01 September 2004

Notes from Japan: Tokushima Bunri University Library

by Kevin McDowell and Derek Henson


Bunri university library entrance

Japanese university libraries, like their US counterparts, are concerned with access to materials. However, while American academic libraries stress the greatest possible freedom of access, the Tokushima Bunri University Library (the university I'm teaching at now) hinders entry to the library and prevents full access to books and even the library catalog in a variety of ways.

The first thing I noticed after entering the library was an imposing electronic sensor that bars admittance. It is necessary to swipe a university identification card to enter the library. Students, faculty, and visitors to the library who, for whatever reason, don't possess a card are allowed to enter the library only after signing in: recording name, time, university affiliation (note: I still haven't received an ID card so I have to go through this onerous process each time I enter the library.)

The library itself is a gleaming new building, equipped with, largely unused, multi-media equipment, a fairly large computer room with cutting edge machines (which faculty are not permitted to reserve for classroom use � a serious barrier to using the Internet and other instructional technology for teaching). It also has a narrowly targeted range of English language journals, aimed at covering the main academic fields offered by the university. The journals are in pristine condition and look untouched. In terms of Japanese language materials, the library, of course, according to my colleagues, provides good coverage. (They do, however, lament the lack of ESL related materials � the university doesn't offer a literature or language major.)

Recently I was led to a secret, off-limits, strictly guarded vault, holding a wealth of books on a wide variety of topics, many in English, as well as the entire retrospective backlog of journals and newspapers. Somewhat eerily, to enter and exit the room one must swipe an ID card (conjuring up images of emaciated researchers, trapped inside, and desperately searching for misplaced cards). Apparently, students are not allowed inside. I tried to find out why these particular books and journals was locked away, but couldn't get a clear answer. It doesn't seem to be a space issue, but rather a matter of control.

Outside 'secret room'Inside

Like the physical materials, the library catalog, too, is strictly controlled. The catalog is set up on the university's LAN, so students can access it only from inside the library or in a faculty member's office. It seems, again according to colleagues, that the library was pressured to create an online catalog, but then did little to advertise the existence of the catalog or promote usage. This further reinforces the image of the library as a secluded fortress, with librarians hunkered down behind the reference desk and in back offices.

While these notes are somewhat impressionistic, it does seem that the Tokushima Bunri Library, and I think, making a dangerous leap, Japanese libraries in general, take a widely different approach to access than American universities. Entry to the library is closely monitored and access to both physical and electronic resources is strictly controlled. This note us not meant to be another form of �Japan bashing' but rather just an attempt to record my initial impressions of the library system, with the idea of trying to link library operations to wider issues in Japanese society in future studies in an attempt to make sense of libraries and library use in Japan.

Tokushima International Exchange Center (TOPIA) book collection conversion project

Newcomers to Tokushima are often directed to the Tokushima International Exchange Center . The Center, located in central Tokushima , dispenses advice, offers counseling services in several languages, makes travel arrangements and supplies essential orientation information. In addition, it maintains a books collection of approximately 6,000 books with around 1,000 users.

This collection provides a valuable resource for foreign residents with books in foreign languages being both expensive and scarce in this provincial capital. And, for Chinese residents in Tokushima , the books at TOPIA seem to be their only source of reading materials in the Chinese language � and are, therefore, much used and in high demand. Also, although the Tokushima prefectural library has a fairly large collection of foreign language books, it is located far beyond the outskirts of the city making it an inconvenient trek for would-be users. So TOPIA collection is in many ways the best source for foreigners to turn to when seeking reading materials.

TOPIA's library, however, is in a state akin to anarchy, lacking a standard library classification system, a valid database, and a method of tracking circulation and book returns. The organizational scheme in place now (an ad hoc numbering system created in the hazy past of TOPIA's institutional history) is inconsistent and undecipherable, thus blocking effective searches and hindering use of the collection's materials. In addition, books are double shelved, so that users, in many cases, are not able to see what sort of books are sitting behind the front row of books � pointing to extreme limitations on shelf space.

In an effort to impose order on the collection, Derek Henson, a colleague, and I have initiated a volunteer project aimed at creating an automated library system. At the same time we have formulated a working collection development and management policy with the idea of removing duplicate books and books that don't fit with the needs and interests of TOPIA users, thereby setting criteria for accepting donations in the future and freeing up space now. We are also actively soliciting donations that meet those collection development criteria (popular fiction, literature, books on �things Japanese,' language learning and teaching, and Chinese popular fiction and non-fiction) with an eye to assembling a more coherent collection.

The most immediate issue has centered on the need to create an automated search process for locating and storing book records. Associated with that, we have had to consider what types of methods, machines and materials to use for building and maintaining the data base.

An Internet search turned up some relatively low-cost software which allows the user to enter search criteria such as title, author, ISBN, etc., and then search through the Internet for the rest of the information to build the book record. With the ISBN being of most interest because many of the books already had a bar-coded ISBN on the book. Initial searches produced a fairly high rate of successful returns on information for scanned in ISBNs except for one detail and that was in finding the Library of Congress call numbers. Even though the Library of Congress was one of the sites being searched by the software, searches of the LC catalog were returning a success rate of less than 1%.

Digging deeper into the software it became apparent that there was a problem with the search specification. This problem was solved by simply modifying the software to make it search a different way and then by confirming the results by searching the Library of Congress catalog independently. But, even so successful returns were now still only around 5%, with the problem being that the even though the Library of Congress has records of the books they don't associate the same ISBNs. By accessing other databases, we are now able to bring up Library of Congress call numbers for about 60% of the ISBNs we scan � meaning that a supplementary search process will have to be implemented. So, while some searches will require searching manually by author or title, ISBN search will bring up a good number of usable records automatically.

Building the database from scratch, bar-coding ISBN numbers and storing records means physically processing each book in the collection. This has presented a unique opportunity to root out duplicate books and other materials that fall outside the parameters of the collection management criteria we set up in consultations with the TOPIA staff � freeing up shelf space and making it easier to use the TOPIA resources.

In conjunction with the deselection process we drew up a user survey aimed at getting at user needs and interests. In tandem with the survey, we are analyzing and charting book returns. In culling the collection and collecting data we hope to be able to fine-tune the collection management criteria so as to build a core of collection of books oriented around the genres and types of books most relevant to the foreign residents and Japanese users of the TOPIA library. One of the main issues here will be to install standards and implement procedures for evaluating books selectively, so as to upgrade the collection and avoid shelf space problems.

Although we have only completed one stage of the project (storing ISBN records) most of the technical issues have been tested and resolved and we are poised now to begin the search process and begin searching for records and building the automated system. Following that we will establish a database and barcode system for maintaining library patron information, develop a computerized lending and tracking system for managing the collection with our own barcodes, introduce procedures to simplify use and to maintain the systems in the future, write up a manual on collection development policy and library procedures, monitor use of TOPIA materials, and solicit donations that meet collection development standards.


Kevin at TOPIA

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