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CDNLAO Newsletter

No. 99, February 2022

Special topic: Library services for children and young adults

International Library of Children's Literature: Recent activities for children and teenagers

By FUJISAKI Rieko, Children's Services Division, International Library of Children's Literature, National Diet Library

1. Introduction

The International Library of Children's Literature (ILCL), the sole national library in Japan dedicated to children's books, has three basic roles based on the philosophy of "Children's books link the world and open up the future!" The three roles are "as a library dedicated to children's books," "as a place where children encounter books," and "as a museum of children's books." In this article, I will introduce our recent activities relevant to the second role, "as a place where children encounter books." For more details up to 2016, please refer to the previous article (CDNLAO Newsletter No. 87, December 2016).

2. Children's services provided by the ILCL

(1) Services for children up to elementary school

Before COVID-19, we held "Story hour for Children" twice a day on Saturdays, once for children aged four to six years and once for children aged seven years or over, with nursery rhymes, picture book reading, and storytelling. We designed the programs keeping their ages in mind. Since the program took place in a small room with only performers and children, the children were able to concentrate on the story. We also held a monthly event titled "Story hour for Babies and Toddlers." Children aged six months to four years old and their parents could enjoy nursery rhymes and picture books while bonding through physical contact. Reservations were required for this event and always reached capacity very quickly.
In addition to these regular weekly and monthly events, we also held seasonal events, some of which have been co-hosted in cooperation with other institutions every year. For instance, we cooperated with the Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, a prestigious concert hall, to hold an event titled "Picture books and music for children," for which we invited professional musicians to perform concerts and read picture books about the music to the children. For an event titled "Special event for children in autumn," the Ueno Zoological Gardens and ILCL had zookeepers talk about particular animals and read picture books about those animals to the children. We also had the "Special event on Children's Day" on May 5 and more.
We also held events in cooperation with foreign embassies. For example, we invited picture book authors from a different country to give lectures and workshops, read picture books about their country to children, and give book talks to provide an opportunity to learn about the country.
In 2019, we started book talks for elementary school children as one of the summer events. These were additions to the special story hour, which we had previously held concurrently with library tours for children and parents during the summer vacation. Children enjoyed these new events, so we scheduled to hold them in 2020 as well. However, COVID-19 prevented this. During the summer vacation, when the number of visitors to the ILCL increases, we have also held a reading campaign in which quiz sheets about books are distributed and visitors answer the quiz by reading books.

(2) Services for junior and senior high school students

The ILCL has a reading room for teenagers called the Teens' Research Room. In this room, there are about 10,000 volumes available for report writing and research. We offer research practice programs that allow students to actually experience research using these materials. The concept of the programs is to let teenagers experience the fun of researching with books. We try to give them questions which they cannot find answers for on the internet alone so that they realize the usefulness of using books for research. We held these programs 111 times for about 1,600 students total since we launched this service in April 2016.
We also hold events for teenagers about once a year. We held lectures in January 2018 and August 2018. An event scheduled for March 2020 was cancelled due to COVID-19, but we were able to hold a talk event in December 2020 while taking measures against infection. Now we are preparing an online research practice program to be held in March 2022.

< Talk event for teenagers >

(3) Services for school libraries

We accept tours from schools and sometimes hold special story hours along with library tours. In particular, students from special-needs schools require appropriate consideration, so we make careful preparations for their visits, including getting a preliminary visit and listening to their requests for content based on their disabilities. Our library is appreciated by teachers from special-needs schools as a safe and comfortable place to visit. In 2019, we gave guided tours of the library 29 times for pre-schools and elementary schools, 21 times for junior and senior high schools, and five times for special-needs schools.
As part of our support for school libraries, we have been running the book set lending service to school libraries since 2002. In 2019, we started lending a "Science" book set to junior high schools in order to encourage students' interest in science. In addition, in 2021, the "Barrier-Free" book set for both children with and without disabilities in elementary school was prepared. This latest set includes books for learning and thinking about a topic of great social concern. Both of the two new sets have been well received and popular. We are continuing the lending service during the closure of the ILCL due to COVID-19, while school library staff tried to have children use the books even when the library opening hours and space were limited because of the pandemic.

3. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

(1) Suspension of visiting services and progress of online services

Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ILCL was closed from March 5 to July 1, 2020. During the closure, we introduced digital exhibitions and a "Kid's Page" in the most prominent places on our website, for our website users to enjoy themselves at home. We also released a VR tour that took users to our library via the internet. As for digital exhibitions, we have been offering one titled "A teenager's encyclopedia of the history of Japan during the late Edo and Meiji periods" since 2014. Access to the content gradually increased from April 2020, the time of the new school year. While schools closed during this period, it seems that teachers introduced the exhibition as a reference tool for their reports. In addition, in June, the monthly number of visitors jumped to 18,683, 17 times larger than the record in 2019, because the exhibition was introduced in a newspaper. From the number of visitors to the digital exhibitions, we feel that we need to rethink the way we provide our services. In the future, we will need to enhance our digital services so that people can become familiar with books and reading even without visiting the library.

(2) Infection prevention and reopening

Since the library reopened in July, we have taken general counter measures against COVID-19, such as limiting the number of visitors, reducing the number of reading seats, and installing disinfectant sprays. We cancelled all events for a while, but we have gradually resumed while monitoring the infection situation. The events of picture books and music for children, the special event for children in autumn, and talk events for teenagers have already resumed. In addition, the story hours were changed to take place in an open space instead of the small room that was used before, and resumed in the fall of 2021. When holding these events, we take measures such as reducing the numbers of participants, ensuring distance between seats, and selecting programs in which children do not need to speak loudly.

< Story hours resumed after a one-and-a-half-year suspension >

4. Basic Plan for the International Library of Children's Literature 2021-2025 and future development

In March 2021, the ILCL formulated the Basic Plan for the International Library of Children's Literature 2021-2025 as a new basic plan covering the five years from FY2021. Our mission remains as aiming to realize the philosophy "Children's books link the world and open up the future!" To carry out this mission, we will carry out the three basic roles mentioned at the beginning, in a form that responds to an increasingly digital society. Regarding the role of the library as a place where children encounter books, the plan states that in the future, the ILCL must respond to the social demand to prevent COVID-19 from spreading and continuously play the role of a library as infrastructure. Therefore, it is ever more important to provide services for children to encounter books not only in the ILCL, but also on the internet and in local libraries. For this purpose, we plan to work especially on provision of digital information for wider age groups, as well as support of local libraries for children's reading activities.
We aim to create and provide online content that invites children to read and learn as well as to improve their information literacy. We plan to create two categories, one for elementary school students and the other for junior high and high school students. By expanding online services that are not bound by time or place, it is expected that the services will reach a wider range of children than ever before.
Founded in 2000, the ILCL celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020. With the experience and findings we have learned over these two decades, we will go further for the sake of children.

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