Recently, I read an article that discussed about the death of British libraries which started me thinking about libraries in Japan. My personal experience contradicts the death of British libraries, rather Japanese libraries are thriving for various different reasons. Wondering if I was seeing my own tunnel-vision of the library world, I posted threads on the Friends of Japan LI group and FB which got some interesting reactions.
One young gaijin (non-Japanese, foreign) friend mocked me on-line when I raised the question if Japanese libraries were dying, like in the UK. Clearly he had never set foot in a Japanese library (probably the fact he can't speak Japanese narrowed his knowledge base) as he soon learnt from some trolling attacks. Why? Turns out "we" love our Japanese libraries too and they are most certainly NOT DYING..... but maybe not also changing with the times so quickly as in other countries such as Australia.
My local Tokyo library has no free computer terminals (full disclosure, I did find another library in a different part of Tokyo with free terminals) but there is free WiFi. Unfortunately, said WiFi is only free after pre-registration and it doesn't allow registration of non-Japanese mobile-phones, as I learnt from the library IT guru when I tried to help a overseas guest set up his device.
No matter, Japanese still love their libraries as one is hard pushed to get a seat to sit and read the free newspapers, particularly on the week-end. Also an excellent collection of Japanese magazines ranging from ladies fashion staples to deep-dive IT tech magazines .... again all free. They even cater to the gaijin crowd with free English (Of course, Japan Times but also Japan News, FT, IHT, WSJ), German and French newspapers.
One may think the Japanese library users are just a bunch of retired people milling around, but no. Ages range from babies (crawling around unattended as the parent is engrossed in his/her reading material) to teenage school-girls texting and giggling, even chatting (to the dark stares of library staff - some things are the same in libraries globally!!) in the open-desk or private cubicle study rooms (if you live in a 2DK with Mum, Dad and your annoying little brother, where else to escape to some personal space with free WiFi, but the local library?) to 30 - 50 years old crowd just chilling out with some light reading and, yes, the over 60s (retired) crowd, who enjoy to have a snooze in the library's comfortable temperatures during high summer and low winter. All age-groups still borrowing books, magazines, videos, CDs after becoming free members (only requirement is evidence of local residency). Truly a hub of the local community.
So don’t laugh at us like we are stuck in the 1800s visiting libraries, challenge yourself to a library visit. You might be surprised Japanese libraries are more cutting edge and inclusively community-minded than you think.