This could very well be (at least part) childhood nostalgia warped memory, but I'm pretty sure libraries in Finland are much better than the ones in UK. On the other hand, in UK, I can have access to documents that would be out of reach if I still lived in Finland. Yes, I can register as a reader at the British Library and research to my heart's content. I can go to my old college and sniff my way through their rare collections.
Yet what I mean by "better" doesn't relate to the availability of hard to obtain data. I guess what I mean, is the state of the everyday, local library. The one where I live now has just had an expensive "re-vamp". The main change being that it now smells slightly less damp in there. The selection of books still seems like a set of cast-offs from Lake District B&Bs and what was left over from Uncle Jack's car boot sale. There is no child and parent area. There is nowhere for you to sit down and read. A metal rack in front of the customer service desk offers dated DVDs for rental. It's soulless.
Libraries played a huge part in my love affair with books. I'd go to the one in Kouvola when visiting grandparents during school holidays. Being a child, it obviously seemed more vast and cavernous than it really is, but its size wasn't the only awe-inspiring element. Back in the late 70s, it felt high-tech for having children's audiobook tables by which you could perch with headphones not too unlike the ones sported by Princess Vespa of Druidia and listen to stories to your heart's content. There was a large children's book section from where I borrowed such gems, as Edgar Rice Burrough's Mars series and the more mundane, yet obvious titles like "Little Women" and "Treasure Island". The SF section was amazing - and much bigger than the one at my school library where most of the books were in Russian for a start! One of the main genre publishers (Kirjayhtymä) had decided on a uniform font and a black&white jacket cover design, which made it easy and moorish to select SF books. I'd stand there staring at rows and rows of books that looked alike, knowing they'd all be exciting somehow. I read Asimov, Aldiss, Brin.... Heinlein - in fact I suspect I might have read the whole section alphabetically from start to finish.
The summer visits were best because I was allowed to borrow a big pile of books, take them to our cottage and then bury my head in them whilst trying to avoid my mother dragging me into the sun.
The library in Pasila, Helsinki was something else too. I lived in that area for a short time in my late teens. The building looked pretty awful on the outside (there is a particular widely used "modern" style of Finnish architecture that emanates a kind of bureaucracy-aesthetic). Not really paying attention to the exterior at the time, I happily devoured the delicious selection on the inside.
That's just two Finnish libraries that hold particular significance to me, but I've used many more. The little ones in suburbs, the huge ones in Helsinki, a library bus.
And something just feels better about them. When I move to a town, or visit one for a long time, I look out for the library. So far I've been to a dozen or more local libraries in UK and have been dissapointed every time. They all seem to be a book-slum; the lowest common denominator, like a charity shop for books (except some charity shops have better selections). They make me melancholy.
I understand there are funding issues - but there are similar issues in Finland. I am sure my points of reference are out of date in regards to the state of the Finnish library system, but I'm trying to account for equivalent degradation when making mental comparisons.
Perhaps the difference is that Finns are a nation of public-service lovers, unionised in workforce and have proportionally higher percentage of people who seem to be born administrators.
I don't think that Brits love books any less than Finns. It has to be about the bureaucracy-aesthetic; after all, its appreciation in architecture is only a manifestation of a deeper, cultural feeling for what's right and what's wrong. Maybe that's the very thing that keeps Finnish libraries breathing whilst similar public services in other countries slowly suffocate.