To celebrate Finna’s anniversary, this is a perfect time to take a look back at the story of the 10-year-old search service thus far. Finna was deployed in stages from 2011, and it was officially released at the end of 2013. Over the years, it has grown into the largest online library in Finland and the most significant national search service for cultural heritage, which makes the digital materials of libraries, archives and museums broadly available to everyone.
Finna’s roots go back to the National Digital Library of the National Library of Finland, with Finna being its customer interface at the beginning of the 2010s. The National Digital Library was the Ministry of Education and Culture’s content and service project between 2008 and 2017. After the end of the project, Finna became a separate unit.
What is both interesting and challenging about Finna is that the service will, in fact, never be finished. Openness is the keyword in the development of Finna. Finna is changing because its operating environment and the needs of its customers and users also change. Let’s take a look at everything that has happened during these ten years, including the search service’s first two years of development. We have taken a note of a few key milestones from along the way.
In the autumn of 2011, the developers of the Finna search service were looking for a software production solution. Finna was originally intended to be built using off-the-shelf software but the option selected through competitive bidding did not meet the requirements. As open source software had advanced in recent years, the decision to shift to open source was made. In only a few months, software developers used VuFind and other software to build a demo environment equipped with the search service’s basic functions. Open source also made it easier to integrate Finna with other services, including image banks.
At the beginning of the year, the development of Finna started using open source software solutions. As a result, software production did not need to be outsourced, and the developer community maintained responsibility for user interfaces and usability. At the same time, new solutions were enabled. During the same year, the test version of the Finna.fi customer interface was opened for testing.
“When we made the switch to open source software, we no longer needed to consider the restrictions set by commercial software, and we were excited to start building such a unique service,” says Bjarne Beckmann, Information Systems Manager for Finna.
What about the name Finna? Ere Maijala, Information Systems Specialist for Finna, reminisces about how the search service was given its name: “The name is a key part of a service. We proposed different names such as Etsin, Vipunen, Iso Jytky and Hakuli. Finding the right name took time, which caused various practical challenges in communication and software development, among others. Morgan was briefly used as the working title in development.”
Many useful suggestions were received to support the process, including “As long as it’s not in Latin”, “Something that’s easy and fun to say”, and “I may have to live too long with the name.” Finna officially received its name on 4 May 2012 after which the finna.fi domain name was registered.
At first, Finna’s partners were the Jyväskylä University Library, the National Archives of Finland, the National Library of Finland, the Finnish Forest Museum Lusto and other member museums of the Kantapuu database, the National Board of Antiquities, the Tuusula Museum of Art, and the Finnish National Gallery. Right away, more than 7.6 million pieces of material data were available in the search service. In addition, a separate view was opened for the University of Jyväskylä, which marked the beginning of dedicated Finna views for customer organisations.
New organisations started to join Finna in stages and Finna became home to dozens of archives, libraries and museums, as well as their materials. Some of them had their own Finna views.
From the very beginning, the service and its development originated from the needs of users. Finna’s fundamental purpose had already been realised at this stage: users no longer needed to search for data on the services of different organisations, as all materials were available through a single user interface.
The first version of Finna’s open interface was built in 2015, and the interface was opened for end users at the beginning of 2016. It enabled other applications and services to search for Finna.fi content.
After the National Audiovisual Institute (KAVI) added its materials to the search service, videos have also been available in Finna. A few years later, KAVI also opened Elonet, its own Finna view.
Beckmann talks about the joining of Vaski libraries in 2016: “It was a great feeling when Vaski libraries started to use the online Finna library as the first consortium of public libraries. This partnership enabled other public libraries to join easily.”
The Finna Street service was opened to help users search for historical images based on their mobile device’s location data.
The National Board of Antiquities published more than 100,000 images, a significant number, in the search service.
As the use of Finna continued to expand, the significance of availability and accessibility for end users started to become emphasised. The preparation of a new management interface and the redesign of Finna’s appearance started at the end of the year, both being completed in 2018.
The coronavirus pandemic also affected Finna. Demand for the digital materials and services of archives, libraries and museums increased. Under the exceptional circumstances, the need for even more reliable information and material and the significance of the digital cultural heritage for national education were emphasised. Finna’s visibility increased during 2020, as digital materials and culture services also started to attract media services.
The development of landing pages designed for different main target groups of Finna started. The first page to be completed was the Finna Classroom, a content package for education professionals. In addition, materials of the Library of Open Educational Resources were published in Finna.
Finna’s vision for 2021–2024 set a straightforward direction. According to the vision, the goal is to give smart and participatory access to materials in society. The leading themes of the new vision are: promoting access to information and lifelong learning, providing the best user experience, and increasing cooperation.
“Finna’s significance grew when we started to focus on promoting lifelong learning. As a result, we can offer better and more comprehensive information at different stages of life,” says Beckmann.
Visits to all Finna views increased. The number of Finna.fi visits grew by 32% from the previous year. New museums and public libraries joined at a good pace which promoted growth and increased the number of users. At the end of 2021, a total of 421 organisations had added their materials to Finna.
The volume of research data and study materials on Finna increased. The landing page developed for open domestic research data opened when “A shortcut to research-based knowledge” was released at the end of 2021. This selects tips and thematic searches from among Finna’s research materials to find interesting scientific publications for the public and various users of data. Materials from Finnish publication archives, university libraries and Journal.fi were also made available on Finna.
The first research organisations joined Finna when the Finnish Food Authority and the Finnish Environment Institute published their materials in the search service. This increased Finna’s societal significance. The new materials broadened the growing range of research data in Finna.
Finna celebrates its 10th anniversary – the search service is already home to materials from more than 470 customer organisations!