets * Nordic Council for Alcohol and Drug Research * Nuoren voiman liitto / publishes "Electric Verse" etc * Nykarleby stad / The town of Nykarleby * Ny Tid / weekly newspaper * Mika Nyman / journalis (links human rights resources on the Net) * Schildts Forlag Ab / publisher * Suomen elokuvasaatio / Finnish Film Foundation * Suomen kannabisyhdistys / Hemp Association * Suomen sarjakuvaseura / Comic Strips Makers * Suomen valokuvataiteen museo / Museum of Photographic Art * Svenska Kulturfonden /Swedish Cultural Foundation * Soderstroms &Co Forlags Ab / publishers * Jussi Wahlgren / playwright * VSY / Adult Education Association * Vihrea liitto / Green League (political party) These groups and inviduals are members of the cooperative society Katto-Meny (except the Cable Factory, a building!, and the Cable Book itself, which is a branch of Helsinki City Library). The list only comprises members who actually place their information on the harddisk(s) of the Knot at the Cable (3) .

Mainly as a result of its participation in the Knot at the Cable-project, Katto-Meny has become a cooperative of electronic information producers. The electronic information produced by its members reaches the public mainly via the public library. The mutual integration of Katto-Meny (the information cooperative) and the Cable Book (the public Internet library) serves as an example of how the library can come to grips with its new role as organizer of the production of information.

A Glimpse from Inside

Because of a general employment-freeze, the new branch of the the library obtained its personnel through a system of rotation. Therefore the seven people who belong to the staff of the Cable Book have been doing shifts other branches of Helsinki City library.

The staff is composed of the chief-librarian, an informatician, three assistant librarians, a bookbinder and a conscientious objector. In addition, Jyrki Kuoppala and myself, both employed by the cooperative society Katto-Meny, are working in the library.

It is here, in the the Cable Book, that Ulla Rannikko, the bookbinder, has installed her workshop. At present she is repairing Helsinki City Library books. In the future services will be available to the library's customers, as well.

Recently, I asked Ulla whether the resulting, visible co-existence of traditional handicraft with cyber-surfing is a mere coincidence. "No", she replied, "this is something that Erkki and myself immediately realized when it became clear that we would have Internet as well. We thought that my bookbinding and all the computers would together make people stop and think about the whole life-span of the book." "Besides", she added, "I believe that the value of the printed book will increase when more and more information is published electronically. Which means that there will probably be more bookinding in the library of the future than we have hitherto been accustomed to."

Ulla also serves the library's visitors with, for instance, book-loans and catalogue information from the desk. The City Library's catalogue, which is accessed via a LIBS terminal, is not yet connected to the Internet. Anyway, book-lending is only a minor activity in the Cable Book (although, as a whole, Helsinki City Library scores some of the highest loan-statistics in the world in proportion to the size of the population). The tiny book-collection (ca 5.000 volumes) of the Cable Book concentrates on poetry, film, music and modern painting.

The real asset of the Cable Book is, no doubt, the public-access, no-fee Internet. It is Internet , and to a minor extent CD-ROMs (including interactive CD-ROM from a CDI station donated by Philips), which attracts most of the 150-200 visitors per day to the Cable Book.

And so it is that Ulla and the rest of us spend much of our time doing, and learning, very new things. Also, we are going through a permanent effort to teach the new things to each others and the numerous groups of staff from other libraries (in Helsinki, and other towns and even other countries) who pay visits to the Cable Book.

By now we are all familiar with email and the World Wide Web. We are organizing the pages of the World Wide Web, a little bit like other librarians are organizing the book-shelves. "These pages are under construction"(general saying of the WWW). Each day, lots of new pages are being produced all over the Net, and in direct connection to our library as well (see above). We try to link, and organize, and present this information. In short, we try to increase the accessibility of it all; and to some extent, we also try to increase its availability (by encouraging electronic editions of poetry, Comic strips, journals of opinion etc etc).

The Cable Book (the physical place) and its Knot (the Internet site, or "virtual library") are inseparable. In this respect, the Cable Book is very different from "The Internet Public Library" (4) which is hosted by the School of Information & Library Studies of the University of Michigan.

"The Internet Public Library" has only a virtual lobby because it is only a virtual library. The Knot at the Cable, on the other hand, only has a real lobby (5).

(1) See the list of public libraries with Internet services, which is maintained (since November 1994) by Donald Napoli at Saint Joseph County Public Library (Indiana, USA). The URL of the list is:

This list mentions 20 public libraries (in the world) on World Wide Web servers (5 April 1995). This figure alone proves, that the Internet public library is still a very rare phenomenon, even in the USA, where most of them are located.
(2) The URL of the list of information producers of the Knot at the Cable is:

(3) The full list of members of Katto-Meny, including many who have not yet started to publish electronically, and some who alredy have own WWW-servers is available at URL

(4) "The Internet Public Library" is hosted by the School of Information & Library Studies of the University of Michigan. Its URL is:

(5) For pictures of the Cable Book, visit the Knot at the Cable at the URL:

Sights from its lobby are to be found in the Electric-Verse section:
[ nowadays here and the lobby here ; links to the archived versions from 1997 at added by MB on Feb 5, 2020]

The street adress of the Cable Book is:

       The Cable Book
       Tallberginkatu 1 B
       00180 Helsinki

And other contact details are:

      Email:  (staff) 
     (Knot at the Cable team) 
       (Erkki Lounasvuori, director of 
                               the library)
      (Mikael Book, the author of this 

     Fax: +358-0-693 3219
     Phone: +358-0-693 1407