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Finland’s Hot New Karaoke Bar Is a Public Library

Don’t stop believin’ in the power of music

Grab a book, grab a mic, get down. (Chris Tse (Flickr/Creative Commons))
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Finland is a small country with a bit of a karaoke problem—in Helsinki and elsewhere, Finns love to get down with a beer, an audience and a microphone. Now, writes Finnish news outlet YLE, the national obsession has even bled into a place not exactly known for its flashing lights or its boozy patrons: a local library.

The Tikkurila library in Vantaa, Finland, the country’s fourth most populous city, now offers a soundproofed room with more than 3,300 songs, reports YLE. Patrons can reserve up to two hours with the karaoke machine in a space that is intended for people who don’t want to have to head to a bar to sing their hearts out.

Though the idea of singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in an otherwise-placid library may be alarming to some, it makes sense given Finland’s next-level passion for the microphone. The country’s karaoke culture is a mainstay. As of 2005, according to a Finnish directory, the country had over 2,000 karaoke venues for a country of just 5.5 million people.

As Heidi Mattila, who founded the Karaoke World Championships (which originated in Finland), explains, the reason for karaoke’s popularity in Finland lies in the very contradiction it reveals. “Finnish people are quite shy and not extroverted,” she says. “When shy Finnish people start to karaoke, they come alive, finally allowed to show their feelings.” Perhaps because of its expressive nature, the pastime—or sport, depending on how you view it—has become a national outlet. As Juuso Westerlund, who published a book documenting the wild side of Finnish karaoke in 2007, explains, karaoke is about “a taciturn people, who are not even able to take their eyes from their own toes while conversing with one another, yet who want to sing about their joys and sorrows to unknown people in the limelight of their local, night after night.”

Bringing karaoke from the pub to the public library might seem like just an extension of the pastime’s popularity, but library officials tell YLE that it’s a chance to deepen the library’s musical education offerings and give people a chance to practice karaoke or enjoy singing in a non-alcoholic context. But as Feargus O’Sullivan points out in CityLab, the offering could also be a good way to bolster Finland’s public libraries, which have dwindled in number and in funding over the last several decades.

Whether Finland’s most expressive library offering is an attempt to make people more musical or a ploy for more resources, it just might work: The karaoke room is a hit. Will American libraries eventually follow suit? There’s no way to tell, but you might want to brush up on “Don’t Stop Believin’" just in case.

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