Flexible customers can visit the library, even when you yourself are unable

The library is for everyone - even if illness, disability, or advanced age prevents you from visiting the library in person. Then you can become a flexible customer!

Espoo resident Mira Preisfreund has been a HelMet library flexible customer since 2020. She has studied linguistics at Durham University and as a self-declared book lover Mira loves books and has become a regular customer at Espoo libraries.

“I borrow sheet music for my music hobby, various children’s’ books to develop my language skills and non-fiction books for research or general interest. I last borrowed George Orwell’s1984 in the original English format as well as the original and new translated versions in Finnish. I want to compare how the language has changed in the translations and if modern word choice has an effect on how Orwell’s dystopian world is reflected.”

Previously Mira had many challenges visiting the library.

“Although I tried, I wasn’t able to return books on time or else I forgot them at home. Due to the embarrassing situation, I explained to the library about my disability and asked for understanding for the late returns. Fines piled up and I found myself many times barred from borrowing books. My love of books meant that instead of going out and visiting my local café for coffee, my money went to overdue fines,” Mira recalls.

Being a flexible customer means that another person can take care of library visits on your behalf. For Mira, that person is her partner Henrik Preisfreund.

“I learned about the flexible customer model from Iso Omena library in 2020. The librarian gave me a form for flexible customer registration when I tried to borrow my wife’s reservations on her library card. Luckily Mira was nearby in the laboratory, and we were able to easily bring her over to complete the registration, Henrik explains.

Being a flexible customer makes life easier

Being flexible customers has brought much joy to the pair.

“On a good day my wife’s disability isn’t apparent to almost anyone, but in reality, our daily life has changed to allow Mira to live a full life. Now I can stop by the library anytime and pick up Mira’s reservations. Time is saved, trouble is lessened and Mira’s stress of taking care of her loans has disappeared,” Henrik rejoices with his savant-autistic and congenital spine disabled wife.

A flexible customer follows the same guidelines as far as borrowing time and renewals as other customers. The library sends notices and reminders as per normal. However, overdue fines do not accrue.

“What a difference! I never understood how much stress was caused by returning and fines. I fought with my love of books against the cost of forgetting my books and becoming an outcast,” Mira says.

Iso Omena and Tapiola library are Preisfreund’s treasures. It’s easy to visit Iso Omena library while taking care of other errands. Tapiola library also has a cozy Makerspace and a wide selection of music.

Thanks to the flexible customer model Mira gets the books she wants, regardless of if she can make it to the library or not. Henrik often takes care of Mira’s library errands but on occasion she is able to come along and enjoy the shelves full of books and look for new books to read. In that case, they are able to take advantage of Iso Omena’s Service Centre’s (Palvelutori) walkers with baskets, into which she can pick up and collect heavier books.

“We have used the library’s covered stools while sitting in front of the bookshelves. My wife also borrows books through Taskukirjasto app to be borrowed directly,” Henrik says.

Is it worth it to become a flexible customer? Mira doesn’t need to think long. As a member of Espoo’s Association of People with Physical Disabilities organization she has shared information about the flexible customer model with others with physical disabilities and assistants.

“It’s incredibly important that information about this service reaches as many people as possible. This way, everyone that finds it challenging to visit the library in person, can still be active patrons. The flexible library model allows extra accessibility to the library. Libraries are immeasurably important: they open worlds!

What is HelMet’s flexible customer?

  • An authorized person can visit the library on your behalf
  • A flexible customer can use their card in HelMet’s on-line services, Taskukirjasto application and e-library services.
  • The average age of a flexibly library customer is 62, the youngest were born in the 2000’s and the oldest are near 100 years old.
  • You can register as a flexible customer in all HelMet libraries. Read more here.

Text: Virpi Söyrinki, Espoo city library
Text in English: Katherine Reunanen, Espoo city library
Photo: Preisfreund’s home photo album