The CCC/Tsutaya library miracle in Japan: combined bookshop libraries

At the time of publishing, it’s been an interesting week for for-profit companies in the library world, with the spectacular bankruptcy of Carillion in the UK. However, I have long been fascinated by developments and ideas in the library sector from all over the world so when I was contacted by Steve Coffman about something brilliant apparently happening in Japan, I was not going to say no. So have a read, have a think, and comment, or email me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk to get the conversation going.

So, why were you in Japan?

My wife and I went over specifically to have a look at the library / bookstore / café combinations that Japanese firm Culture Convenience Club / Tsutaya is pioneering with multiple cities in Japan.  Here’s a slideshow I put together as an introduction to the concept. It all got started last June at ALA in Chicago, when Yoko Hirose, who is a consultant for CCC/Tsutaya, stopped by our booth and we got to talking about what was going on in Japan.  When she told me that over 20% of the public libraries in Japan were outsourced to private firms, and then described these novel bookstore / libraries being built and operated by CCC/Tsutaya, I simply had to get over there and see for myself.  So we booked our flights and spent a couple of weeks visiting these libraries in Japan this past November.

Ebina Library.  Bookstore and Starbucks on 1st floor, library on floors 2-4 and in basement.

Ebina Library. Bookstore and Starbucks on 1st floor, library on floors 2-4 and in basement.

Explain what’s got you excited in Japan.

I’ve been interested in the intersection between libraries and retail throughout my career — ever since I wrote a controversial piece for American Libraries in March 1998 called “What If You Ran Your Library Like a Bookstore.”. Japan is taking these two institutions we all know and love and combining them to make a new kind of ‘cultural center’ (for lack of a better phrase) that is bigger and better than the sum of its parts.  It allows people who normally frequent bookstores to explore their interests in greater depth on the library side, and it allows library users to purchase a popular new title if they’d rather read it right now than wait on hold, or to buy a copy of a title they’d borrowed but now want for their home library or as a gift for someone else.   Plus, these facilities bring the best of retail management to the library world –which could badly use it.  For instance, they are all open 12 hours a day, 365 days a year – holidays included.  Show me even one traditional public library that can claim that.  [StoryHouse in Chester is open longer hours than that in Chester but it’s not a traditional library – Ed.]

“Japan is taking these two institutions we all know and love and combining them to make a new kind of ‘cultural center’ (for lack of a better phrase) that is bigger and better than the sum of its parts”

Is there anything unique about Tsutaya? Can you see another bookstore company doing the same thing elsewhere?

Tsutaya is a unique company.   Their CEO, Muneaki Masuda, has a reputation for being very forward thinking in a variety of areas.  CCC/Tsutaya is particularly noted for its emphasis on design – their flagship bookstore, Daikanyama T-Site in Tokyo is frequently listed among the most beautiful bookstores in the world.  And you can see the same ethos at work in their libraries which are stunningly  beautiful, but also eminently practical.   That said, I think there are a number of other bookstore companies that might have the capability to pull this off.  Heather Reisman of Indigo Books in Canada who is developing quite a reputation for re-inventing her physical bookstores, might be interested.  Then there’s Amazon, which is busy building physical bookstores across the US, or Barnes & Noble, which is looking for a way to turn itself around.  In the UK, I’m guessing Waterstones could be a potential partner (although Tim Coates could better comment on this).   But whoever does it, it needs the same fresh outlook, business savvy, and willingness to take risks and try new things that are the hallmarks of the CCC/Tsutaya partnerships.

CCC/Tsutaya’s Daikanyama T-Site Bookstore in Tokyo.  Often ranked as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and serves as the inspiration for the CCC/Tsutaya libraries.

CCC/Tsutaya’s Daikanyama T-Site Bookstore in Tokyo. Often ranked as one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and serves as the inspiration for the CCC/Tsutaya libraries.

Why do you think such a partnership works?

I think the CCC/Tsutaya libraries work because they have created true community ‘hubs’ by focusing specifically on the needs and desires of those who are interested in books, reading, learning, and cultural pursuits in general.  In doing that, they are effectively attracting two separate but overlapping markets, those who frequent bookstores and those who use libraries.   And they combine them in spectacular, well-designed facilities, complete with cafés and restaurants that encourage people to come in, read, relax and linger in the company of books.   They work because – unlike so many libraries who are in a rush to shirk the ‘book’ label today – they have chosen to embrace books and readers and focus intently on serving their needs.

“They work because – unlike so many libraries who are in a rush to shirk the ‘book’ label today – they have chosen to embrace books and readers and focus intently on serving their needs.”

What have been the differences in library usage reported?

There have been huge increases in usage.  Perhaps the best example is the Tagajo Library where visits increased 1,427% (!) as compared with the old library, circulation increased 250% and the average length of stay (something most of us don’t even measure), increased from 30 minutes in the old library to over 3 hours in the new CCC/Tsutaya library – clearly evidence that the library has become a place where people like to come and ‘hang-out’.   Other CCC/Tsutaya libraries show similar increases but not quite as extreme.

Tagajo Library – Inside. Bookstore section to the left and on the second floor, library is behind the wall of books on the left.  Restaurant  Is barely visible on the 3rd floor.

Tagajo Library – Inside. Bookstore section to the left and on the second floor, library is behind the wall of books on the left. Restaurant Is barely visible on the 3rd floor.

Are the library staff paid the same or better than before?

Although I did not research this when I was over there, my understanding is that CCC/Tsutaya staff are paid comparably to staff at other public libraries in Japan.   One difference, however, is that in many CCC/Tsutaya facilities, library staff work both in the bookstore and in the library, but café and restaurant staff are always separate. I also noted that there is very little backroom area in these facilities, and most staff are on the floor most of the time they are at work.

Have the local councils/authorities needed to put in any money too?

Most of the CCC/Tsutaya libraries are true ‘public-private’ partnerships with CCC/Tsutaya and the local city each putting up part of the capital cost of the new facility or complete renovation (all CCC/Tsutaya libraries have either been totally new facilities or full renovations).   In exchange the CCC/Tsutaya gets to operate the facility under a long-term lease (normally at least 5 years).  The City pays CCC/Tsutaya to operate the library portion of the facility (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more than it costs the city to operate its traditional stand-alone library), and the CCC/Tsutaya pays the city rent on the retail space it occupies in the building.  The bottom line is that the city gets a spectacular new library doing many times the amount of business of a traditional library, at a fraction of what it would cost them to build it and operate it themselves.  Here’s an article covers the financial arrangements for the first CCC/Tsutaya library in Takeo.

“The bottom line is that the city gets a spectacular new library doing many times the amount of business of a traditional library, at a fraction of what it would cost them to build it and operate it themselves.”

Why are there no public access computers?

I think there are two reasons there are no public access computers.  First, it did seem to be true that most people in Japan had their own devices and were hooked to the Internet – something that is becoming increasingly true in the US and the UK as well.  But secondly, and just as importantly, I think the lack of public access PCs was a conscious decision to focus these bookstore / libraries on books and reading and programs and other cultural pursuits that are complementary with them, and not to become just a cheap place to access the Internet – especially when most Japanese are already carrying the Internet around in their pocket or purse.   And it could be that Japan’s libraries are a harbinger of things to come as Internet access becomes more and more ubiquitous in the US and the UK – time to start thinking about replacing those public access PCs with bookshelves?

“it could be that Japan’s libraries are a harbinger of things to come as Internet access becomes more and more ubiquitous in the US and the UK “

How come e-books have never taken off in Japan do you think? I always see them as a very tech-friendly culture.

From everything I saw, the Japanese are very tech-friendly, except when it comes to ebooks.   I’ve read a number of articles on this and I’m still not sure I’ve really heard a convincing argument yet.   Some claim that the Japanese like to have ‘something to hold’, others blame Japanese publishers for the lack of content.  Whatever the reason, it is more than a little ironic that the country that invented the commercial e-reader (Sony) and still makes one of the most popular brands (Kobo) has some of the fewest people actually using them.   Whatever the case, it is possible that Japan may again be a harbinger, because ebook sales in the US and UK have been declining for the past several years, led, of all things, by the younger generation, who seems to prefer print to pixels … here’s an article on it from the Guardian

Selfcheck Machines in Ebina – you can borrow or buy the book.  Apparatus on 2nd shelf is for counting coins and bills.  Oddly enough credit cards are used relatively rarely in Japan

Selfcheck Machines in Ebina – you can borrow or buy the book. Apparatus on 2nd shelf is for counting coins and bills. Oddly enough credit cards are used relatively rarely in Japan

Is this something that you can see working in other countries too? Would it need to be modified in any way?

Absolutely, I can see the CCC/Tsutaya model working in lots of other places.  Basically, the market the CCC/Tsutaya serves is readers – both those who buy books and those who borrow them, those who like to attend programs fashioned around them and those who like to hang out with people who are interested in reading and learning, and those who want to encourage a love of reading and learning in their children.  I believe those communities exist everywhere, and in many places they exist in sufficient strength to justify and support a CCC/Tsutaya-style facility.  In fact, many communities may find it easier to build and operate a CCC/Tsutaya library that is funded by both retail and tax funds than a traditional model which is 100% dependent on taxpayer largess – which has proven quite fickle in recent years.  It is possible that elements of the CCC design might need to be modified minimally to fit particular cultures – but I think the basic concept will appeal to readers the world around.

“the basic concept will appeal to readers the world around”

Are there any other countries you’d like to visit on study trips? If so, why and where?

I love traveling and exploring and do it every chance I get.  I find it is the best way to find out about new things that are going on – and if they look promising, as in Japan, to bring them back and try them at home.   In recent years, I’ve been to Denmark to have a look at their Open+ libraries, to Spain and Australia to talk and to explore their libraries, and now to Japan.   The next place I’d really like to go is the UK because – although I know you are dealing with some significant problems over there – I think you are also doing some interesting things.  I’d like to know more about how library trusts work, to have a look at your volunteer libraries and how they are supported, and to see if there are any initiatives to combine compatible uses and develop outside sources of revenue – as we’ve seen in Japan — to help offset declines in council funding.   After that, who knows?  Although I hear rumors that China is doing some pretty interesting things with libraries … here again focusing on books, like the new Binhai library in Tianjin that was in the news recently.

“I’d like to know more about how library trusts work, to have a look at your volunteer libraries and how they are supported, and to see if there are any initiatives to combine compatible uses and develop outside sources of revenue – as we’ve seen in Japan — to help offset declines in council funding”

Biography

Steve Coffman

Steve Coffman

I’m a librarian with an MLS from UCLA back in the 80s.   I spent the first half of my career with the Los Angeles County Public Library, where I developed and managed FYI, their fee-based research service, as well as their Government Information Service, which provided high-level research to cities and other government departments and agencies in the County.  Later, I moved to Library Systems and Services, a private company that manages and provides services to all kinds of libraries throughout the United States.  I’ve done a variety of things at LS&S including developing and managing the first live virtual reference product in the US, managing our East Coast libraries, and developing a number of centralized services to make our libraries run better and more efficiently.   When I’m not actually busy running libraries, I like writing and talking about them, and most of the more provocative pieces I’ve done over the years can be easily found with a little help from Google.

 

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