Junichi Yamamoto
Professor, Graduate School of Library, Information and Media Studies, University of Tsukuba

March 2007

         Among library officials, there appears to be a common and unmistakable awareness that libraries in Japan are currently in a “state of crisis.” On one hand, libraries have been forced to confront a wave of “library digitalization,” which has been accelerated by widespread use of the Internet since the 1990s. Meanwhile, budgets for reference materials (data) have dwindled significantly against the backdrop of such factors as financial collapse at both national and regional levels; we are witnessing a steady spread of outsourcing to the private sector, Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) and the designated administrator system, which allows public facilities to be managed by private sector contractors. And, with library administrations bowing to pressure for personnel cutbacks, legitimate librarian positions are being transformed into nothing more than a repository that accepts individuals who are transferred, via rote personnel shuffling, from clerical positions in government and other public offices or from universities and other educational institutions and who have no experience whatsoever in library services. As a result, the librarians who have chosen to stay in their positions are aging, while the younger generation have no choice but to accept the extremely precarious status of “part-time professional staff.”

         Issues such as the need to deal with sophisticated information/ telecommunications technology, financial difficulties, the streamlining of organizations and operations, the aging of library staff and generational change are not unique to Japanese libraries; indeed, they are placing demands on libraries in all industrialized nations to come up with effective solutions.

         Libraries in Japan, especially since World War II, have evolved on the American model. As we face up to “the library in crisis” and contemplate measures to reinvigorate the institution of the library, which serves as “a university for the masses,” “the heart of the university,” and “an indispensable and fundamental facility for school education,” there is much to be learned from an investigative survey of the American library situation.

         The table of contents provides an overview of this report. It shows that this survey, although the degree of success of our endeavors remains unclear, is aimed at conducting multilateral analysis and examination of the current situation of American libraries; the various support activities provided by public and private sectors; federal and state library-related measures implemented, despite the tight fiscal budget, in an effort to materialize libraries and library services to meet the demands of a digital network society; and the respective states of culture and the economy, which are critical factors both in enabling libraries to come into existence and in promoting their maintenance and development. It is difficult for researchers working in Japan, myself included, to divest themselves of the cultural bias acquired as a result of having been born and bred in Japan. The reason why I have cited at every turn studies by American-bred professionals who have shaped and developed their careers in and around the American library scene is that I have sought to convey an accurate image of the American library industry.

         Of course, every aspect of the American library and its surrounding developments may not necessarily be interpreted in a positive light. There, unlike the situation in Japan, we can find reflections of “a pathology” that is unique to the United States. In this respect, the effects of antiterrorism measures represented by the USA PATRIOT Act on library activities should not be ignored, and there is no shortage of issues arising in connection with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “intellectual freedom,” or “the freedom of libraries” as we refer to it in Japan.

         There are few Japanese researchers who have studied or are studying libraries in the United States. Consequently, it would not be an exaggeration to state that this report has been prepared as an accumulation of work conducted by most, if not all, researchers of American libraries. Moreover, in terms of content, this report is not limited to serving merely as a handbook for the study of American libraries. Rather, it can be characterized as both a general information manual and a primer in this field. I sincerely hope that this report will aid those who are involved in the process of framing Japan’s somewhat limited library policies, and that it will help fostering the next generation of library and information science scholars.

         This report consists of four chapters:

           Chapter 1: An outline of libraries in the United States

           Chapter 2: A general impression of the American library scene

           Chapter 3: Social issues and the library

           Chapter 4: Research trends concerning American libraries

          Chapter 1 offers a multilateral, generalized portrayal of the American library industry and the related organizations, including the ALA, which comprise it; the history and current situations of various types of libraries; and library services and activities.

          Chapter 2 focuses on a selection of small-scale libraries and introduces examples of actual services provided by public libraries, school libraries and university libraries.

          Chapter 3 touches on library activities in relation to social issues such as intellectual freedom, diversity, education/literacy, the community and the digital society.

          Chapter 4 takes the form of a literature review and introduces trends in American library research in Japan.