Helping to create new businesses and support small and midsize enterprises is an important policy goal for Japan as it strives to revive the stagnant economy. On Sept. 23, RIETI held a policy symposium entitled "Business Support Libraries Getting into Motion." In the symposium, the ongoing business support efforts and activities by local libraries were introduced along with the experience of an entrepreneur who made active use of library in starting up her business, while RIETI Fellow Akiko Sugaya reported on the vanguard initiatives undertaken by business libraries in the United States. Active debates followed with participants- who represent a variety of professions and positions- expressing views on a business support library as a strategic station to promote new businesses from their respective points of views. Taking this occasion, RIETI Report interviewed Fellow Sugaya.
Akiko Sugaya became a visiting fellow at RIETI in April 2001 and she has been a fellow at RIETI since April 2002. She has worked for"Newsweek Japan," Japanese edition of Newsweek magazine as a staff editor. After she received her M.A. degree in International Media and Communications from Columbia University, she became a freelance journalist based in Washington D.C. She became a visiting lecturer at University of Tokyo in 2001. Her expertise includes media and public space, media literacy education, information design, community network, public domain in internet, and public library. Her publication includes "Media Literacy" (published in Japanese in 2000, in Korean in 2001) and many other reports and articles.
RIETI Report (RR): What made you launch your studies on libraries in the first place?
Sugaya: When I was living in Washington D.C. and trying to work as a freelance journalist, I was stunned to find out how much it costs individual to get an access to a database. But then, I found out that a nearby library offers quite a few databases for free. So I became a regular visitor there. In this library, I met a range of people who are trying to change society, including an independent consultant and members of nonprofit organizations. When I introduced this experience in an article for a Japanese magazine, it invoked certain public responses, leading to the establishment in December 2000 of Business Support Library Promotion Association.
Of course, business support is one important aspect, but I am not focusing solely on the promotion of venture businesses. Rather, I am advocating the necessity of"libraries as media"or a public station to provide information.
RR: Do you expect the role of public libraries will increase in Japan?
Sugaya: Up until now in Japan, people would have found little necessity to collect information on their own once they secure a full-time position at a company and settle themselves on a social track. From now on, however, people have to explore their own course based on the principle of self-responsibility. The lifetime employment system is crumbling and many people quit a company to start up business or go to graduate school.
A number of options are emerging. To do anything, however, information is indispensable. Libraries will be counted on to serve as information centers rather than as a place for cultural enrichment. In the U.S., libraries are already being used as an information center. Some people, in a show of their gratitude, make donations to the library from which they benefited.
RR: What are the merits of public libraries?
Sugaya: One strength is the ample stock of information available held by libraries. In this, they are quite different from bookstores which offer books based on their salability. If someone becomes healthier thanks to the knowledge obtained at a library, it would reduce medical costs. By enhancing the function of public libraries, a local government can shift fiscal spending. This is how information empowers citizens. At the same time, it is necessary to provide information education to prevent "information divide." Today, libraries are being transformed from a "house of books" into a "house of information." In the US, some say that a library is the very first place to go when people move into a new town. This is because libraries are serving as information navigator of community. Libraries will become a valuable information center if they offer information that cannot be obtainable everywhere else including commercial databases and leaflets published by NPOs, rather than simply being a place where people borrow books.
Libraries are an important public space for a civil society. In the US, partly because of how the country was founded, information is strongly tied to democracy and individuals actively try to obtain information to realize economic independence. I hope "public" facilities - neither corporate nor governmental facilities - will take root in Japan.
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"US Foreign Policy After 11 September"
10/08 Ichiro Hirose (Sports Producer)
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10/07 Shigeaki Harayama (Chief Scientific Adviser, Biotechnology Center,National Institute of Technology and Evaluation)
"Technical development and the technology transfer in biotechnology: Points at Issue"
10/02 Toru Takanarita (Editorial Writer, Asahi Shimbun)
"US and rest of the World, One year after from the simultaneous terrorist attacks"
09/30 Shunji Hiraiwa (Associate Professor, University of Shizuoka)
"How to Perceive the First Summit Meeting between Japan and North Korea and the Future Plan"
10/10 Kazuyuki Motohashi(RIETI Senior Fellow)
"US-Japan Comparison on informatization and productivity"
10/03 Masayo Fujimoto (RIETI Faculty Fellow)
"Overview of Primary Survey of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)"
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