Our library – my language 

Reading and library services should be accessible to all – regardless of their language. Multilingual Library brings services to the customer’s local library.  

Free access to education and libraries is a strength which may have made the greatest contribution to equality.  The library services are based on the Public Libraries Act, which was reformed just a while ago. 

The library is open to all, and it must be available and accessible to everyone. 

The needs of Finnish- and Swedish-speaking customers must be given equal weight. 

The needs of the Sámi-speaking customers must be taken into account in the Sámi native region. 

To safeguard linguistic and cultural rights, the needs of other local language groups must be given due attention as well.  At the end of 2017, 373,500 persons with a mother tongue other than Finnish, Swedish or Sámi lived in Finland. According to population statistics, approximately 160 different languages are spoken in Finland. The number may be even higher. How can we acknowledge the needs of all these language groups in our libraries? 

Library workers and decision-makers showed great foresight when the Ministry of Education and Culture assigned Helsinki City Library with the task of providing library services for persons with other native languages and acquiring materials for joint, nation-wide use. 

Global cooperation enhanced internationalisation, which affected the composition of the library customer base as far back as the early 1990s. The Nordic countries had considered solutions for arranging library services for different language groups. Library workers and decision-makers showed great foresight when the Ministry of Education and Culture assigned Helsinki City Library with the task of providing library services for persons with other native languages and acquiring materials for joint, nation-wide use.  This was how Multilingual Library got started. Multilingual Library is given an annual operating grant by the ministry. 

Reading in one’s own language is a right that belongs to everyone.

Today, Multilingual Library is the local library for all library customers, regardless of their place of residence in Finland. Reading in one’s own language is a right that belongs to everyone. Even if you move from one country to another, your mother tongue will always accompany you. Being well versed in your own mother tongue improves your chances of learning the language of your new home country, too. This is indicated by international studies. Furthermore, it emerged that there are, in fact, more people in the world who are bi- or multilingual than monolingual, and they use several languages fluently. 

Multilingual Library reaches users in their own neighbourhoods, because they can order material to their local libraries free of charge.

Multilingual Library has a selection of more than 20,000 works in different fields, intended for readers of all ages and listeners of audio books and music. Non-fiction books, poetry, thrillers, biographies, history, popular fiction, fairy tales, picture books, world music—the number keeps growing by approximately 2,000 new titles annually. Multilingual Library reaches users in their own neighbourhoods, because they can order material to their local libraries free of charge.  So, we encourage you to inform your local library about your wish to read material in your own language. Russian Library, serving the Russian-speaking population, operates on the same principle. 

The story diploma, intended to nurture storytelling, contains a book list specifying the languages that a certain book is available in.

Various actors have made efforts to promote reading among children and young people. It is important to start reading together with the child at an early age. The story diploma, intended to nurture storytelling, contains a book list specifying the languages that a certain book is available in. Thus, families and children in day care centres and playparks can pick a book that can be read simultaneously in each child’s mother tongue. The Story train (Satukaravaani) brings storytelling sessions in various languages to children’s local libraries. The storytellers can be found, for example, through Helmet libraries’ joint language database for storytellers. If you are organising an event, you can use the database to borrow a storyteller or someone who can give you book tips in your own language. 

Besides promoting reading among children and young people, we must pay attention to persons with reading disabilities and ensure that they have access to printed publications – in various languages, too. The Marrakesh Treaty makes it easier to publish works and exchange them between countries. Worldwide, less than seven percent of all published books are available in an accessible format, such as audiobooks. Celia library works to remove these barriers and serves the whole nation. 

We hope that as many libraries as possible will participate in the annual Multilingual Month (Satakielikuukausi), which is a great opportunity to highlight multilingual materials and services. 

In the picture you see Riitta Hämäläinen

Riitta Hämäläinen works as a Multilingual Library information specialist at Helsinki City Library.  

Call to action – the Indigenous language challenge!

This year we celebrate the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages. The purpose of the year is to make the situation of the Indigenous languages of the world more visible. In order for the linguistic rights of the Indigenous people to be guaranteed and the languages ​​preserved and transferred to future generations, strong investments, knowledge and will to preserve the languages are needed.

The different Sámi languages spoken in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, as well as the Inuit languages spoken in Greenland belong to Indigenous languages. Like many of the Indigenous languages ​​around the world, the Sámi languages and Greenland Inuit languages ​​are on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. Some of the languages like the South, Lule, Inari, Skolt, and Kildin Sámi are defined as severely endangered, others like the Ume and Pite Sámi are seen as critically endangered and others like North Sámi, East Greenlandic/Tunumiit oraasiat and North Greenlandic/Qaanaaq Inuktitut are seen as definitely endangered. West Greenlandic or Kalaallisut is the official language of Greenland and it is defined by UNESCO as vulnerable.

Multilingual Month calls out to the Nordic organisations, institutions and individual agents on the fields of arts and culture as well as the educational field to participate in the UN’s International Year of Indigenous Languages by highlighting the situation of the Indigenous languages in the Nordic countries, by arranging events in relation to the theme, by spreading information in the Sámi languages and Inuit languages and by increasing contents and programs in Sámi languages and/or Greenlandic languages in their activities!

The Sámi and Greenlandic languages, literatures ​​and cultures should be made visible in the schools and universities in the Nordic countries, as well as in Nordic media and culture! We can all contribute in various ways to strengthen the visibility and awareness of the Indigenous of the Nordic countries.

Some ideas on how to promote indigenous languages in the Nordic countries


In this picture you see Rita PaqvalenRita Paqvalén is the Executive Director of Culture for All Service. She has a background as a researcher and lecturer in Nordic literature and is one of the initiators of the Nordic research network DINO – Diversity in Nordic Literature.  Since 2013 Paqvalén and her team at Culture for All has been working with several projects related to multilingualism in the field of literature and culture in the Nordic countries, and has produced publications, as well as arranged several seminars and events in relation to the subject. Culture for All is the initiator of the Nordic Multilingual Month and one of the main organizers of the Finnish version of the month Satakielikuukausi.

Multilingual Library, Helsinki, Finland

The Multilingual Library is located in Pasila Library, Helsinki and its collections cover over 80 languages. Customers living outside of Helsinki can order all materials to their local libraries around Finland.

The Multilingual library also hosts a blog about current topics related to literature and multilingualism. The blog has blogs in English and occasionally in other languages, e.g. in Somali, Persian and Arabic.

Customers who cannot find their own language among the language collection can suggest items to add to the collection.

In the book collection you find books at least in the following languages:

Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Basque, Bengali, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Byelorussian, Catalan,  Chinese,  Czech, Danish, Dari, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek,  Greenlandic, Gujarati,  Hebrew,  Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Karelian, Khmer, Komi, Korean, Kurdish, Latin, Latvian, Lingala, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mari, Nepalese, Norwegian, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romani, Romanian, Russian, Sanskrit, Sámi, Sign language, Slovakian, Slovenian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tamili, Tatar, Telugu,  Thai, Tigrinya,  Turkish,  Ukrainian,  Urdu, Vietnamese and Yiddish

The mother languages of the permanent staff at Pasila Library, which is the physical location of Multilingual Library, include Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian, Estonian and Somali.



International Library, Stockholm, Sweden

The International Library is part of the Stockholm Public Library and it is in central Stockholm. It has a multilingual collection of books in around 200 languages. People living elsewhere in Sweden can order books from the international library to their local libraries.

The library´s website has language versions in Swedish, in Arabic, in English, in French, in Chinese, in Persian, in Russian and in Spanish.

In the webpage of the International Library you can also find interesting archives related to multilingual issues, like the interview archive and book recommendations for and from readers in different languages, apart of the previously mentioned at least in Polish, Bulgarian, Portuguese and Urdu.

The collection includes books in the following languages: Acholi, Afar, Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Ashanti, Azerbaijani, Baluchi, Bambara, Basque, Bemba, Bengali, Berber language, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Buli, Burmese,  Catalan, Cebuano, Chewa, Chinese, Croatian, Danish, Dari, Edo, Efik, English, Greenlandic, Estonian, Ewe, Fanti, French, Fulani,  Galician, Geez, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Hausa, Hebrean, Hindi, Igbo, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Khmer, Kikuyu, Kirgisyan, Kongo (Kikongo), Korean, Krio, Kurdish (Kurmandji and Sorani), Kymric (Cymric/Welsh), Lao/ Laos,











Det flerspråklige bibliotek, Oslo, Norway

Det flerspråklige bibliotek, Oslo, Norway:
The multilingual collection of the National Library of Norway has books and films in 69 languages. Libraries around Norway can order materials for their customers.

The library also offers special packages with books and other materials for multilingual reading promotion. One of the tools  are the adventure bags with bilingual editions of selected stories in several different languages. For the celebration of mother language day there are special material packages as well. Other institutions can book these materials through their local library.



Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark

Danish Library Centre for Integration, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danish Library Centre for Integration (SBCI) lends books, music, and films to Danish public libraries. Most of the collections are in Arabic, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu. They also host Verdensbibliotek, a digital library with online access to music, films and e-books from all over the world.

Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Nordic House Library (Nordens Hus bibliotek, Reykjavik, Iceland) provides literature (books and ebooks) and films in 7 Nordic languages for children and adults. The library also hosts events like storytelling sessions  or Meet the Author -interviews in Nordic languages and with Nordic authors.