Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Another Tombo Times Article: Oita Library--The Happiest Place on Earth

Yet another article I wrote for the Tombo Times (the monthly publication for foreigners in Oita Prefecture).

Perhaps this is a sign that I'm already running out of stuff to write about, but I decided to write about the fascinating topic of the prefectural library system. (Oh well, maybe at least someone will find it useful).

Most of the information in this article is based on first hand experience over my 3 or so years in Oita, but just to round out a few edges and get some answers to a few questions I went to my local library branch. I showed them a copy of the Tombo Times, told them I was writing an article on the library, and asked if I could talk to them.

...I should probably have added, "By the way, "Tombo Times" is an amateur newspaper that's probably read by maybe 10 people. I'm just writing this article because I don't know what I'm doing with my life and this makes me feel productive"....

Because once I identified myself as a member of the media, they made way too big a deal of it. All normal work in the library stopped, there was a flurry of activity to see who would have the honor of talking to me, and I was offered a seat and given coffee.

And after all that, it turned out later some of the information they gave me was wrong. Particularly the part about donating books to the library. It turns out the library (for whatever bureaucratic reason) is not supposed to accept donated books.

Fortunately the Tombo Times editor caught the mistake (which saved me from looking foolish). Now the question was what to do about it. Removing the whole section would be almost half the article and it appeared, based on the what the local librarians had told me and my own experience, that some libraries did indeed bend the rules on this and were happy enough to accept donations. In the end we decided to just add this little sentence: "For bureaucratic reasons that need not be discussed some libraries will not accept donated books."

Without further ado, here is the text of the article (Also available on line here).

Oita Library: The Happiest Place on Earth

A frequent complaint about Japan is the difficulty of finding English reading material. Which is true. I personally would hate to add up all the money I've spent ordering books online or buying train tickets to Fukuoka to check out their bookstores. But if you know how to use it, the Oita Library system can soon become your best friend.

If you haven’t yet gotten a card at your local library, this is your first step. Just walk down with your alien registration card in hand, and ask one of the smiling librarians for help.

You are eligible for a library card in the town you live in and, in most cases, the immediate bordering towns as well. Your local librarian should be able to give you a list of which libraries you will be able to patronize, although you will need to register for a separate card at each one.

More often than not the English section at your local branch will be pretty pathetic, if it exists at all. But if you think your library could benefit from a bigger English selection, the best thing you can do is start one up yourself. Fear not, there is not a long and complicated bureaucratic process for donating books. In most cases you just walk up and hand the book to the librarian at the check out desk and explain you thought the English section looked a bit small. The librarians are always happy to receive new books (or at least they pretend to be.)

During my days as a JET I used to collect English comic books for my town library after I noticed how useful Japanese comic books were my own Japanese studying. I hoped some of my students might take an interest in studying English by using American comic books, or at least pick them up every once and a while and flip through them. To the best of my knowledge, none of them ever did, but at least it’s all there now in case any of them change their minds. Recently I have started giving my finished paperbacks to the local library in the hope that the foreigners after me might benefit. For bureaucratic reasons that need not be discussed, some libraries will not accept donated books.

Until the day when we foreign residents have built up a decent English section in every local library, the place to go in the meantime is Oita Prefectural library in Oita city. Every resident of Oita Prefecture is eligible for a membership, and they have a good three rows or so of English books. They don’t have many new books (most of their books seem to have been purchased in the 1980s), but if you’re not fussed about reading the latest thing, they should have more than enough to keep every bookworm happy during their stay in Oita-ken. Personally I enjoyed “Blood and Rage: The Story of the Japanese Red Army” by William Farrell which provided a fascinating look at Japan’s most infamous terrorist group. And “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” by Al Franken which is still very funny even if some of the political commentary has become a bit dated.

They also have an impressive collection of the classics. So, if you decide, as many people do, that you want to use your time in Japan to finally tackle the 19th Century Russian literature or the ancient Greek philosophers, the prefectural library is the place for you.

If you live out in the boondocks and can’t be bothered to make the drive down to Oita (or don’t have a car), you can request books through your local library for inter-library loan. The staff at your local library should in theory be used to doing this, although as with everything in Japan patience is the key word. It also helps if you write the title and author down neatly on a piece of paper to give to your librarian.

Local librarians make the trip down to Oita prefectural library twice in a month, so depending on when you make your request you might have to wait up to two weeks (or longer if the book is currently checked out, obviously). And if you make the request through your local library, you can also use inter-library loan to borrow from any other library within Oita prefecture.

You can even request books from other prefectures, although in this case you have to pay the shipping cost yourself. Any books requested from within the prefecture are of course free of charge.

And speaking of charges…
There are absolutely no late fines at Japanese libraries. How they keep the “due date” from becoming a mere formality is beyond me, but apparently it works for them. Patrons with books a month overdue will not be able to check out new books until they have returned them, but there are apparently no further penalties. I have personally returned books close to a year late, and was fully expecting a large fine, or at least a stern talking to, but the librarian simply said, “Oh, this is a bit late, isnt it? Okay, you can go now.” (Although I don’t necessarily recommend you abuse the system mind you. And you've probably already figured out the same lenient spirit does not apply to the private video rental businesses. I know I sure have.)

Link of the Day
Although not mentioned in the corporate media's focus on violence, organizers of the June 2nd demonstration issued a statement explaining why they were protesting the G8:
*Every five seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world from hunger. More than 800 million people are chronically malnourished. Primarily responsible are unjust world trade policies, forwarded by the rich industrialised countries within the G8 and other international institutions.
*Despite the whole-hearted promises of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, until now only a small proportion of the debt of Southern countries has been cancelled.

*Through their promotion of liberalisation and privatisation, the G8 have not only increased poverty in the global South, but also in the industrialised countries. The worldwide plundering of raw materials and other natural resources is being accelerated.

*At the same time as the rich industrialised countries seal themselves off from refugees and migrants, those who nevertheless arrive are illegalised and exploited as cheap labourers without rights.

*The G8 states are the biggest destroyers of the climate. They are alone responsible for 43% of worldwide CO2 emissions as well as being in favour of a renaissance of nuclear energy, which we decidedly reject.

*The G8 states are responsible for 90% of worldwide weapons exports and a new era of war for raw materials. They are the leaders of a world order based on war, which leads to migration, displacement, new hate and violence in many countries.

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