Snow, sauna, and little ideas: International Staff Exchange Week in Finland


Hyvää päivää!

I spent the first week of April in Finland, thanks to an Erasmus+-funded trip to Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oamk) for their International Staff & Teacher Exchange Week (ITSEW).

Oulu (pronounced OH-loo) is located in northern Finland, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, close to the top of the Gulf of Bothnia. It has 600km of cycle paths, and in early April was still under half a metre of snow. 

Oamk has approximately 10,000 students and 600 staff; and so significantly smaller than the University of Edinburgh, with 39,500 students. Universities of Applied Sciences are the equivalent of a former-polytechnic here. There were three of us in the library group (one of the five staff tracks); a librarian from the University of Göttingen and another from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (UniMore). Staff tracks combined with the teacher track (visiting lecturers), there were 131 guests in total.

While it was a busy programme and I learned a lot, what I have found I keep returning to is the little ideas, rather than big strategic ideas; the small things other librarians do that we could try. Happily, it’s the little ideas that are easiest to experiment with and implement.

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Some little ideas:

  • University of Göttingen have a credits system for room bookings (and other things). Students receive a large amount of credits so they have an ample amount but it aims to stop over-booking.
  • Facebook is used less and less, Oamk Library made the decision to close their Facebook profile.
  • The search box of the University of Göttingen main website can search the library catalogue
  • UniMore ran a photography competition for students, with a wall of fame in the library for the winners and had professional photographer as a judge and at the ceremony.
  • University of Göttingen library run “coffee lectures”; free coffee and small lecture 20-25 minutes
  • The librarian from UniMore has stopped running group sessions on dissertation thesis. It was difficult to fit with student schedules. Instead has moved to ‘Search & Dissertations Office’.
    • Sign on office door, students can drop in. Topics depend on what the student needs (but of course have experience to know what else they need)
    • Before: theory over practice, now: very much practical. And more use to the students.
    • I think this is a very brave thing to do, and I am impressed and glad it is working!

The programme included plenty of socialising and opportunities to see Oulu. Although the days were full on, the hosts hadn’t tried to cram too much in, appreciating that we need time to decompress – especially so for those visitors who were spending days speaking in a foreign language. In fact, half of the knowledge exchange happened over coffee.


The highlight of the week (and possibly my life) was a trip to a beach North of the city, where the sea is still frozen, and where we were able to walk on the sea ice!


After ITSEW, I traveled to Helsinki to visit friends and of course the quintessential Finnish experience; sauna. I can recommend Löyly if you’re visiting. And be sure to jump in the Baltic when the sauna gets too hot. Nothing like a dip in the 1° sea to get you going!

And who could resist a visit to Oodi, Helsinki’s new central library.

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