Book baths at Eagle Street
Editorial by Henrik Stenius
Some people seem to think that the only way to get a message or any information out of a book is to read it! With such an attitude you stunt your intellectual growth.
When approaching a new field of knowledge, the curious mind could hardly find a more efficient or convenient way of exploring it than by surrounding itself with ten or twenty of the most interesting books and articles in the field. You just have to hold them in your hand for a multitude of different processes to immediately start working in your head.
The cover, the typography, the way the chapters and sections are named, transmit instant information. A quick dip into the text gives a feeling of how the spirit of the writings varies. Among writers, you can identify minds which think in terms of statistical correlations and curves, in terms of cross tabulation, or sophisticated graphic configurations with boxes, spheres and arrows. You recognise problem-solvers who divide the problem into a number of subordinated problems and give them names. The impressionist, who just wants to build a narrative, you can recognise from a distance. Sometimes you can easily discern the value system that forms the ethical basis of the authors thinking. And finally, the contents pages help you to slalom from one book to another. You read some pages in one book, perhaps a whole chapter. And then you turn to another and manage to pick up the main ideas in a couple of minutes. This so-called book bath reading is just one of the many great ways to soak up the written word.
Good libraries succeed in arranging book baths for their visitors. At the Finnish Institute we want to present our visitors with row upon row of books brimming with Finnish (and Nordic) themes and ideas. On the shelf labelled Work Society you find books about the impact of traditional peasant society on modern Finland: such works are essential to understanding the comparatively egalitarian nature of Finnish society, including the easy access to political decision-making that it affords at both a local and a national level. The shelf Luther and Religion contains information about the impact of the conformist Lutheran culture on the egalitarian Nordic and Finnish culture. Books on Gender Issues discuss the ways in which the Finnish and Nordic woman is strong: Is the Finnish woman even stronger than her Nordic neighbours? Is she, perhaps, in some respects too strong?
The relationship between (Wo)Man and Nature is dealt with in books exploring the Concept of Nature and Environment. From an existentialist point of view this relationship is possibly more important for people in the North than for other Europeans, because Finns, Swedes and Norwegians seem to root their sense of integrity and "authenticity" in the confrontation between the Individual and Nature. This is the individualist side of the collectivist Nordic mind.
The material on the Visual Arts and Architecture shelf and in our Music Library stimulates speculation on Finnishness in Finnish modernism: is striving for simplicity still anchored in the concept of nature, and, perhaps, in the old Lutheran loathing of abundance and adornment? Or, alternatively, in rational thinking which negates cultural bonds?
Political Culture and the Nordic Model is a large shelf dealing with topics like citizens as lovers of the State and strong citizens in strong local government. Here you can find studies concerned with the inclusive character of Nordic societies, including critiques of the Nordic type of inclusiveness, the "Road to Serfdom" (Hayek) along which the individual is said to lose his or her individual responsibility.
Finland as a borderland, as the buffer between "the Eastern and Western Rome in the North", is dealt with on the shelf labelled Borders and Neighbours. Studies of Nordic characteristics can be made with the help of information about the "genuine" centres such as Telemark, Dalarna and Häme, and perhaps even better, about regions of confrontation, like Karelia and Slesvig.
Searching for reliable information and creative questions while lying in a "bath" - or more literally speaking sitting in a comfortable chair - is less aggressive than surfing the Internet. The expression in itself reveals the neurotic aspect of the ambitions of electronic networkers, because, literally speaking, you cannot move in a net. You are just caught in a net.
By this we do not mean that the library at the Institute contains only books. On the contrary, access to electronic information is as important. We think it is necessary to develop this side of the library as well. We started the library project this summer by collecting (money for) books. We now have 1,000 books. We need 4,000 more.
- Library for book-lovers and multimedia enthusiasts (October 1997)
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