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CA1953e – Getting Rid of Common Sense: What Changed and Did Not Change at Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center

The original article published in Japanese ( )


Current Awareness
No.340 June 20, 2019


Getting Rid of Common Sense :
What Changed and Did Not Change at Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center


1. Background

Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center (1) is found in Sapporo Community Plaza located in the city center of Sapporo. The building opened on October 7, 2018 along Sapporo Cultural Arts Theater (hitaru) where opera is staged and Sapporo Cultural Arts Community Center (SCARTS) supporting cultural activities.

The city of Sapporo already has Sapporo Municipal Central Library with a collection of 830,000 books. However, it takes at least half an hour from the central part of the city by public transportation. Therefore, citizens had long-awaited a library in downtown where they can casually stop by. Preparing to open a new library, however, was a process that demanded series of choices and twists, given constraints unique to redeveloped building (2).

Launch of the library suffered several difficulties. In particular, because gross space of the entire library was only about 1,500 square kilometers, there was no room to set up  a backyard including closed shelves, an important component in an average library.

Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center is located near The Clock Tower (famous sightseeing spot in Sapporo) in a dense area of commercial facilities and offices. It is a populated area with business persons as well as visitors for business and sight-seeing. Considering the regional characteristics as well as measures to expand the user base – working population are not active library users – we came up with the concept of problem-solving library. We “provide ‘information on charms and towns of Sapporo’ as well as ‘information to be utilized in businesses and other problem-solving scenes’ to ‘adults who gather in the center of the city’.”(3)

Additionally, topics and scale of materials were narrowed down to goals of: 25,000 books in “Work” (useful for work), 10,000 books on “Life” (helping day-to-day lives), and 5,000 books on “Art” (exposure to art) in partnership with the theater. The library decided not to set up sections on literature, children’s books, or picture books. We aimed to enhance the library quality by carefully selecting services to provide.

2. “You don’t lend books? Are you really a library?”

In the process of preparing to open the library, we received several media interviews. Programs presented us as a library that does not lend books, or where “you can chat” and “drink coffee”.

Users are familiar with borrowing books and taking them outside the library. However, from my experience of working at the library counter, popular just-published books receive piles of reservation requests and will not return to an open-shelf for several months. I had felt that such situations hinder the latest information from being delivered to eagerly waiting users. If the lending period is two weeks, this means that one book can be borrowed by about 26 people a year. Our library uses return box embedded with an antenna and counts the number of reads with an integrated circuit tag pasted on returned books. There were several books that were read more than 80 times in three months. It is worth considering which approach leads to more effective provision of information.

We decided to make books on business and health information in-library use only, in order to always convey the latest information to large population. The library extended weekday opening hours to 9pm, an hour longer than the Central Library. We carefully selected comfortable furniture for quality reading environment. We also made nearly half the seats as reserved seats, so that busy business persons can secure the seat first and visit at ease. We did limit each use time to 90 minutes (may be re-reserved if vacant) to avoid monopolization of seats for long period of time and to allow more visitors to use the seats.

We also permitted talking and bringing-in of beverages so that users can do research or hold meetings in groups, and to enable comfortable reference services. All aforementioned characteristics that mass media has featured about Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center were means to enable comfortable use and to help users achieve their objectives. In other words, they were afterthoughts.


Figure 1 External Appearance of Sapporo Community Plaza



3. Creative Use of Limited Space

With comfortable music like piano jazz playing in the background, the first floor of the library consists of salon space and an area presenting charms of Hokkaido and Sapporo, (about 30 seats). The second floor is divided into “Work” “Life” and “Art” areas (about 170 seats). There is a café next to the first floor. Users can bring in coffee to the library and also take library books to the café.

Traditionally, library architecture are divided into three zones: shelves, counter, and reading seats. The second floor of our library employed a traffic line that widely cross the space from the entrance to the back. By doing so, one is able to overlook the entrance and the back of the library at the same time. We were also able to place the reference counter (which we named “research counter”) in the middle of the second floor where it stands out the most. The reference counter at Sapporo Municipal Central Library is located towards the back of the library.

In order to install a number of sections, we composed each of them in a triangle. We also lowered the ceilings to enhance visibility. One can recognize the section topic even from a distance. We also removed signs hanging from the ceiling or on the wall, and created simple space that makes books – highlight of the library – stand out. We set up seats by intended use: working seat (for one person), group seat (two to four people), meeting room (5 to 12 people) and reading room for users who want to concentrate (one person, no talking, no PCs). All of these seats can be booked using the seat reservation system. The other half are non-reserved seats where people can freely read books in a laid-back atmosphere. We placed colorful highly-designed chairs as well as benches between bookshelves. We also hollowed out part of the shelves near the windows to make shelves in the back visible. We thought about how we might stage the space so that pedestrians can observe “people having a good time together with books” from the outside and will want to read books at the library.


Figure 2 Group Seats (Second Floor)



Figure 3 Ground Plan



4. Being Considerate of Users’ Feelings in Selecting Books

We call ourselves problem-solving library. But problems that users actually have are often vague and ambiguous.

We asked the librarians, including myself, to reflect on troubles and problems that their friends, family, or acquaintance had. In an effort to be considerate of users’ problems and to clarify the issues for them, we came up with small topics that helps users realize “this is what’s troubling me” and selected books accordingly. Once the problems are clear, expert consulting services and seminars that we provide can lead to solutions. This is what Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center believes as problem-solving.

In the entrance of our library is a big tapestry-like sign presenting the concept of our services: “Making Work Easier.” Working is essentially fun, but sometimes difficult. In such times, a book or a word can ease one’s mind. We selected books with a hope that users will come across these books and words, and resume their work with better feeling.

We also thought about the necessity to re-investigate what is really needed to support business persons. We library reached out to companies located within 1.5 kilometers from the library and asked for information on key books and materials. To the question, “What kind of books/materials would you see enhanced in the field of applied business?” we had predicted that “specialized books in each profession” would come in first. However, it remained in the second place, whereas “business manner and work tactics” came in first and “human relationships and communication” in third. The results were surprising and interesting, and we understood deeply that specialized books and statistical materials are not enough to meet the needs in supporting business persons.

5. Librarians’ Commitment to Creating Shelves

The most important element that determines the true value of Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center are our 16 librarians. I am certain that if we were to create a similar library, we would not have achieved the same result without them. Book buyers have the ability to arrange initial shelves, but without years of experience and skills of librarians, one would not be able to take care of shelves, which includes withdrawal. Furthermore, one needs the sense obtained by years of interacting with users in Sapporo or Hokkaido, or by being born here and living here with friends and family.

One characteristic of our library is the fact that “we don’t adopt Nippon Decimal Classification (NDC) in shelving books.” This is also the result of promoting selection and shelving of books considerate of users. Sixteen librarians are each in charge of arranging shelves. In other words, each came up with an exhibition idea and put it in a shelf.

Nonetheless, no one had done such challenge. As things moved forward, there emerged troubles and we sometimes had to stop. In such cases, we sought advice from Yoshitaka Haba, a book director we met for the first time, to find a way out.

“Work” area is coordinated so that all necessary information can be gathered by going to the shelf of respective industry. In “Life” area, we thought through from scratch what information is necessary for lives of working people, and shelved appropriate books in categories. We first decided topics, selected books, and shelved them so that users can easily pick them up. One of the librarians has stated that this was also a challenge that no one had ever tried in conventional libraries.

We also make the effort to soften languages so that users will find the topics interesting and be encouraged to read books on the issue. We also use the format of questions in approaching users. Here are examples of how we present the topics: “I want to be a good writer!” “Suffering of boss” “Sometimes you meet new people, sometimes you…(shelf on divorce)” ”Someone tell me! (shelf on love affairs).”

In addition, we set up a section called “hakoniwa” in part of the shelves. Literally translated as miniature garden, we surrounded these small sections with red frames of removable magnets. Shelved here for a limited time are books on hot topics and themes that stimulate curiosity.

The biggest wish of librarians is for these efforts to stimulate people’s interests in books and fields that one hasn’t had a chance to get into, and to have them feel their knowledge expanding.


Figure 4 Hakoniwa “A Society Where Women Can Just Work Ordinarily”



6. What Happened Next

Prior to opening the library, we predicted 300,000 users a year. We had 10,000 visitors on the opening day, and since then, we constantly received about 3,000 visitors a day for half a year. Should this trend continue, a library merely of 1,500 square kilometers will showcase the power to attract three times the expected number of users, reaching a million a year.

Many users mention that “because this library opened, I came back to the world of books.” Reserved seated are full with business persons during night hours. Unexpectedly, sometimes the same occurs with general users in the afternoon.

Despite the downturn of publishing industry today, we learned that publications in Japan can attract this many fans by utilizing librarians’ curation abilities, shelving books so that users can easily pick them up, and by maintaining comfortable space.

On the other day, a manager of a major bookstore in town made a remark at a public forum(4) held at our library: “When we learned that Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center was going to open, our bookstore nearby was worried that the sales might go down. However, what happened was the opposite. Sales increased and we acquired new segment of businessmen.” The staff were all happy to hear this. Publishers, bookstores, and libraries are all engaged in books. We hope to work together to expand the world of books.

7. Future Vision of Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center

While our library has welcomed several visitors, we are recently seeing increasing visits of those engaged in urban planning and area management. We have received comments that even with such limited space, “the library can create a flow of people in town and generate interactions.” We do hear plans to build a new library, but given tight financial situations these days, pushing forward a reconstruction of library-only facility is quite difficult. As such, many will proceed with multi-function building with private facilities in its scope. Yet, even such plans are losing momentum. To incorporate library services more into people’s everyday lives, we need to provide know-hows and human resources on library services to landowners constructing new buildings and facilities so that they would install at least a small-scale library. This is what I consider as embedded library.

I also believe that “outputs, not just inputs” is the next vision of the libraries. Day after day, we see a number of groups discuss, think, and put together their ideas with library materials in hand. The library is also beginning to organize opportunities for these groups to present their ideas, like business talk live held in the first floor salon.

In the age where (people believe that) everything can be solved through one-way transmission of information from smartphones, what can we do to enhance the presence of libraries? I might go so far as to say that the role of the library is offer space that provides “values that cannot be downloaded” but those that emerge through interacting with other people or from five senses (for example, tasting after the seminar on sixth sector industrialization). Our library has begun to make efforts towards this, but I have no more space. I will discuss this topic in the next opportunity.

*Notes are not being translated and remain in Japanese language.

(1) “札幌市図書・情報館”. 札幌市民交流プラザ., (参照 2019-04-18).
“札幌市図書・情報館”. 札幌市の図書館., (参照 2019-04-18).

(2) “札幌市図書・情報館開設にむけての取り組み”. 札幌市の図書館., (参照 2019-04-18).

(3) 札幌市, (仮称)市民交流複合施設整備基本計画. 札幌市, 2013, 78p., (参照 2019-04-18).

(4) 札幌市図書・情報館. “進化する図書館 ~本の話をしよう”. 札幌市民交流プラザ., (参照 2019-04-18).
一般社団法人北海道デジタル出版推進協会. “セミナー「進化する図書館~本の話をしよう」が開催されました。”. 一般社団法人北海道デジタル出版推進協会. 2019-02-18., (参照 2019-04-18).

[Accepted on 2019-05-15]

Written by Asano Takao
Director, Sapporo Municipal Library and Information Center
Translated by Okada Aya