Licensing in a European Perspective -- special case Finnish National Consortium


Kristiina Hormia-Poutanen

Helsinki University Library




The Finnish National Electronic Library, FinELib, has been given the tasks of acquiring Finnish and foreign digital material to support teaching, learning and research, and of increasing the potential for using electronic material. Today there are about 6000 foreign scientific journals, 90 reference databases, law resources, dictionaries and other material that is freely accessible on the Web. Feedback on the service from users has been extremely positive. Researchers and students are hoping that the content will become even more varied and wide-ranging, and that the material will become easier to use.


Developments in the electronic library are closely linked with developments in study environments generally and in the evolution of the virtual university in particular. The resources available in the National Electronic Library are going to form a key element of the services offered by the virtual university. National projects and activities can be progressed on an interactive basis to bring the results that will serve the information society best.


The electronic library has become a key element in the digital library services used by universities, polytechnics, public libraries and many publicly funded research institutes. When the electronic library’s own user interface is ready it will provide easy access to a wide range of electronic data resources in many different forms. These include Finnish and foreign scientific journals, electronic publications by universities, subject gateways, Finnish and foreign reference databases, library catalogues, Finnish digital material and other information resources serving the information society.


An activity such as this, focusing on electronic material, also goes a long way towards curing the problems brought about by the swingeing cuts made in the universities’ financial allocations for new acquisitions. Thanks to the programme an abundance of new material has been obtained for the use of universities, polytechnics and research institutes.






Budget FIM 30 million

Acquisitions and use

- 6000 electronic journals

- 90 reference databases

- 10 dictionaries

- The Law of Finland

- 1 million articles printed out

- 8 million searches

- approx. 3500 journals catalogued


- user interface

- national web thesaurus

- survey and guide to e-publishing
- language technology projects

Training and marketing

- marketing strategy

- promotional materials
(web, brochures, posters, articles)

- conferences
 (FinELib, Digital Library)




- national (universities, polytechnics, research institutes and public libraries and the virtual university)

- Nordic

- international ( ICOLC International Coalition of Library Consortia)



FinELib – permanent activity at the National Library

The National Electronic Library programme, FinELib, which was launched by the Ministry of Education in 1997, is aimed at supporting higher education, learning and research in Finland. The programme was started in accordance with the Government’s Information Society Programme. The basic goals in FinELib are to increase the amount of electronic information available to users, to improve information retrieval from the Internet and to develop a graphical user interface to give access to heterogeneous information resources available from different sources.


For the period 1997-1999 operations were of a project nature, but from 2000 onwards operations have become a standard part of the activities of Helsinki University Library — the National Library of Finland. 


The programme receives substantial central government funding, about 3 million euros yearly from the Ministry of Education. The greater part of the funding is spent on licences for electronic resources and the National Library negotiates and signs the contracts. Considerable expertise has been built up at the national service agency and close cooperation has been established with similar foreign projects.

Several cooperative groups form the basis of the operation. A steering committee is responsible for policy making and drawing up the Plan of Action. A new, high-level steering committee was nominated in 2000, with members who are directors of universities, polytechnics, research institutes, public libraries, the National Library and the Ministry of Education.

Directors of university, polytechnic and research institute libraries and public libraries participate
in the work of the consortium group which prepares pricing models, marketing plans and so on. Science-specific groups propose annually the resources to be licensed to the corresponding field of science. At the moment there are seven science-specific groups and one group for public libraries.


A formal FinELib consortium was formed early in 2001, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out the basic guidelines for FinELib operations. In May 2001, the consortium comprised a total of 95 organizations including all Finnish universities, polytechnics and regional public libraries and several research institutes.


Acquisition and use of licensed resources


At the moment there are about 6000 full-text journals, 90 reference databases, 10 dictionaries, law resources and several reference books available, and a total of 24 licence agreements have been signed. Feedback from users has been very positive. According to user surveys, the selection of resources licensed seems to have been a success.


Use of the resources has been brisk. In a period of twelve months, the consortium has printed out 1 million articles and there have been over 8 million searches. Use has doubled over a period of two years. The same trend can be clearly seen when comparing statistics for the services (see Table 1).


Requests have been made for the addition of more foreign scientific journals, Finnish university publications and foreign databases to the service in the future.







Table 1. Article downloads 1999-2000



The Electronic Library user


Web-based user surveys are run annually. For the third user survey, which was carried out in November 2000, 1500 replies were received. At present, the typical users of the Electronic Library are youngish researchers who use the resources from their own study. Men and women use the services an equal amount. Of the respondents to the user questionnaire, about 50% were researchers or university teachers and 37% were students. The majority of respondents, about 60%, found material on their own subject easily or very easily. The resources were also used very often. About 60% of respondents used them weekly or more often.


The huge importance of libraries in communicating and as education providers shows up clearly in the responses. About 50% of respondents had heard about the service through the library. Both researchers and students wanted training on information content and information retrieval.


The resources are used for varied purposes. Information retrieval to support research is the most frequent way of using the materials. The resources are also used to monitor what is happening in a special field of research, as well as to find information to solve individual problems. Other ways of using the resources are for preparing lessons, for guiding students and for finding information for theses.


Working together to produce results


Excellent cooperation between the libraries and the other players involved has guaranteed the success of the programme. In matters related to acquiring material and licence agreements, cooperation contacts both in Finland and abroad have been of great benefit. The development work aimed at making the material easy to use would have been impossible without such international cooperation.


The Finnish model


Key elements in the Finnish model are central funding, central administration and preparation, close cooperation with consortium members plus active national and international cooperation. Consortium members have recently given positive response on the cooperative operating model.


National impact


Thanks to the National Electronic Library Programme, the material available to researchers, teachers and students is considerably more extensive than ever before and it can be accessed nationwide. Information provision has improved at all universities, especially at the smaller ones and at the polytechnics.


The usability of the material and the search potential have improved significantly in all universities and in the other member organisations within the consortium. On the Internet, the material is always available. According to the user survey researchers, students and teachers value especially the selection of resources and their ease of accessibility.


Centralised acquisitions have saved an enormous amount of time in libraries and costs, too. By acquiring material for a large consortium, the costs to one individual organisation are smaller than if every organisation acquired its own material. At the national level the savings have been substantial.


The programme is developing into a truly national service.