Intellectual Freedom in Japan

FAIFE is marking the 20th anniversary of the IFLA Statement on Intellectual Freedom. As part of this, we had a chat with Yasuyo Inoue, expert advisor to the FAIFE Committee and Professor of Library Science at Dokkyo University, to find out more about intellectual freedom in Japan from her personal perspective.

1) What do you and your colleagues understand by ‘intellectual freedom’ in Japan?

知的自由 means ‘Intellectual freedom’ in Japanese. It includes free expression, free access to information at libraries and free access to information at national/local government offices. It is linked to the same concepts as those discussed in IFLA FAIFE and is essential for libraries in Japan.

2) How important an issue is it for libraries, and for the general population, in Japan?

The Japan Library Association adopted in 1954 its own statement on intellectual freedom in libraries. The Association has furthermore noted the IFLA Statement on Intellectual Freedom at Libraries, given that this concept is a core value for Japanese libraries including public, school and academic libraries.

Generally speaking, people in Japan are often more interested in free expression rather than free access to information in libraries. In Japan people think that libraries are only a place for studying and are mainly for students. It is difficult for many to imagine that libraries – especially public libraries – are public spaces for communication and information flow.

3) What have been the biggest questions and controversies in recent years?

There have been several cases of intellectual freedom being threatened in Japan.

In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that libraries have the right to decide which books or documents are to be selected and provided. This was related to the case of the Funabashi Library, where a librarian made available more than 100 books with rather right-wing content without following the appropriate method.

In 2013, the manga book titled “Barefoot Gen”, as well as elementary school libraries holding copies of this book were attacked by an extreme-right wing group. The group claimed that the book included excessive violent expression and were not suitable for small children. The group insisted that the book should be removed from the shelves of all school libraries! It later came out that the group wished the book banned, not due to the violence, but because of the main character disliked the Emperor of Japan because of the war and the atomic bombs. Even so, still more and more people are signing petitions to local governments to ban this manga book from the shelves at school libraries.

In January, the copyright law was changed because of the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to which Japan is a signatory. The issues of digitisation, notably in order to preserve materials was addressed, with a decision to wait a further 20 years to start the process of digitisation. Though public libraries are an exception, private companies, NGOs and other organisations are facing many challenges. This is a huge issue, in particular for disabled people and to free access to information in general.

Furthermore, the Japanese government has planned to raise the sales tax rate to 10%. Publishers are demanding books and other media commodities should be excepted from this raise. To this the Government answered that if the publishers stop making “harmful books”, they may be ready to act. The publishers insist that this reaction is against free expression.

We have also recently seen several cases of library users’ private information being compromised.

Earlier this year, the police of Tomakomai city searched library users’ reading records without warrant. The library had agreed to show the documents, though the act by the police was illegal.

Also the company CCC has publicly admitted that they provide clients’ private information to authorities. This company manages several public libraries and provides its own card, for which clients can get points every time they buy something or use it as library card.

4) What do you think are the biggest challenges for intellectual freedom in the coming years?

I see the biggest challenges as big data and the protection of private information. This is a huge issue for libraries, and it is important that we get involved. Participating in Internet Governance Forum activities is a great way to do this.

I also see copyright issues and free access to information, especially related to AI as big challenge.

Furthermore, is the lack of full-time professional librarians who are trained in intellectual freedom in libraries an issue, as well as the increase in privatised public libraries.

5) What role do you see libraries playing in relation to intellectual freedom in 10 years’ time?

In Japan, future librarians will be more like social workers and educators who make services for the people facing difficulties to get access to the information they need. There will also be more services for reading-challenged people, seniors and foreigners/immigrants who cannot read Japanese.

 

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