Ideology and Libraries: California, Diplomacy, and Occupied Japan, 1945-1952

by Michael K. Buckland, with the assistance of Masaya Takayama, Rowman & Littlefield, 2021,170 pp.
Hardback $75.00, eBook $45.00 ISBN:978-1-5381-4314-8

Michael Buckland’s new book is animated by the central question of “why different libraries do and should develop differently” (xi). He explores this topic through a wide-ranging, erudite examination of the American and Japanese men and women who together, between 1945 and 1952, created a new form of Japanese librarianship. At its best, the book has a sweeping documentary quality, complete with a where-are-they-now “Afterwards” chapter detailing what happened to the main cast of characters in the years after the Allied occupation of Japan ended in 1952. The book falls short in its contextualization of these efforts from the vantage point of the Japanese public that these librarians served. Nonetheless, the book stands as a sturdy reminder of the complex forces that condition the diffusion of new ideas about information over space, time, and cultural boundaries.  

Ideology and Libraries attempts to knit together two universes: information and libraries. It does so by challenging information scientists who may not have the benefit of working in libraries, as Buckland did, to think seriously, rigorously, and critically about the historical evolution and spread of library models. The book concludes with a discussion that compares the history of public librarianship in the first half of the twentieth century to Wikipedia and YouTube. The final line of the book “calls for a deeper understanding of ideology and libraries” in information science (149).  

The book itself consists largely of what Buckland calls a “description” of the events that took place in Japanese librarianship between 1945 and 1952 and the historical forces that led up to those events (142). Featured in that historical backdrop is the creation and promulgation of the California County Library System, an effort to transform the California State Library into a central node in a state-wide library system that would encompass the entire population of the state. Similarly, occupation-era librarians focused on creating a Japanese national library system in the mold of California’s state system. Buckland takes care to describe previous efforts of American librarians and policy makers to spread the American model abroad through libraries set up by the US government in Mexico, South Africa, India, and Egypt, among other countries. Buckland argues that these two efforts—the California County Library System and US libraries abroad—coalesced in ways that allowed the US to shape Japanese librarianship during the Allied occupation.  

Before the US occupation, Japanese libraries, by and large, had a custodial orientation, focusing more on safeguarding texts than on providing access to them. When the outreach and adult education oriented American librarians arrived, this situation changed remarkably fast. The first instantiation of American librarianship in Japan came in the form of twenty-three public libraries set up across the country and run by the US Military, ultimately under the authority of General Douglas MacArthur (52). These libraries were typically staffed by Americans who worked with Japanese advisors to help bridge the language gap. As in US public libraries of the time, these public library-like institutions “became community centers” (56), offering both circulating collections and a wide range of outreach and programming services, including “classes in the English language, square dancing, and other educational entertainment” (57). One is left wanting more information about how the radical shift from closed stacks and stand-offish librarians to square dancing in the library was received by Japanese patrons and how these efforts to transform public libraries into education centers in the American mold influenced and shaped popular understanding of the aims and missions of public libraries in Japan.  

The book is at its best when it wrestles with the thorny and contradictory impulses that led “left-leaning progressives” like librarian Philip Keeney to join the US military and become part of the Allied occupation’s efforts to restructure Japanese libraries (63). Before the occupation, public libraries were, according to Buckland “collections rather than library services” (43). The American idea that library services should center around adult education, outreach, and universal access through interlibrary loan were all new ideas. Idealistic reformers like Keeney saw themselves as bringing these progressive ideas into Japan through dialogue and deliberation with Japanese librarians. But, at the same time, these ideas were also introduced through a military occupation. This contradiction reached a critical juncture, and Keeney was ejected from the military, and Japan, in 1947—but not before drafting a plan for Japanese libraries modeled on the California County Library System that would influence the 1950 Japanese Library Law that endured for over fifty years. 

The book is at its weakest when it considers how the US occupation was received, resisted, or accommodated by the Japanese population and professional librarians. Buckland carefully describes the history of Japanese librarianship prior to the occupation, as well as provides biographies of many of the key Japanese librarians who worked with the US occupation to create the new, US-influenced library system in Japan. Nevertheless, one is left wanting a more nuanced understanding of how the Japanese received and integrated these radical changes in librarianship, such as educational outreach and interlibrary loan, into their ideas of what librarianship would become. 

Nevertheless, despite this criticism, Buckland does a remarkable job taking readers behind the scenes into the halls of power where decisions were made about how and why American-style librarianship should be brought to Japan, as well as how Americans worked with the Japanese to ensure the former’s efforts endured after the end of World War II. Diving into the thorny realities of the Allied occupation, Buckland draws a sympathetic portrayal of the Americans and the Japanese who came together to forever alter how librarianship operated in Japan, with the most lasting legacy being the establishment in 1951 of what was, at the time, called the Japan Library School (now called the School of Library and Information Sciences at Keio University) that remains active and vital to this day. 

This book, rich in detail if somewhat short on analysis of the contradictory ways in which American idealism and US imperialism overlap, would be of use in any course on the history of libraries or information. Its approachability and readability recommends it for use in the classroom, possibly even at the advanced undergraduate level. Wrapped around the narrative itself is an impassioned plea to pay close attention to those who created library systems in the first half of the twentieth century. By understanding them, Buckland argues, we can better understand both physical libraries in our digital age and digital information systems more broadly. Sure to spark many conversations and debates about how libraries should be framed within information science and information history in the twenty-first century, the complex give-and-take of information policy at the international level, the diffusion of innovation across space and borders, and the history of librarianship found in Ideology and Libraries deserves to be widely read and discussed.  

Noah Lenstra, University of North Carolina at Greensboro