Is the Galapagos Phenomenon Over? Second Consideration of Japanese LIS Education in the International Setting



In Japan, we have no formal, professional LIS training programs for university education. The number of new recruits as full-time employees at university or public libraries in Japan is estimated to be very small, 30–50 each year. This is a little more than the number at first consideration, because postwar baby boomers have left their jobs and some of the empty posts have now been occupied. We have never managed libraries with fewer and lower-educated librarians based on the international standard. This paper provides a set of hypotheses to explain this situation. The set consists of the highly literate society and the generalist bureaucracy hypotheses. Although I believe that it strongly depends on the Japanese culture, it is difficult for people to pass over information technology environments without them also serving as information literacy and LIS services. We argue that Japanese LIS/LISE situations will slowly experience some changes to meet international standards. We also discuss how the Japanese experience will be helpful for considering the situations of other Asian and Pacific countries in the twenty-first century. This is because the current society is a knowledge-based one, in which everyone might be information literate and might not need librarians’ assistance.


Depression Europe Transportation Assure OECD 

4.1 Introduction

Until recently, Japanese mobile phone services had been sometimes called a “Galápagos phenomenon ” because they quickly evolved in isolation from other countries. Owners used their phones as a television set, e-money machine, train/airplane ticket machine, digital camera, and, of course, a Web browser. A consolidated network terminal provided subscribers with daily information and remote access services in broadcasting, communication, finance, and transportation. However, as many of these services were offered only within Japan, sometimes Japanese mobile phones could not be used outside the country.

But the situation is rapidly changing since early 2010. The so-called smart phones are introduced worldwide, including Japan, where the “Galápagos” phones are cut off from the market. People in Japan are now beginning to use standard smart phones or equivalent machines instead of the old models, some services which cannot be used because the networks often do not support them. Previously, I proposed that the expression “Galápagos phenomenon” can also be applied to Japanese librarianship and Library and Information Science (LIS 図書館情報学) education, in the sense that they were similarly isolated from other countries (Nemoto, 2009). This is a revised version of the previous essay. The Galápagos expression cannot be applied to the recent situation with regard to mobile phones, and we also have to reconsider how relevant it is to LIS education.

In Japan, librarianship was introduced during the early modernization process of the Meiji Period (明治時代1868–1912). The Japanese government and people learned and introduced Western academism, science, and technology. They recognized that libraries and librarianship education were instruments of Western culture to take in and diffuse among the leaders of modernization. But the government prioritized short-term growth of national power and was too engaged in an arms race to support such cultural institutions after the twentieth century began.

Japan reintroduced librarianship during the occupation period of the Allied Forces (連合国軍) just after World War Two. That is why it has been influenced by American librarianship, since the USA was the most powerful country among the Allied Forces. Many Japanese librarians think American librarianship has given us the best model. However, I think Japanese libraries have proceeded in their own way since the occupation ended and they have subsequently selected their own model. What is this model and is it relevant to other countries in Asia and the Pacific region? This is what I will discuss in the following text.

4.2 LIS Education at Japanese Universities

There are five types of LIS education at colleges and universities in Japan. However, in Japan there is no single library act. While the Library Act, which legally establishes that public libraries provide shisho (司書), the School Library Act determines that school libraries have shisho-kyouyu (司書教諭).

Shisho training —provided by about 200 universities and colleges.

Shisho originally means those who guard and serve book collections; hence, one can earn a librarian certificate in this. Because the Library Act passed in 1950 covers only public libraries, shisho was suggested for the public librarian certificate. In general usage, shisho is an ambiguous term that is used both for general and public librarians. Students are issued the certificate with at least 24 unit credits of LIS study, which means that 1,080 h of study are required in total, of which 360 h of are included in classes. Most of the study is conducted at an undergraduate or 2-year college level with one or two teaching staff.

Shisho-kyouyu training -provided by more than 100 colleges and universities.

Shisho-kyouyu means “teachers for librarian education certificate” or those who manage and care for school libraries. Students are required to have 10 unit credits in school librarianship in addition to obtaining a teaching certificate. The problems of school libraries and shisho-kyouyu are discussed in a later section.

Shisho training programs constitute very small units with one or two faculty, who are comparatively less educated in the LIS career field and sometimes have a career only in librarianship. The officers of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT:文部科学省) check the curriculum and staff on a basic level but they do not have legal authority or specialized knowledge to evaluate them. In fact, the formal training system of shisho is rather recent at universities because the article in the Library Act (図書館法) was changed in 2003 to allow colleges and universities to train public librarians. Before this time, all librarians were legally trained at professional sessions managed by universities.

The training conditions of shisho-kyouyu are worse than those of shisho. The formal instruction of shisho-kyouyu now involves only summer training sessions for current teachers and is conducted by universities. Universities can have training sessions for students who are studying for their teaching license but they are legally recognized as training sessions. At schools, shisho-kyouyu is concerned with managing school libraries; however, many of them have to teach students all day. Therefore, gakko-shisho (学校司書;school librarians) was introduced in schools. These individuals are sometimes irregular or part-time employees. Other programs are not legally regulated and are conducted on a very small scale, except at universities with LIS major programs.

Undergraduate LIS major program —provided by six universities.

The following universities have undergraduate LIS programs:
  • Keio University: Library and Information Science, Faculty of Letters

  • University of Tsukuba: Knowledge and Library Sciences, School of Informatics

  • Surugadai University: Library and Archives Program, Faculty of Media and Information Resources

  • Aichi-Shukutoku University: Library and Information Science Series, Faculty of Human Informatics

  • Toyo University: Department of Media and Communications, Undergraduate School of Sociology

  • Tsurumi University: Department of Library, Archival, and Information Studies, School of Literature

Graduate education (continuing)—provided by eight universities.

Many universities with undergraduate LIS programs also have master’s degree programs that are given as continuing LIS programs. Other universities such as Tokyo Gakugei University, Osaka Gakugei University, and Kyushu University provide master’s degree programs.

Graduate education (research)—provided by four universities.

Universities with a Ph.D. degree course in LIS are Keio and Tsukuba. In addition, University of Tokyo and Kyoto University are typical academic universities that were set to advance LIS research and cultivate human resources capable of teaching LIS.

Among these, the Keio University academic program is the oldest and started in 1951 as the Japan Library School. It was established to train new librarians following the occupation policies of the GHQ-supported program of the occupation forces, the Allied Powers. After the occupation ended, Keio University absorbed it into their Faculty of Letters program with the financial support provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. They added master’s and Ph.D. programs in the 1950s and 1960s. It is recognized as one of the earliest programs to adopt the name LIS in the late 1960s.

The University of Tsukuba program was first set up as a non-formal librarian training program and a small school adjunct to the Imperial Library before World War Two. It became a national junior college of librarianship in the 1960s. In 1979, it was moved to Tsukuba Science City as an independent national university and became the University of Library and Information Science (ULIS). It was one of the largest institutions for training librarians and providing a LIS research program, compared to the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Denmark. In 2004, ULIS was incorporated into the University of Tsukuba, forming a new University of Tsukuba. Now the undergraduate and graduate LIS programs are the largest in Japan with more than 20 faculty members and 300 students.

4.3 A Japanese Model?

One characteristic of Japanese librarianship is its isolation: from other countries, academic disciplines, and even the library profession in general. Librarianship may have also been isolated among academic disciplines in foreign countries but it has been supported by the library profession. However, in Japan, there are no accredited organizations to assure the quality of LIS education.

There are no national standards for LIS education except the shisho and shisho-kyouyu curricula, which are independent and have minimum standards. There is no national association for LIS education in Japan. Despite this, the Library Science Education Division of the Japan Library Association (JLA 日本図書館協会) and the Japan Society of Library and Information Science (JSLIS 日本図書館情報学会) both have membership systems and have tried to improve library education. However, there are teachers of shisho and shisho-kyouyu courses who do not belong to these bodies.

We called Japanese LIS education and librarianship a Galápagos phenomenon , but in fact, the situation is not the same as that of mobile phones, where smart phones such as iPhones and Androids began to occupy the market.

In Japan, there are more than 3,000 public libraries staffed with about 15,000 regular status librarians. This includes 7,500 shisho staff and more than 1,500 university libraries staffed with about 6,500 regular employees. Many readers may wonder why I do not use the term “professional staff.” Generally, we have no professional librarian recruitment programs except for the National Diet Library (NDL 国立国会図書館), some local government public libraries, and a few national universities. “Regular staff” means those who are full-time employees. Many of these regular staff may have studied LIS and might have a shisho license, while others may not.

The conditions at school libraries are more complicated. Almost all of Japan’s 40,000 public/private schools are equipped with their own school libraries, part of the national requirement according to the School Library Act (学校図書館法1953). Since 2003, those schools having more than 12 classrooms were required to appoint shisho-kyouyu, which literally means library-teachers for their school libraries. The license for this is earned by the teachers who studied school librarianship at universities and workshops, for example school library management and school curriculum instruction.

However, gakko-shisho had already been assigned as part of a formal or informal requirement at many schools even before it was a legal requirement. Gakko-shisho is just a common title that is not legally defined. Due to this condition, some schools are served by shisho-kyouyu, others by gakko-shisho, some by both, and many by no one.

I explained that we have no formal and integrated professional librarian training programs for university education. The number of new recruitments per year for full-time employment at university and public libraries in Japan is very low, fewer than 100 in total. That is why we are often asked who is working at libraries and who makes book catalogs, since we are managing our libraries with fewer and less-educated library staff.

A set of two hypotheses is provided to explain this situation. The set consists of a highly literate society hypothesis and a generalist bureaucracy hypothesis. These came from my speculation about Japanese modern history and culture.

It could be argued that the Japanese LIS/LISE scene will experience some gradual changes to meet international standards. I also discuss how the Japanese experience will be helpful in considering the situations of other Asian and Pacific countries in the twenty-first century, because in a knowledge-based society, most people might have information literacy and fewer people might come to libraries and ask librarians for assistance.

4.4 Highly Literate Society Hypothesis

Recently, the Edo Period (江戸時代1603–1867) is considered as one of Japanese modernization. Although Japan was under the feudal regime of the Tokugawa Shogunate, literature was developed especially at Edo (now Tokyo), Kyoto, and Osaka during the 250 years of peace throughout Japan. In those years, authors wrote and published novels and dramas. These were sold at bookshops in large cities or by travelling booksellers in rural areas and local cities. This means that the reading public was living both in cities and rural areas. There is some evidence that Japan was one of the most literate countries of the nineteenth century. British sociologist Ronald Dore reported that its school attendance rate was estimated at 40–50 % for boys and 10–15 % for girls in 1968, when the new Meiji Government began (Dore, 1965). He used the earliest Annual Reports of the Ministry of Education (Monbusho 文部省) of the Meiji Government as reference. However, Dore emphasized that this estimate might not have been very precise because the reporting system was not established at that time. He wrote that researchers should explore more precisely what kind of education was offered at schools.

Richard Rubinger of the University of Indiana estimated the illiteracy rate of late nineteenth century Japan and noted that it differed with regard to living areas, classes, and gender between urban and rural areas (Rubinger, 2007). In larger cities, the illiteracy rate was very low (<10 %) but in rural areas it was higher than 50 %. The warrior (samurai) class could generally read because the Han government gave them the opportunity of attending school, called Han-ko (藩校). Rubinger commented about the commoners’ engagement in learning (Ibid).

From what has been said so far, it would appear that the Tokugawa regime not only did not fear the common classes’ pursuit of learning, it depended heavily upon it, at least insofar as it was limited to the village leadership. Even so, during the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth centuries neither the bakufu nor the domains, with a few prominent exceptions to be taken up later, made significant provisions for the creation and support of schools or other formal institutions that would guarantee quality education for either the samurai or the commoners.

Both male and female commoners engaged in the learning community as the bakufu (幕府) governing system was gaining stability. As Dore indicated in his report, the conditions would continue to increase the literacy rate at the beginning of the Meiji period. It is difficult to compare Japanese and European literacy development in the same ways. For example, in Europe, couples’ signing an autograph at their marriage ceremony was obligatory because it was used to estimate the literacy rate. But in Japan, signing documents was not so rigidly enforced at marriage, childbirth, and military services and it could be easily accomplished by someone else. Therefore, estimating the literacy rate in Japan was difficult and the estimates might have been inaccurate. However, many historians consider people living in Edo and other large cities to have been very literate. In Japanese history, the academic viewpoint that saw the Edo period has changed in the last 20 years from the idea that Meiji was the beginning of modernism to understanding that Edo was actually a period in preparation for modernism. There are many books and articles clarifying the literacy rate during the Edo period. World system theorist Andrey Korotayev and others insisted that the current level of economic wealth relates to the literacy rates in the early nineteenth century in various regions (Korotayev, Malkov, & Khaltourina, 2006). The R 2 coefficient indicates that the correlation between literacy rates in the year 1800 and GDP per capita in 2000 explains 86 % of the entire data dispersion (see Fig. 4.1).
Fig. 4.1

Relationship between literacy and economic development (Korotayev et al., 2006)

In their discussion, Japan was ranked second in GDP per capita and fifth in literacy rates among 13 countries. This means that Japan was similar to the group of southern European countries, such as France and Italy. As I discussed above, the literacy rates may not be precise in non-Christian areas, but this is a very interesting discovery for understanding the importance of literacy for economic development. In those days, Japan was geographically located close to the Qing Dynasty (清王朝1644–1912), one of the historical Chinese dynasties, which maintained their own literate bureaucracies and were major sources of power for building literate societies. This is why the literacy rate has been rather high in the East Asian region recently and its people and societies as a result have been developing economically.

Although Korotayev and others combined literacy and economic development, I prefer to regard literacy as an infrastructure for economic and social development. In addition, literacy was developed not only through reading/writing and calculation training in school-like classrooms (e.g., terakoya寺子屋 or tenaraijo手習所 in Japan) but also through literary and reading infrastructures. In larger cities such as Edo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Nagoya, there were many publishers and bookshops, suggesting that there were many authors as well as readers. (In Japanese modern history there have been growing interests in Edo period publishing industry . There are many research papers and books in Japanese about the theme, which are omitted because of eliminating the detailed discussions) I think this fact is very important for understanding the role of librarianship in Japanese modernization. Libraries have two main roles in history: one is to transfer older cultural resources from the present to the future, and the other is to deliver mainstream information to mature, mid-, low-, or sub-cultured young or local people. The idea of modern public librarianship began with the national enlightenment movement to create an informed citizenship in the Anglo-Saxon countries. However, in Japan, the second role of creating a reading infrastructure was much needed because people living in cities were already rather literate and the publishing industry had developed to serve their reading needs. For example, in Edo, there were many door-to-door peddlers of rental books who delivered them cheaply. Books were not very expensive and were available in cities and later in local villages. Book markets flourished well, and people enjoyed buying and reading books. This market formed the infrastructure of modern literate society in Japan. Intellectuals inherited the habit of reading from their ancestors, and this habit produced many intellectuals that led and advanced national development in the Meiji period. They sometimes told young people to read books by buying them. The logic behind this is reading a book implies having a dialogue with the author, and to truly understand what the author wrote, readers should underline their favorite sentences and write notes in the margins. It is important for one to possess their own books since their contents reflect and convey an author’s idea or message.

Japan was a literate country with a rich literary and cultural tradition when it entered its modernization process. This is one reason why the Japanese government did not consider establishing libraries as a priority during the period of modernization.

4.5 Generalist Bureaucracy Hypothesis

Since the Meiji government began, Japan has maintained its bureaucratic society, in which generalist bureaucrats are dominant within such general organizations as governments and companies. The Meiji Government chose Prussia as its administrative model in the late nineteenth century. In that kingdom/state, high-level bureaucrats made national policies that advanced modernization. This bureaucratic model, which was imitated in Japan, was strong enough to create many modern Japanese institutions, including local governments, companies, and public or private organizations. A century ago, German sociologist Max Weber argued that modern organizations could achieve reasonable and scientific decision-making by adopting bureaucracies (Weber, 1972). A characteristic of bureaucratic organizations is that official business is conducted in strict accordance with the following rules:
  1. 1.

    The duties of each official are delimited by impersonal criteria.

  2. 2.

    The official is given the authority necessary to perform his assigned functions.

  3. 3.

    The means of coercion at his disposal are strictly limited, and the conditions of their use are strictly defined.


Weber also argued that every official’s responsibilities and authority are part of a vertical hierarchy, with respective rights of supervision and appeal at each level.

For example, in bureaucracy, those who belong to an organization have their own positions and roles that cannot be changed. Moreover, the rules on how they perform their roles are given from the upper levels of hierarchy and define the limits of power making it possible to act. Of course, there are many exceptions to this theoretical model, but it is thought that organizational employees can often perform best when they are forced to demonstrate their abilities under such rules.

Bureaucracy does not work easily together with professionalism. The action criteria of professionals are found both inside and outside the organization to which they belong. People work to earn their living and serve their community in pursuit of general welfare. This might conflict with the organizational goal. On the other hand, the organizational principle of bureaucracy is to achieve the rational goals of the organization itself, and the criterion lies inside the organization. Administrative departments hire highly capable bureaucrats, including specialists in various areas. These individuals belong to the department as administrative, not professional staff.

Japanese librarians were employed in central or local governments, colleges, universities, schools, or private companies. They also belonged to parent organizations as bureaucrats. The JLA was established in the late nineteenth century, which was the third among library associations internationally. In such organizations, most librarians who were regular employees are now members of the association but they sometimes face contradictions in their identification between bureaucracy and professionalism.

Professionalism does not stand for itself in Japanese librarianship. Since the beginning, Japanese librarians have tried to adopt action plans similar to ALA (American Library Association) or LA (The Library Association, now Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals: CILIP). In the time during and directly after the occupation period (1945–1953), the intellectual freedom movement in the USA influenced Japanese librarians in particular. In that time, McCarthyism swept American cities and educational organizations to deny Communism and those who seemed influenced by it. In 1948, ALA members expressed their will to maintain intellectual freedom at libraries by revising the Library Bill of Rights that had been adopted by the members in 1939.

Such actions influenced Japanese librarians, who were asked and sometimes pressured to inform the police about the names of readers of left-wing books in libraries, and to gather and discuss at the JLA conference. In 1954, they adopted the Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries. This was the focus of discussion by professional librarians who wanted to keep their positions ideologically neutral and to be informative for citizens and users. The Statement was slightly revised in 1979 by adding the privacy article. The shorter version of the present statement is as follows: (This is an informal English shorter version of the JLA Statement on Intellectual Freedom in Libraries . It is on the Web page of JLA official sight).1

Libraries’ most important responsibility is to offer collected materials and facilities to people, whose Right to Know is one of their fundamental human rights. To fulfill their mission, libraries shall recognize the following matters as their proper duties and put them into practice.
  • Article 1: Libraries have freedom in collecting their materials.

  • Article 2: Libraries secure their freedom of offering their materials.

  • Article 3: Libraries guarantee the privacy of users.

  • Article 4: Libraries categorically oppose any type of censorship.

  • When the freedom of libraries is imperiled, we librarians will work together and devote ourselves to secure it.

This represents the ideal model of actions for professional librarians. However, as noted above, librarians are also organizational staff and sometimes face difficult decisions to judge whether they open, copy or lend certain materials. They might feel a conflict between being professional librarians who make the requested materials accessible to users and being bureaucrats who comply with instructions of the organization to hold back disputable materials from users. Professional librarians sometimes also feel like running away when, for example, they make available any kind of material that indicates controversial aspects of the parent organization.

This bureaucratic model has been maintained for more than 50 years, during which time Japanese librarians have tried to transform it by recognizing their professional roles within the bureaucratic system. However, it is not always easy to combine bureaucracy and professionalism.

4.6 Professionals and Information Technology

Over the past 20 years, Japan has experienced several severe economic depressions. The basic economic idea and policy that Japanese society and the government have chosen is neoliberalism, such as in Anglo-American countries. Neoliberalism is a rational system for evaluating organizations’ tasks throughout the process in light of the equality of opportunity, while old liberalism considers the equality of results important. The idea behind the former theory involves economic resources to be utilized for advancing the process in each organization, but the idea of the latter involves universal resources to be shared together by society. Therefore, libraries cannot play a role in economic competitions because they are social resources open to everyone.

I would like to argue for a slightly different employment system in Japanese organizations in comparison to other countries. In the late twentieth century, the Japanese economy was strong in that lifetime employment worked better in combination with generalist bureaucracy. Lifetime employment referred to the practice of continuing to employ hired workers up until a fixed retirement age. Under these conditions, temporary staff supported technical and supplementary tasks in the working environment. This is one reason why professionalism was not easy to develop in Japan. Until recently, the view was that librarians are only staff employed to catalogue and classify books.

Information technology has changed this situation by developing means of using computer equipment for improving library services. Widely used library systems and bibliographic utilities have been developed by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies and the Machine Readable Cataloguing (MARC) systems, borne out of the cooperation between librarianship and publishing companies. At first, professional librarians contributed to the systems’ development but once they were completed and utilized widely, nonprofessional librarians could master these useful systems and electronic resources. Now the tasks are supported by bibliographic utilities and technical supplementary staff who are doing them with assistance from professional staff.

There exists another reason why professional librarians are not easily recognized in bureaucratic hierarchies of Japanese organizations. Although reference and information services are been important aspects of professionalizing Anglo-American libraries, especially after the introduction of bibliographic utility services, they have not been strongly emphasized among Japanese libraries. Both researchers and common citizens believe that information is a private resource to be acquired by themselves, not a public resource accessible to everyone. This is related to the highly literate society hypothesis : users do not trust librarians to be intellectual enough to support them.

4.7 The Japanese Model Revised

Japanese society is highly literate and people can easily obtain their own books in the store. Hence, the Japanese are knowledgeable about books, resulting in less need for professional librarians who can connect books with users. The generalist bureaucracy has not demanded professional librarians, while staff, who may be highly educated and literate but not be professionals or even have a shisho license, have functioned as librarians in order to serve users.

This combination of factors such as literacy, bureaucracy, and ICT has formed the Japanese model . I would regard this as one of the important alternative LIS models in the world. However, we have in fact been forced to modify it recently, especially at the turn of the twenty-first century. One change is that people now read fewer books than before, especially young people. The notion of “literate Japanese” may now be just a myth.

In the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the OECD, Japan ranked 12th on the reading literacy test among 26 members, in contrast to ranking 3rd in the science literacy test (see Fig. 4.2).2 There have been vigorous discussions about these results, e.g., “Reading education lacks a methodology for advancing critical thinking in Japan;” “Young people don’t have reading habits;” and “There may be Western cultural bias about definitions and methods of reading literacy tests.” However, I think reading literacy has dropped because of structural changes in the media environment, literary culture, and learning expectations over the past 30 years.
Fig. 4.2

OECD-PISA 2006 scores by nationality

In 2009, the OECD announced the new PISA results. In the newer edition, the rankings of three kinds of literacies in Japan among 65 countries were 5th in science, 9th in mathematics and 8th in reading. As the reading literacy ranking was higher than 3 years ago among not just OECD countries but all participants, the MEXT and other affiliates felt better because they changed the national curriculum of reading in the Japanese language to solve this problem in the early 2000s.

Students traditionally learned to read the characters and moods in fictional sentences or poems. In those days, reading meant literary reading. In the new curriculum, the main aims of Japanese language are changed from promoting literary reading to communicating with one another by writing and reading factual and scientific sentences. This change in reading materials is influential not only in the school curriculum but in school library policies.

4.8 Reading Promotion and Library Policies

One reason that children’s reading promotion was active since the end of the twentieth century was the sense of crisis regarding children’s educational conditions relating to the declining birth rate and aging population after the economic bubble collapsed in the early 1990s. There are some ideas and movements for improving these conditions; for example, to improve reading opportunities in communities, change the instructional methodology at schools, and change the level of human investment in school libraries . I would like to discuss the first two tasks first, followed by my evaluation of the third task in the next section.

Although the Japanese Government had often seemed indifferent to the library situation except during the Occupation period, it enacted some policies to promote reading and develop print culture over the past 20 years. In 1993, the MEXT formalized “School Library Materials Five Year Improvement Project, ” which is one plan for the national taxes allocated to local governments. It also took procedures to deliver 10 billion yen (about 100 million USD) per year for 5 years. These procedures have been continued almost without interruption. The local governments receiving the money provided under the title of school library material costs can also use it for other aims. Thus, all the money was not spent on school library books and media. It is without a doubt that these fiscal measures helped develop public school library collections across the country.

In 2002, the International Library of Children ’s Literature opened to the public as a branch of the National Diet Library. This was accomplished by reconstructing the old Empire Library Building, built by architect Tadao Ando, at Ueno Park in Tokyo. Construction of the new library seemed to be political because the non-partisan Federation of Diet Members for Promoting Children and Books was established in 1993 and they supported legislation to establish a new national library so strongly that the decision was made over a very short period. Although I have heard that children’s reading is one topic no political party at the Federation of Diet will fight, this means that reading is considered sacred in Japan. Furthermore, political people who believe the highly literate society hypothesis tend to argue for reading from the view of a literacy crisis.

However, a different point of view of literacy states that reading materials include not only traditional and modern literature but also scientific or critical texts and multimedia. The MEXT has been trying to change the national curriculum guidelines that are revised every 10 years to improve reading literacy in line with the international standards. They have introduced “integrated learning” (総合的学習の時間) since the 1990s. In the early 2000s, some critics who insisted that the older curriculum might be better than the newer one attacked the curriculum policies of MEXT. They argued that considering the shortage of weekly school days and class hours, time spent on integrated learning weakened the students’ scholastic performances.

The social and political conditions in which school libraries are considered are sometimes loaded with contradictions. School libraries have been regarded more often as learning resource centers than centers of reading materials in the newer curriculum. On the other hand, as young people are expected to have traditional reading literacy at a minimum level, school libraries are regarded as reading resource provision centers. It would be ideal to play these two roles simultaneously but in reality, it is very difficult to select both or either of the two kinds of curriculum policy. Class instructional methodologies for reading are wavering between the traditional and the new.

4.9 LIS Educational Challenges

When the Japan Society of Library and Information Science (JSLIS) held its 50th anniversary ceremony in 2003, it launched a new research project named Library and Information Professionals Education Reform (LIPER) to draw up a blueprint for restructuring LIS education in Japan. The president at that time, Professor Shuichi Ueda, led a research team of some 20 members, including this author, with financial support provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), an independent academic funding organization adjunct to the MEXT.

This team produced a final report (Miwa et al., 2006).

The major findings were the following:
  1. 1.

    The structure of Japanese LIS education has basically remained unchanged for 50 years and the gap between it and LIS education abroad has been steadily increasing.

  2. 2.

    The curricula and contents of LIS education are not well standardized, nor integrated into higher education programs; very few people who obtain a librarian’s certificate (shisho) procure employment in that field.

  3. 3.

    New areas of education, including IT skills and user behavior, are being sought by librarians.

  4. 4.

    Many people seek an LIS education for certification as librarians even though employment opportunities for full-time librarians are quite limited.

  5. 5.
    These findings led the LIPER project to make the following proposals:
    1. (a)

      Establish an LIS examination for students so they can self-evaluate what they have learned through LIS education and obtain better employment opportunities.

    2. (b)

      Introduce a new standard curriculum for information professional education to emphasize the core areas of information organization, information resources and services, information systems and retrieval, management, IT, and a better understanding of user behavior.


I am afraid that many readers, except perhaps those who grew up in East Asian countries, may wonder why examinations should be introduced. In traditional culture, there was a formal recruiting system based on a written examination administered in a neutral and fair manner that took no account of a person’s social status or social class. Although the required abilities differed by society, this kind of written examination for evaluating candidates equally has remained an important part of the modernization process in East Asia.

Of course, this is related to the generalist bureaucracy hypothesis . It may also be one reason why librarians are poorly respected and fewer opportunities exist for evaluating students of LIS education. In order to place librarians and librarianship in the bureaucratic evaluation system, we have been preparing an LIS examination. This might result in a better understanding of the minimum standards for LIS education by examinees and educators.

Figures 4.3 and 4.4 show the curriculum structure of the LIPER proposals. The LIS Examination will be held for the core field of the LIS curriculum, which is expected to be adopted by undergraduate shisho training-type courses. We are hoping that thousands of students will take the examination for these courses in the near future.
Fig. 4.3

LIPER proposals

Fig. 4.4

Proposed educational tracks in LIS

Three Information Professional training tracks or a Special Informational training track in Figs. 4.3 and 4.4 will presumably be established within the graduate courses of some universities, which also provide the subjects belonging to the core field. These tracks are examples of further developing LIS education. We have used the term Information Professional to respond flexibly to the changing information environment. As mentioned above, there are now more than five graduate courses in LIS education at Japanese universities. Some universities are likely to undertake new graduate programs for professional librarians and information professionals.

This is currently just a blueprint of our plans. LIPER has been succeeded by the LIPER 2 and LIPER3 Projects of the JSPS research fund since 2006.

4.10 The Past 7 Years

During the 7 years following the final report of LIPER, we have tried to actualize the proposals in LIPER2 and LIPER3. However, we could not launch the second proposal to introduce a new standard curriculum for information professional education because there was no opportunity to do so.

At first, we tried to facilitate discussion among the LIS community by giving the LIS examination. We began to independently prepare an examination with multiple-choice questions and administered this to students in major LIS departments and shisho license programs at colleges and universities. We undertook this preparation once a year from 2007 until 2009 and began the formal LIS Examination on the last Sunday of November every year beginning in 2010. In this regard, there are some comparable examinations, such as the Information Retrieval Qualification Examination by the Information Science and Technology Association of Japan (INFOSTA). Our examination is taken by students on the same day as the INFOSTA exam.

I would like to discuss the results of the most recent exam held in November, 2012. The number of examinees was 299 at five open examination places and two closed places for exams. This number may be very low in comparison to the number of students taking shisho license courses throughout Japan, which is more than 10,000. However, this is a self-evaluative test and does not give any assurance of obtaining a legal license.

There are three groups of examinees: students having an LIS major, students in shisho courses, and working people. The last category consists of professional librarians, contract workers employed as librarians and other working people. The proportion of LIS majors is 21.5 % and their average score is 34.4 (out of a total of 50). The shisho students are similarly represented: 53.5 % and 28.9, and working people 24.9 % and 34.4. These data are shown in Fig. 4.5. We can see that the distributions of LIS majors and working people are similar and the shisho course students are more numerous but have lower test scores.
Fig. 4.5

Distribution of exam scores of three groups of examinees

The examination consists of eight subject fields. Distributions of the three examinee groups in each field are shown in Fig. 4.6. Apparently, there are differences between the combinations of LIS students, working people and shisho course students in the fields of information organization, information media, information systems and digital information. There are minor differences between the three groups in the fields of LIS basics, information users, information services and management and administration. In the figures, we can easily notice weak points in the technical fields of the curriculum for shisho courses. In 2012, a new legal curriculum for shisho courses was introduced and all the students must take a new course in “library and information technology.” We are keen to observe how this change will influence the examination scores.
Fig. 4.6

Subject field score distribution of three groups of examinees

4.11 Conclusion

I believe that LIS education should be required even if the library has evolved into a combination of information networks and content management systems without physical settings or physical materials. The education program should be based upon the model of a knowledge information system, which LIS has long fostered, even if the media were digital, printed, or a combination of the two. It is important that the idea and concept of LIS continue to play a role in our society.

Japanese society has recently begun to reconsider the importance of libraries and archival resources. For example, Dr. Makoto Nagao was appointed as NDL Director from 2007 to 2012 based on the bureaucratic personnel rule. This position had been at a ministerial level in the national administrative hierarchy prior to the recent amendment of the NDL Act. For more than 50 years prior, former directors-general of the House of Representatives and House of Councilors had been appointed as NDL directors interchangeably. Dr. Nagao has been the director of the Kyoto University Library. He was also a pioneering researcher of knowledge engineering who developed procedures for analyzing Japanese textual information. Although he is not a librarian, Dr. Nagao has been very understanding of LIS. After resigning, his successor was Mr. Noritada Otaki, who was previously personnel at the Library. This shows that the custom of appointing the director has changed.

Another example is the Public Document Management Act that was enacted in 2009. The National Archives of Japan (NAJ) was established in 1971. However, because precise legal procedures for taking over public documents from administrative units to the NAJ had not been established, it was unable to adequately collect public documents and manage them as national archives collection. When this act was enforced, it empowered the NAJ to achieve the goals of a modern national archive and thus enhanced the nation’s administrative and bureaucratic transparency.

The third example, which is currently in progress, is writing the legislation of gakko-shisho . As discussed above, there are many gakko-shisho who are either regular or irregular employees but the title remains informal because no laws regulate their presence. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was preparing the legislation while they were out of power in 2012 in response to the claims of interested organizations. Since they returned as the ruling party, it has been reported that they actually restarted the legislation process.

These examples show how some changes in the library and LIS environments and LIS scenes are slightly shifting to more political ones in Japan, while they used to be considered apolitical. This may be challenging and ultimately dangerous with little room for even the slightest mistake.

Our society has been steeped in a standard narrative according to which important information was exchanged among highly literate and educated administrative elites. Literacy was high but inequitably distributed. Libraries and archives are the social devices to fill the general literacy and information literacy gaps among people and to achieve social welfare overall. In the twenty-first century, we have begun to appreciate the idea of modern librarianship and LIS education.

These experiences in Japan provide some useful suggestions to international forms of LIS education in Asian and Pacific countries. There are historical reasons that neither the American nor British models of LIS education were pervasive in these countries. Thus, we have to reevaluate and examine alternative possibilities. We must also be skeptical about the dominance of digital technology and culture. National economic development worldwide has been broadly realized through the educational development of populations. Of course, information literacy is needed in every country but it should be based on general literacy. We cannot have information literacy without literacy. We must not forget to aim for a balanced development of technology and culture.


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  2. 2.

    (This data is taken from OECD Factbook 2008: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics- Outcomes-Education-International student assessment,


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TokyoTokyoJapan

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