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E2609e – Responses to COVID-19 by Public Libraries in Japan (2): Research by the National Diet Library

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Current Awareness-E No.459

29 June, 2023

Responses to COVID-19 by Public Libraries in Japan (2): Research by the National Diet Library


Since FY2002, the National Diet Library (NDL) has been conducting research on libraries as well as library and information science as part of its library support program (see E1781e).

The research theme for FY2022 was to investigate how public libraries responded to the new coronavirus infection (COVID-19), continuing from FY2021 (see E2497e). In addition to further research and analysis using the FY2021 survey data, we decided to conduct interview survey on the impact that were not anticipated at the time of the June 2021 survey. We would like to once again thank the public library that cooperated in the interview survey.

This research was conducted with the cooperation of the Japan Library Association (JLA). A research group was organized to administer the research: Agata Teru (Professor of Asia University Faculty of International Relations, Member of the JLA Committee on Issue Investigation), Ikeuchi Atsushi (Associate Professor of University of Tsukuba Institute of Library, Information, and Media Science), Otani Yasuharu (Research group chair, Professor of Aoyama Gakuin University College of Community Studies, Member of the JLA Committee on Issue Investigation), and Ohba Hiroyuki (Professor of Nihon University College of Humanities and Sciences).

Below we provide an overview of studies conducted in FY2022.

●Classifying Libraries Using Cluster Analysis Based on Implementation of COVID-19 Countermeasures and Remote Lending Services

Based on the results of the FY2021 survey, it was assumed that some characteristics will emerge on implementation of infection countermeasures and remote lending services depending on library attributes. Libraries were thus classified using cluster analysis. As a result of classifying libraries by library attributes such as region, type of municipality in which the library is located, form of operation (directly managed by the municipality or managed by designated administrator), and population size, it was found that responses made in terms of facility, materials, and services as COVID-19 countermeasure typologically differed between regions that included the three metropolitan areas (Kanto, Kinki, and Tokai-Hokuriku) and other remaining regions (Kita-Nihon, Chugoku-Shikoku, and Kyushu).

Libraries established by municipalities with smaller population size were often classified differently from those located in larger municipalities. This finding implies that types of COVID-19 countermeasures taken by libraries may differ by population size. On the other hand, no clear typology was identified among different forms of operation or facility types (stand-alone libraries or complexes) with no major differences in responses observed.

●Multiple Correspondence Analysis and Latent Class Analysis on Similarities and Causes of COVID-19 Countermeasures

It was also anticipated that there may be some tendencies among COVID-19 countermeasures that libraries implemented. For example, measure A and measure B may tend to be taken together. The questionnaire questions in the 2021 survey were thus divided into two groups: those related to “responding to users who physically visit the libraries” and those related to “remote lending services.” Multiple correspondence analysis and latent class analysis of the questionnaire responses were conducted to examine the degree of similarities between measures.

As a result, it was found that among “responding to users who physically visit the libraries,” “reservation for entrance (library visits by appointment only)” was the only measure that had no relationship with other countermeasures. All other measures were related to other measures (for example, “shortened opening hours” was related to “restriction on limiting use of database terminals”, “temperature check” was related to “installment of air purifiers”).

On the other hand, with regard to “remote lending services,” “distribution of music” and “offering e-books and e-journals” were found to be grouped together as countermeasures sharing a similarity. Furthermore, although the two appears to be alike, “postal lending” and “lending via delivery by library staff” did not seem to belong to the same group sharing a similarity.

Libraries in municipalities with large population size in metropolitan areas tended to “emphasize remote lending services,” while libraries in other areas were divided into two group: “prioritizing avoidance of infection” and “maintaining regular library services.” The difference depended on the level of concern towards the pandemic.

●Impact on Service Delivery Performance by Public Libraries

Using the statistical data for FY2020 from the CD-ROM version of JLA’s “Statistics on Library in Japan” (2021 edition), the following seven items were examined: number of days open, number of visitors, number of items checked out, percentage of borrowing within the municipality, number of items reserved, percentage of borrowing with reservation, and number of reference services received. In addition to nationwide aggregate and prefectural-level aggregate, these items were cross-tabulated by different types of municipalities (such as ordinance-designated city, special ward, city, town, or village) and by prefectures. The results showed that, although the use of e-books increased significantly at the national level, it was not enough to compensate for the decline in overall lending which included paper materials. In addition, percentage of borrowing within municipalities had increased due to movement restrictions. The results also indicated that metropolitan areas with larger population size and higher population density were more strongly affected by COVID-19 in terms of increases and decreases in the above seven items.


An interview was conducted with one library, a central library located in a municipality that had put in effect a business continuity plan (BCP). Of the 13 libraries in this municipality, those whose staff were mobilized to support health centers with the activation of BCP could not maintain normal library operations. Few remaining regular staff in these libraries also faced significant increase of workload.

●The Future of Public Libraries

As the demand for electronic library services is likely to increase, the library industry as a whole must respond to the needs. There must also be an effort to promote once again the understanding of the significance of having libraries as a familiar facility.

A report summarizing the research results was published in March 2023 and was made available on the Current Awareness Portal and the National Diet Library Digital Collections. We hope that this report will be used as a reference in reviewing measures taken by Japanese public libraries and in considering future countermeasures as well as service development.

Written by Research and Information Section
Library Support Division, Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library

Translated by Okada Aya


*Notes are not translated and remain in Japanese language.


国立国会図書館関西館図書館協力課編. 公立図書館における新型コロナウイルス感染症(COVID-19)への対応(2). NDL. 2023, 131p., (図書館調査研究リポート, 19-2).
関西館図書館協力課調査情報係. 図書館及び図書館情報学に関する調査研究とは. カレントアウェアネス-E. 2016, (300), E1781.
関西館図書館協力課調査情報係. 公立図書館におけるCOVID-19対応:国立国会図書館の調査研究. カレントアウェアネス-E. 2022, (435), E2497.