Though the City of Kita Library’s Central Library (English site) was opened in 1967, they needed a barrier free facility for their aging residents (Kita’s inhabitants are the 2nd oldest of the 23 wards (districts) in Tokyo), so in 2008 a modern structure was grafted on to…
…an historic red brick WWII firearms plant creating a wonderful, award winning amalgam of old and new. Because it’s earthquake-resistant, during the tremors that led to last year’s tsunami, only a few newspapers fell.
As I mentioned in my blog on Fukagawa Library, this post wouldn’t have been possible without the magnanimous contribution of Hitomi Takeuchi and her excellent English skills. Hitomi, Yoko, Kanako, my husband and I took subway, bus and walked half a mile with the magic of cherry trees blooming in Tokyo as a backdrop…
…to visit this library. Coincidentally, the cherry blossom is the symbol of Kita ward and the library boasts tables and clear dividers at self check in its shape.
Set at the edge of a large park, grassy steps just outside the building create an amphitheatre. Off the lobby, a lovely cafe with al fresco and library user seating overlooks the green expanse. I noticed three big screen televisions promoting library services as the large main desk, open plan, plants and gleaming blonde wood floors drew us in.
Our guide, Mr. Hiromoto Matsumoto from the administrative section, greeted us. Wearing the blue staff uniform coat, he first took us to a meeting room and gave us packets about the library. Tea was served and we met Director Mitsuo Yamomoto. Both men were so welcoming and knowledgeable as they gave us a tour.
They told us that since they opened three million people have come. We learned that after the war, MacArthur used the original structure for medical purposes. Then the self defense army used it as a hospital until 1975 when the Vietnam War ended. Parts of the floor are glassed over to showcase the preservation of history and there was a display with photos of the construction process.
Even though the old ceiling was not up to code, for aesthetics, black iron trusses resembling modern sculpture were left in place. Along with windows and skylights, they draw your eye upwards.
It’s a huge busy place, though fairly quiet (the children’s area is on the second of the three floors to reduce the noise factor downstairs). They have about three million items and are designed to hold five million. There are 33 Kita ward local government staff and forty private sector part time staff who do circulation and shelving.
Several lovely courtyards with patio seating, gardens, ficus trees, climbing ivy and rocks let users enjoy the sun.
For the physically challenged, all adult materials are on the ground floor and they have elevators. Book cases with ledges that pull out at wheelchair height, wide aisles, walker style shopping carts and electric scooter chairs make it easy to browse. The vision impaired use special PACs…
…that speak the title of a scanned chipped item and raised pathways help guide their way. These wondrous things…
…which I call Braille Trails, are all over Tokyo, often in vivid yellow. On the third floor volunteers read to the blind in two rooms with privacy shades or they can listen to audios. There’s even a monthly class in Japanese sign language on how to use library computers. Other volunteers make posters etc. in an activity area up here.
We saw the Kita ward history and information room and the archive area where valuable materials are kept in the closed stacks. These incredibly tall shelves allow for an enormous amount of storage…
…and automatically move when you unclip the cords on the end.
You can check out 30 items (including one DVD and ten CDs from their large A/V collection) and renew by phone or in person. Everything but parking and printing is free. Audiovisual items must be returned to the library counter, but like Fukagawa, three of the 15 Kita ward library locations are set up so patrons can use media in house.
Unlike Central, most Kita branches are dual purpose, sharing space with a school, museum etc. Hours are the same as Fukagawa’s except Central is open on the second and fourth Mondays and closes for inventory on the fourth Thursday.
There’s a breast feeding room and lavishly appointed dark wood bathrooms…
…with handrails at the sinks, baby seats in the stalls, a changing table, little alcoves for bewhiskered guitar playing mice, and (one of my favorite thing about Japan) high tech toilets (buttons for bidet, discreet flushing noise etc. – I didn’t look too closely at these, but some commodes open to greet you, sanitize automatically and have warmed seats too).
It’s a beautiful, bright space with lots of plate glass windows and dividers letting in light. Floor vents mean efficient HVAC and high clear plexiglas book shelves attest to the size of the collection. Creative touches abound – a reading lamp resembling a white Oscar statuette turns on when unfolded, diamond pattern newspaper storage is practical and pretty….
…while musical animals lend a whimsical touch.
Even the seat in front of the small business area is gorgeous.
And in the glassed in young adult area, the tables are on wheels and these intriguing chairs being demonstrated by Mr. Matsumoto, move every which way so awkward teens can easily get comfortable.
They have a web site with the catalog, events etc. (in recent news, 600 items were donated by the Kita-ku honorable citizen, Dr. Donald Keene, a Japanologist who taught at Columbia and Tohoku Universities). Newspaper, legal and business databases are very popular so there’s often a queue. Fourteen internet workstations plus DSL ports give online access, and there are five computers with word processing in the individual research rooms. Usually full, there’s a two hour time limit if people are waiting, but there’s also a larger research room where groups can work together.
If you get peckish, this is Japan, so of course there are vending machines for a quick snack.
The City of Kita Library system offers storytimes for school kids, toddlers and babies as well as family yoga, public history courses etc. In a couple of years, the Central Library will start having after hours events and concerts in the lecture hall.
Like our bigger libraries, they had some nice colorful promotional materials and brochures including one with lots of library photos, several children’s book pamphlets (Blueberries for Sal!) and a guide in English (and what I think is Korean and perhaps two forms of Chinese).
Upstairs, the semicircle themed Children’s Room is draped with paper mobiles of birds…
…and has many amenities including an area to soothe tots with a crib, two sinks, caretaker’s stool and nearby toys to distract wailing babies. Multihued pads top the sturdy wood stools and add color as do kid sized chairs painted to look like a purple hippo, blue bear… There’s a storytime area, lots of nice displays, oversized board books, activity packs and a very safe play area with cushioned bottom and sides and lots of stuffed animals.
I was constantly amazed by the creative and practical things I saw in Japan, and Kita-ku’s Central Library lives up to the rest of the country – the Braille Trails, sink handrails, amazing comfort stations, talking pacs, upholstered play area and towering archives were all new to me. Oh and great marketing idea! The libraries give out cute little folded calendars with contact info, library hours… – it looks like they are sponsored by corporations – I’m sure a local business in your area would be happy to foot the costs in return for the goodwill and advertising opportunity.
What a great chance to get some new ideas! And thanks so much to Mr. Matsumoto and Director Yamomoto for taking the time to show us around.