(Updated and corrected)
If you’ve never been to one of Japan’s public libraries, I suggest you check one out. While they vary in quality from place to place, in my experience they’ve been great resources of free books and periodicals (especially magazines). The users tend to be surly older men there to get a free newspaper, kids playing with the picture books, and serious students studying for exams. While they have some odd rules (no late fees, you can actually check out periodicals, and there are draconian photocopy limitations), all in all I love them.
So that’s why I was so happy to see that Japan’s ministry of education has some numbers on Japan’s network of public libraries as part of a survey taken every three years of “social education” institutions like libraries, civic centers, and museums.
- At the time of the survey, taken over 2007 and 2008, there were 3,165 public libraries in Japan, or one for every 40,349 people. In the US, there are an estimated 122,356, one for every 2,485 people. That compares to 42,204 convenience stores and 13,000 pachinko parlors. The number is up from 2,396 in 1995. (Correction: The US number included public school libraries, whereas the Japanese numbers did not. The corresponding US number is 16,604, or one for every 18,312 people.)
- Japanese people borrowed over 600 million books in 2007.
- There are a total of 34.03 million cardholders (26.7% of the population), who borrowed an average of 19 books apiece. Elementary school-age cardholders were more avid readers, borrowing 35.9 books each. The cardholder population is actually down from 36.9 million in 1999 but up from a sharp fall to 26.4 million in 1998.
- However, today’s cardholders visit the library 5 times a year, vs. just 3 times in 1995.
- Though there are only 14,981 employed librarians or assistant librarians in Japan (including those working at privately run collections), it’s estimated more than 200,000 people have passed the official librarian exam. In the US, there were 150,000 employed librarians in 2008. That’s 4.7 librarians or assistants for each library vs. just 1.2 per library in the US. I am not exactly sure what to make of this difference, but maybe it has something to do with the relatively higher qualifications needed to become a qualified librarian in the US (a masters degree in library science) vs. Japan (an undergrad degree in library science or a degree in any field plus some extra training).
- By far the biggest library in Japan is the National Diet Library in Tokyo with a collection of 34.7 million books, compared to the US Library of Congress’s 141 million. I guess if the Diet doesn’t actually have to make any decisions, its members don’t need to do as much background research!
While I won’t get into it now, Wikipedia has some info on the history of libraries in Japan if you’re interested.
(link thanks to J-Cast)