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62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

National Diet Library's Approach to Digital Collections and the Economic Issues: with a Dialogue between a Librarian and an Economist

Meitetsu Haruyama
Senior Librarian (Acquisition)
Acquisitions Department
National Diet Library


1. Changing roles of libraries Information environment and acquisitions work

Libraries have a long history in many countries of providing a public service for the supply of printed information; in other words, the library service has been regarded as a good example of a public good. However, reflecting the development of electronic publications and information networks, the information environment has been greatly changing.

Accordingly, we could say that even public libraries are now compelled to expose themselves to market forces: First of all, the needs of library users have been diversifying. Users are now able to gain access to information that once was only available in a library, by alternative means, e. g. bibliographic information, databases for newspapers articles. They have become customers of information services, who are ready to purchase the information in the market. The critical issue now, in providing information, is what degree of choice and availability libraries can offer their users.

Secondly, information technology, in the form of digital publications, such as CD ROMs, has allowed libraries to collect far more information internally, and online databases enable them to make use of external resources.

These changes in the information environment are having an enormous impact on library services. It is still too early to measure this impact, but being in charge of acquisitions work and collections development, I am concerned about in the following aspects:

It is certainly not an easy task for us to create and implement effective measures to deal with these issues. We are still at the experimental stage in establishing good measures. In this write up, I would like to talk about various problems confronting us, and show our recent attempts to introduce reforms at the National Diet Library. I am going to refer to the economic and managerial implicatio ns of acquisitions work, elucidated through a dialogue between a librarian and an economist.

2. The National Diet Library's approach to digital materials; 1993 1995

2 1. Establishment of an acquisition policy for electronic publications

The National Diet Library adopted a policy of including electronic publications in its acquisition scope in 1993. The year saw the revision of the Guidelines of the National Diet Library for the Acquisition of Library Materials for the first time in 22 years in order to realize "collection development responding to the progress of the age".

A new acquisition goal of developing "information resources" was added to the time honored "cultural property" in the Guidelines. Selective acquisition of digital materials and online use of databases are confirmed for the first time as policies to attain the new goal.

It was the first step taken by the NDL to adapt its acquisitions policy to users' needs, varying publications, and development of publishing and telecommunication technology.

Measures taken to implement the policy:

First, the acquisition budget for electronic publications was increased. The NDL had approximately $770,000 at its disposal as of fiscal year 1995, drastic increase from $30,000 of fiscal year 1993, for purchase and lease of discs, lease of retrieval equipment such as PCs and the setting up of a CD ROM network. The fiscal system of Japan will be explained in 3 3.

Second, the Policy Statement of the National Diet Library for the Acquisition of Library Materials was framed in 1995 to delineate the definition of electronic publications, scope and means of acquisition and standards of selection. It was intended to facilitate the work of acquisitions staff.

Third, cooperative ties were established with the domestic producers/publishers of electronic publications. As the current legal deposit system does not include electronic publications in its scope, the NDL is requesting the electronic publications industry and government agencies to donate them through contract and agreement.

Fourth, experimental acquisition and user service of CD ROMs and digitization of the NDL collections are being carried out. These programs are detailed in 2 2.

2 2. Trials and experiments

An experimental project of acquisition and user service of domestic CD ROMs was carried out for nearly two years from May 1994 to March 1996 based on the above mentioned policy. The main purpose of the project was to survey the sort of materials which attract users most. It was been assumed that at least 2,000 titles of electronic publications were available in Japan, contents varying from biblio graphies and catalogs through academic and educational down to entertainment. The project was also expected to reveal how CD ROMs would affect library operations of processing, storage and use, and what skills the staff would require to handle them.

The project is outlined below:

Additionally, a task force for digital library research was established in the System Development Office to examine the possible application of optical character reading (OCR) in digitizing the Library collection.

In 1994, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the NDL signed an agreement on jointly promoting a national information infrastructure. The agreement was the starting point from which the Pilot Electronic Library Project was launched in cooperation with relevant Government agencies, publishers, computer manufacturers, public libraries and universities. The Project consists of the establishment of a national union catalog database, research and development of a library information network system, and a demonstration experiment of a digital library system. This last aims at Research and Development of advanced networked retrieval and use of digitized library materials.

2 3. Evaluation

The experimental project of acquisition and user service of domestic CD ROMs is considered to have yielded a satisfactory result. About 1,500 titles of electronic publications have been acquired, 70% being CD ROMs and the rest floppy disks. The questionnaire to users indicated a favorable reception with quite a few requests for expanded service. Especially, requests for a larger collection of the available titles, multiple service sites, and printing out and downloading of contents were notable. CD ROMs are also strongly desired by the Library staff as tools for reference services and services to the National Diet.

In order to meet their requests, the NDL will provide digital media service through stand alone, client server, and LAN (local area network) at 17 reading rooms and materials rooms in the Library for 3 years from 1996.

Digitization of paper and microform materials have been carried out for the demonstration of the Pilot Electronic Library Project initiated by the NDL and a special authorized public corporation under the MITI. The following are the main components among its digital collection of about 8 million pages:

3. New task of acquisition and collection development: NDL's preparation for the 21st century

3 1. Future plan of the NDL and role of the acquisitions departments

The two critical projects, the Kansai kan of the National Diet Library (provisional name) Project and the Children's Literature Center (provisional name) Project, are in progress toward the 21st century. The Kansai kan will be established in the central part of Kansai Science City, which covers parts of Kyoto, Osaka and Nara prefectures, and will open in the year 2002. Its main function will be d ocument supply services utilizing "digital library service" as well as conventional library services and the Asian Resource Information Center.

The Children's Literature Center Project is a plan to build an international resources and research center for children by renovating the Ueno Library (a branch of NDL, former Imperial Library of Japan from the Meiji era to the pre war period.) It will be open in part within a few years. Along with these movements, the functions of the main library in Nagata cho, Tokyo, will be reorganized. The N ational Diet Library will be operated at three locations: Kansai kan, Children's Library and the Main Library, at the beginning of the 21st century.

The role of the acquisitions section is to enhance acquisition and collection development in such a way that these three libraries in Tokyo, Ueno and Kansai can fulfill their functions effectively. How to expand the availability of information through balanced use of traditional paper materials and digital media will be a significant task.

The Japanese Diet and the Government are discussing a capital relocation plan to move capital functions from Tokyo to some area within 300km distance. The NDL, as an organ of the Diet, takes the development fully into account in its future plan.

3 2. New target and program of acquisitions departments

The acquisitions section needs to set up a new target and prepare a long term program based on the above mentioned future plan of the NDL. The major undertakings of the NDL since 1995 are as follows:
A. Establishment of the long term plan on acquisition and collection development (1996 2000)
Since autumn 1995, a task force of the NDL, the Acquisition Planning Committee, started discussion of the long term plan, which includes the following items :

B. Preparation of the legal framework to include digital publications in the legal deposit system
The Institute of Library and Information Science of the NDL has undertaken the research on the legal deposit system throughout the world. An advisory body to the Librarian will be set up by inviting persons of learning and experience.

3 3. New problems and their economic side

The NDL faces a mountain of problems to be solved in setting up a new target of acquisition based on its future plan and preparing the long term program. Among them, some are problems the NDL has as yet failed to solve and others arise from the experience of approaching electronic publications during the past three years. The difficulties the NDL is facing might be caused by the current situation where "traditional" problems and "new" problems co exist. Many problems may be common to other libraries in the world. The following are the main points of the problems from the Japanese point of view.

[Terminology and definition]

The word, "electronic publication", has been used so far to refer to publications using digital media. "Electronic publication" is classified into two categories: package type digital publications such as CD ROMs and network type electronic publications such as online journals.

Catalogs of sample fairs and exhibitions carry an astonishing number of electronic publications. It is no longer possible to draw a clear line between databases and CD ROMs and to define "electronic publication" clearly. Even CD ROMs are expected to be replaced by the DVD (Digital Video Disc) in near future. "Publications" distributed through the Internet will require new technical and systematic definitions.


"Selection" refers to the selection of contents and media. About 4,000 titles of electronic publications are estimated to be circulating in Japan at present. It is also said that the number of electronic publications might exceed 10,000 if "in house products" being produced and used by each institution are included. However, the actualities are yet to be ascertained. The contents of electronic pu blications vary from research oriented to entertainment. In Japan game software for PC use is popular.

A vote by the staff members of the acquisitions section showed that about 400 titles were "elected" as proper library materials among about 3,600 titles carried on the CD ROM catalogs.

[Ownership and access]

Acquisition of materials traditionally means purchase, donation and exchange, amounting to the transfer of the ownership from legal perspective. However most of the CD ROMs, periodicals in particular, can be used by contract for loan for use, in short, by lease contract. This is a big problem for a preservation library. If renewal became impossible for some reason, the NDL would lose several hund reds titles of CD ROM collections all at once.

The NDL will provide about 700 titles of foreign journals on CD ROMs for library users through LAN from April 1996. Then the NDL should decide whether or not it will continue to subscribe to about 400 titles of "paper printed" journals which overlap with the above mentioned CD ROMs before 1997.

[Budget and "actual purchasing power"]

The Japanese budget system and its operation are characterized by the term, "ceiling". When each Government agency including the NDL asks for an annual appropriation, the ceiling, top limit, of the amount of request is decided. Each agency tries to keep the budget for separate items on an even keel. As a result NDL's acquisition budget, for example, usually sees some percent of increase from the actual results of the previous year.

However, the real problem for the NDL is not the "nominal budget" but the "actual purchasing power". In case of foreign journals, the original budget increase and revalued yen are plus factors while saving (average 5%) and increased unit cost of subscription are minus factors for the NDL. The long term decline of the actual purchasing power is clear from past experience before the staff in charge of subscription index the actual purchasing power.

[Change of cost structure]

While the acquisition cost used to mean only the cost of buying "materials", electronic publications require equipment costs for disks, personal computers, autochangers and servers as well as the maintenance and software cost. Changes of lease price should be estimated and depreciation should be taken into account. On the other hand, electronic publications make it possible to save stack space an d to reduce the labor cost of managing materials. This is attractive in a country like Japan where land prices and labor costs are high enough.

However, it is very difficult to calculate necessary costs because the notion is foreign to the NDL.

[Selection system]

The acquisition budget is allocated to Selection Committees and each division of NDL. The "ceiling" works here too. It is not impossible to change the allocation rate for each committee or division, but it requires time and energy. It is not certain how effective papers, microformed materials and digital publications are and how interchangeable they are. Decision making is expected to follow the process of trial and error for the time being.

4. Economic issues of acquisitions work dialogue between a librarian and an economist

The subject of the subgroup meeting on acquisitions work and collection development is "Economic Issues of Acquisitions Work". I wonder to what extent acquisitions work and its related activities in the National Diet Library have been considered in the light of economic rationality and strategic planning? I think we could safely say that acquisitions departments have for a long time behaved in a conventional way using rigidly allocated budgets, without introducing much innovation to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the work.

However, taking on an enormous new project such as the planned "Kansai kan", we require good, long term planning for collection development, which represents a major capital investment over a long period of time. Based on good analysis, and projections of changes to the information environment, we need to make wise decisions and plan our strategy. Most people engaged in public sector libraries mi ght not be particularly conscious of how to employ scarce resources and develop alternative uses so as to improve the quality of services.

Ladies and gentlemen, I think here we should bring in other expertise as we consider how to make more efficient and effective user of library resources. The discipline of economic analyses the costs and benefits of improving patterns of resource allocation. Following the "Dialogue" method of the Greek philosopher, Plato, I also would like to introduce a dialogue on these issues between me and my economist friend, which was held in Tokyo, not ancient Athens, just prior to this conference.

Librarian: The National Diet Library, a state owned institution, has achieved stable growth and development, aided by a comparatively healthy budget position. The collection and acquisition of domestic publications is assured through the legal deposit system, and collections of overseas publications are also made through international exchanges with various foreign governments. However, de spite this development, it seems enormously difficult for the National Diet Library, like other large scale public sector libraries, to respond and adjust to the changing information environment.

Economist: It seems that a large state owned library may be in the position of a natural monopoly, in which technical factors preclude efficient provision through the existence of more than one producer, as for example in water supply, electricity distribution, etc. But, generally speaking, a natural monopoly can lose efficiently but for good internal management. So this natural monopoly p osition of a large public sector library may be challenged to some extent in a situation of diversifying information needs and increasing availability of alternative forms of information provision.

Librarian: Yes, I feel that external changes in the information environment are urging improvements to the internal efficiency of libraries and the quality of services they provide.

Economist: That's right. However, a big state owned library like yours could not easily change its organizational culture from the conventional supply side mentality to a more demand side or user oriented one. Despite the emerging public/private sector mix of information provision, I assume that the National Diet Library will continue to be a major information provider even the sole prov ider for some types of users or information. Therefore, under minimal competition and limited consumer choice, the users side could not easily induce the library, a non profit entity, to promote internal innovation. After all, unlike the private sector, you don't need to focus on what level of personal satisfaction customers are prepared to pay for.

Librarian: I tend to agree. The National Diet Library has not been very conscious of the quality of services they provide. Moreover, as far as the National Diet Library is concerned, it serves a really wide range of users, from the parliament, the law courts, government offices to ordinary people. This might sound like a kind of excuse to you, but it is quite difficult to identify user nee ds and preferences in our services.

Economist: You may perhaps have heard about "public sector marketing". A lot of people might think it a strange phrase, wondering why public organizations have to do marketing. But all organizations should constantly strive to improve their performance. Service organizations in the public sector are, in principle, no different. Marketing is much more than publicity, it is a real dialogue w ith users in determining how services can be improved for them.

Librarian: Very interesting. But let me change the issue. The National Diet Library has developed to become an important part of our national cultural heritage and information resources, and is indeed a great national asset. But, in the light of global networking, I think we have to consider, beyond our national interest, the importance of library based international cooperation, particula rly the support of financially weaker countries. As Mr. Jim Vickery of the British Library has pointed out, while the electronic age brings libraries and readers closer together, resource provision will create two classes: electronic publications being accessible and affordable in wealthy countries, and the less advanced countries relying upon printed materials in their local collections. Thus th e need to support developing countries is all the more relevant.

Economist: Yes, you've raised an interesting point. I totally agree that a large state owned library can have an element of an "international common good". Under certain rules or agreements, information provision to developing countries through libraries can be an effective form of international cooperation. We started off this discussion talking about the private/public mix of information provision created by the advance in information technology, and now we are talking about the library as an international common good. Indeed, economists have witnessed over the last 15 years a remarkable change in the structure and culture of public sector organizations in several industrialized countries. I can see that public libraries, too, are now confronted by a wide range of issues instiga ted by technological progress.

Librarian: Yes. And now I have a better idea of how we should proceed. Plato's dialogue method has certainly been useful. Thank you very much.