The atmosphere at Rikkyo University’s Ikebukuro Library in Tokyo was buzzing with energy, even though classes were canceled. On this particular late autumn day, all of the library’s group study rooms, spread across eight parts of the building, were occupied. In one of these rooms, four students from a College of Economics seminar were studying on how companies could mitigate risk through diversification of funding sources.
One third-year member of the group, Misaki Osada, 21, wrote key points on a broad whiteboard covering one wall of the room.
She said the library is “convenient, because it allows us to borrow the materials we need quickly and practice for presentations as well.”
The first and second floors of the library have open spaces with movable desks and chairs, known as the “learning square,” situated across from the building’s high ceilinged entrances. On this day, a group of Japanese and foreign students were gathered in a circle to converse together in English. The “learning square” also permits the use of mobile phones to accommodate student job applicants waiting for that important call.
The library still offers conventional reading rooms for students who prefer to study in silence as well as private rooms for researchers. Students are also welcome to relax in the resting room, where sofas are provided, and there is an open-air terrace.
In the 10 months following its November 2012 opening, more than 1 million users used the library. That’s an average of 70 visits per person for the school’s 15,000 students.
During exams, more than 10,000 students per day visit the library, according to the university.
Mamoru Koakutsu, 48, head of the university’s library use promotion division, said, “I often hear from students that they visit the library more often, and spend more time here. I think the consideration we’ve given to making the library more comfortable for students is to thank.”
For many, university libraries are places where students read quietly and independently.
But many libraries are transforming into places where students gather for group discussions and to teach one another.
These libraries are improving user support services in ways that contrast with the traditional image, including extending their hours late into the night, as they try to become the “academic home base” for their students.
Training for library users
Waseda University’s Central Library, one of the largest university libraries in Japan, has opened most of its stack rooms. In 2009, the university renovated part of the library into a space where students can talk in groups, and launched a department to offer support for library users.
Satoko Tada, administrative director of the new department, said students “have come to think of the library as a place where they can gather for group discussion using the library’s materials.”
To help students use the library more fully, library officials visit seminars to teach students how to search for the information they need.
Meiji University likewise offers a course to all students to help them make the best use of its libraries.
More universities are making changes to support student studies at their libraries, including outsourcing reception and other operating functions to keep libraries open until about 10 p.m.
At Chiba University, graduate students in mathematics, physics, liberal arts and other fields spend time in the library on certain days to provide standby tutoring for undergraduate students.
This support system has proven popular among students who are hesitant to visit professors’ offices. In the time before exam season, students stand in line to use the service, according to one university official.
The library at Chiba University uses glass interior and exterior walls to brighten the space, and a small stage on the first floor where seminars and concerts are sometimes held adds to the atmosphere. Since the library opened in spring 2012, it has received over 100 visiting groups from other schools and municipalities.
The library’s director, Prof. Hiroya Takeuchi, 51, said, “We hope the library grows into a place where students’ intellectual curiosity is stimulated on many levels.”