Networking the Library

   by Mikael Böök, Katto-Meny Coop. Soc. and Susanna Sucksdorff,
   Helsinki City Library. A final version of the article is to appear
   in a book on technology in Finland. We are grateful for comments
   (please send to:

In the age of digital technology each one of us could, and should, have free access to as good information and communications facilities as have big businesses, armies,governments and universities. From its base in a branch of Helsinki City Library, located in an old cable factory, the "Knot at the Cable"-project is attempting to fulfill some of the Net's great promises of informational equity and social horizontality. The public library may turn out the ideal anchorage for Everyman's Internet.

The Knot at the Cable

In February 1994, the inhabitants of Helsinki got a new public library with a new public service, access to Internet. During the opening hours of the library, four PC:s are at the disposal of those visitors who wish to use the Internet, or who have only learned about its existence and are keen on making their own first-hand experiences. From the other sites of the Net the "Knot at the Cable" is reachable day and night.

The Knot at the Cable has a leased line Internet connection from a commercial provider. The primary services offered are World Wide Web browsing and telnet access to patrons, email and WWW publishing to library staff and partners.

The World Wide Web (WWW), which structures Internet as hypertext, was initiated as the internal information service of the European research center CERN. WWW ties togehther many Internet services and makes them available for browsing with graphical or character-based client applications (NCSA Mosaic,Lynx etc.). Therefore, WWW has rapidly spread in academia and industry.

The WWW-server of "The Knot at the Cable" runs on a 486/50 PC with Linux, a free version of Unix. The public access terminals (3 MS-Windows PC:s and 1 Linux PC) in the library use NCSA Mosaic as a graphical user interface.

Creating a library without walls

The Net is often seen precisely as another extension of literacy, comparable to the printing press, and even as one huge, integrated "library without walls". Therefore, it was somewhat surprising for the persons who started "The Knot at the Cable" to realise that theirs may well have been the very first public library with a World Wide Web-server, in the whole world. So far, the nearest colleagues (to exchange email with!) have turned up in South Bend (Indiana, USA), where the Saint Joseph's County Public Library had its own WWW server up and running in March 1994.

"The Knot at the Cable" (fi: Kaapelisolmu; se: Kabelknuten) combines three things. It is, firstly, a pilot project in the field of equal access to electronic information. The Knot at the Cable exemplifies the need to extend the public sphere itself by means of new interactive electronic media, especially the Internet.

Secondly, the Knot at the Cable functions as an electronic "publishing house" for a hundred or so members of the cooperative society Katto-Meny which maintains the technical system of "The Knot at the Cable". The membership of Katto-Meny includes authors, poets, makers of comic-strips, publishers, politicians, environmental organisations, adult educators and otheractive "information producers".

Finally, the Knot at the Cable is developing into the Internet link of the old Cable Factory, nowadays taken over by painters, artisans, musicians, dancers, writers,museums, schools, theaters - and the library. The Cable Factory is a massive industrial building which used to serve the Nokia corporation. (Incidentally, Nokia installed some of the first computers in Finland in the same building!). At the end of the eighties,it was sold to the City of Helsinki.

During the first half year, there were 60.000 WWW page accesses at "The Knot of the Cable", half of which were from the library's system. The other half were from other Internet sites in Finland and in 30 other countries.

New Community-Links of the Library

The Net-connection forges new, exciting links between the library and the community or, speaking in terms of extended literacy, between authors and audiences. These are examples of the electronic publishing activities of the members of the cooperative society Katto-Meny, the library's main partner in the project:

Electric Verse - A net-anthology, combining original text, translations, sound and pictures, of young Finnish and Finland-Swedish poetry.

Essays and fiction - Among the authors appearing at "The Knot at the Cable" is Finlandia-prize winner Leena Krohn

Net Comics - Comic strips for the World Wide Web, produced by the members of the Finnish Comics Association.

Berättelsernas återkomst (Return of the story) - Interviews with fifteen European authors by literary critic Tuva Korsström, available also as a book in print.

Zagreb Diary - in his net-distributed diary Dutch activist Wam Kat looks at events in former Yugoslavia from a grass-roots perspective; "The Peace Station" contributes a Finnish translation by email.

Film - Movie director Jari Halonen arranges an Internet presentation of his new production "Lipton Cockton in the Shadows of Sodoma".