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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter July 12, 2017

Use of Private Sector Dynamism in Japanese Public Library: Ebina City Central Library

Über den zunehmenden Einsatz von privaten Unternehmen an Öffentlichen Bibliothek in Japan: Das Beispiel der Hauptbibliothek in Ebina
  • Yoko Hirose EMAIL logo


There has been increasing discussion in Japan regarding the use of private sector dynamism for public library management. This article focuses on Ebina City Central Library, Kanagawa, Japan. The library is managed by a private company in accordance with the “Designated Manager System”, one of the Government’s means of private sector use. Since renovation in Oct 2015, the library receives 56,000 visits monthly, an increase of 170 % compared to before. This article covers its service characteristics and the challenges for the future.


Diskussionen bezüglich des Einsatzes von privaten Unternehmen für das Management Öffentlicher Bibliotheken kamen in Japan seit geraumer Zeit häufiger vor. Dieser Artikel konzentriert sich auf die Hauptbibliothek in Ebina in der Präfektur Kanagawa in Japan. Diese wird von einem privaten Unternehmen gemäß dem „Designated Manager System“, einer der staatlichen Strategien für den privaten Unternehmensbereich, verwaltet. Seit der Renovierung im Oktober 2015 zählt die Bibliothek monatlich 56 000 Besucher, was einem Anstieg von 170 % entspricht. Dieser Artikel befasst sich mit den angebotenen Dienstleistungen und den Herausforderungen für die Zukunft.

1 Introduction

During the long-lasting economic recession in Japan, Japanese public libraries have been on a strict budget. There are about 3 200 public libraries and about 400 of them are partly or fully making use of private sector dynamism.[1] In 2014, Ebina City, Kanagawa prefecture, in the centre of the main island started to use “designated manager system”, one of the Government’s means of private sector use while on a limited budget, to improve services for its 130,000 residents. The city designated two private companies for the total management of two libraries; Ebina City Central Library (hereafter ECCL) and Arima Library. This article focuses on ECCL’s renovation and its new services.

2 The background to ECCL renovation

ECCL’s history goes back to 1950, when the municipal library was created inside a community centre.[2] In 1985, after a couple of relocations and renovations the current four story complex was built. It included a planetarium and a youth centre, but the library was situated only on the first and second floor. In those days, all the management was under the governmental control of Ebina City. In 2011, the city started outsourcing, mainly focusing on checking out and background services. At this point the library manager was still a public employee.

However, one of the issues perceived by the City was the low usage of the library. On average, in those days, the number of visitors per month was 35,000, which is only 27 % of the population.[3][3] Therefore, the city council planned to turn the library into a more attractive facility of Ebina City, calculated it to a joint project, and designated to two companies for the management of two libraries. Culture Convenience Club (CCC) was one of these companies. Since the renovation in 2015 ECCL has been managed fully by CCC.

3 CCC’s library management business

CCC is a company established in 1985 in Osaka. It is known as the operator of Tsutaya, Japan’s biggest nationwide chain retailer of books and rental-DVDs. They say that all their projects are based on the single concept of “lifestyle navigation”. Its mission is to make people’s life more innovative through cultural materials.[4] The company started a public-library-management business in 2012 under the Government’s designated manager system and they work on four library projects since 2013: Takeo City Library in Kyushu, Tagajo City Library in Tohoku, Takahashi City Library in West-Honshu, and the ECCL in East-Honshu. The common characteristics of CCC public libraries are:

  1. book & cafe style

  2. impactful space creations

  3. open 365 days, 9:00–21:00

  4. a unique book classification

  5. various workshops and events on a frequent basis.

ECCL is following all these features.[5][5]

3.1 Book & Cafe style

In 2015, after renovation the whole building of 571 sq. meters in total was converted into a library space. In accordance to Japan’s Local Government Act, Ebina City is allowed CCC to utilize the part of the library for “unintended use”.[6] ECCL operates two commercial activities in the library: Tsutaya Bookstore and Starbucks. When CCC started the library business they expected that the bookstore and the café could contribute to the stable management of a library with financial difficulties. The bookstore also plays a role of a complimentary arrangement to the library collections. Brand new books are not necessarily purchasable with the library budget, but in the case of ECCL they are available at the store, which allows users access to updated information. Library visitors are allowed to read all the books and magazines for sale without paying, as long as they are read inside.

Originally, Tsutaya bookstore was well known for its unique book selection and display. Tsutaya advertises books and magazines with other non-book-materials to attract the visitors’ interests.[7] For example, books about food and health are set out with cooking materials, seasonings, and kitchenware. By displaying books combined with these related items on the same shelf, it creates an associated image of an innovative life style, which encourages people to find new ideas to improve their life.

In 2005, CCC was licensed by Starbucks.[8] Since then it has been expanding its combination of books and cafés nationwide. They have been applied the same style to the library space. By situating Starbucks inside the library, CCC realizes the idea of a “cosy place” with books and coffee. Visitors are allowed to drink coffee anywhere in the building (and also their own beverages – as long as the cup has a cover).

Since there’s no partition inside, people can move freely between the three areas of bookstore, café, and the library. This allows more library novices to feel closer to the library services.

Fig. 1: The renovated library. Bookstore and Starbucks are on the first floor
Fig. 1:

The renovated library. Bookstore and Starbucks are on the first floor

3.2 Impactful space creations

Although the building itself is a renovated, the interior design and furniture is sourced through CCC’s own unique route and not from the traditional library industry. Based on human-scale theory, CCC strictly decides the distance between the furniture of the library, bookstore, and cafe. They also follow their own signage system. All the event information is announced through digital signage and no paper posters are used. Being functional and aesthetically pleasing, it contributes to creating a comfortable place for users to stay for a long time.

Of the 300,000 books available, 70 % are out on open bookshelves (compared to 40 % before the renovation). It removes barriers to users and encourages them to discover more information.[9] To realise this aim, CCC installed ceiling-high bookshelves, one of the signature designs of CCC libraries. It is also a prominent feature that the entire building is divided into several zones. In some zones users are allowed to talk regardless to the people around. The children’s library is located in 4th floor which is fully insulated from the adult’s floors. Children can also play with equipment on the rooftop while their guardians are sitting back at open-air cafe tables.

3.3 Open 365 days a year

In Japan, almost all public libraries are closed for a couple of days per month as well as at the bank holidays. CCC libraries, including ECCL, are open 365 days a year from 9:00 to 21:00 so that anyone can visit the library when they want to.

Fig. 2: Long line of people waiting for opening (January 2nd, 2016)
Fig. 2:

Long line of people waiting for opening (January 2nd, 2016)

3.4 Unique book classification system

CCC created their own classification system and it shelves books according to it. Normally, Japanese public libraries use the Nippon decimal classification (NDC), which was firstly published in 1929 and is based on the Dewey decimal classification. It is sometimes inadequate for classifying concepts to relate to modern life style. CCC’s classification enables books about wine and cheese to be put into the same category of cooking, while NDC classifies them separately into industry and technology. This allows users to encounter unexpected books while they are browsing shelves.

3.5 Various workshops and events on a frequent basis

More and more libraries have become aware that public libraries are a citizen’s driving force for innovation. A library is not a place where people read books silently, but it’s a place where people interact to find new ideas.[10] ECCL also recognizes that libraries should be a place where people can get inspiration for an innovative life. In this spirit ECCL has about 250 free events annually. These events are all held in an open space inside, so that anyone can stop by and see them. In order to achieve the library’s goal “fostering people’s diversity and possibilities”,[11] the library holds these events intending the participants to inspire others. The “Kid Baristas” seminar supported by Starbucks is one of these popular events. Based on the theme of coffee, participants use library books to find the information on materials, places of origin, country, and other coffee related topics.

As the original facility included a planetarium, ECCL holds a show once a year in the children’s library. ECCL also provides a “first bike experience” to children using a special balance bike supported by the company which makes it. Children learn how to master and ride a bike in this 30 minutes’ program.

Fig. 3: “Kid Baristas” seminar
Fig. 3:

“Kid Baristas” seminar

4 Evaluation and challenges for the future

While the new activities mentioned above are receiving attention nationwide, there have been many controversial discussions about CCC’s library management.[12] The main points of criticism are:

  1. ceiling-high bookshelves, a prominent feature of a CCC library, are not practical and are also dangerous in this volcanic archipelago island,

  2. the quality of book selection is not reliable,

  3. commercial activities such as Starbucks and Tsutaya bookstore go against the spirit of a free library, and

  4. their classification system makes it confusing to find items on the shelves.

These opinions mainly come from critics, who believe the nature of a public library is still to provide information through books, magazines, and reference services. The challenges CCC faces are how they build a feeling of trust to those people.

However, actual users’ evaluation changed significantly one year after the library reopened. In October 2016, ECCL conducted a user satisfaction survey. 697 people gave a valid response and 80 % answered “Satisfied” and “Very satisfied” to the question “To what extent are you satisfied with ECCL service?” Compared to 2014, the average number of library visitors per month increased by 70 % from 35,000 to 60,000. These are some of the benefits from CCC’s management of the library.[13] It seems that the library’s new approach has succeeded in attracting new people who were uninterested in the library before.

5 Conclusion

Many public library services are not used by a majority of the population. Libraries are accustomed to serve people who they already reach. In order to show returns on financial investments, however, they have to attract more an eclectic mix of people. Public libraries should be something more than a place for merely reading and borrowing books, and magazines. CCC libraries could be one of the solutions. It also helps to contribute to a wider debate on how public libraries could be transformed based on the needs of potential users.


Dai 1 kai teirei kai (2014): Dai 1 kai teirei kai (The first regular meeting on March 13rd). In: Ebina shi gikai kaigiroku (The minutes of Ebina City Council).Search in Google Scholar

Ebina shi kyoiku centa (Ebina City Educational Centre) (1991): Ebina shi kyoiku nenpyo- Meiji 5 nen – Showa 64 nen. Chronology of Ebina City’s Education from 1872 to 1989.Search in Google Scholar

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Published Online: 2017-7-12
Published in Print: 2017-7-6

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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