Site: National Diet Library
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8294 Japan
Date Visited: 24 March 1998
WTEC Attendess: B. Davis-Brown (report author), R. Chellappa, R. Larsen, J.Mendel, H. Morishita, R. Reddy
The National Diet Library (NDL) serves the information needs of the NationalDiet and is a repository for all materials published in Japan. The NDL islooking forward to the construction of a new building in the Kansai Culture andScience City, which aims to be a "future-oriented library, which will includenew library services using advanced information technology" (Taya).
The National Diet Library has undertaken two pilot electronic libraryprojects. The National Union Catalog Network Project assists 43 publiclibraries throughout Japan in sharing cataloging information. The projectclaims to automate the addition and comparison of bibliographic records andholdings information without the amount of human intervention needed in systemssuch as OCLC or RLIN. While the National Union Catalog Network Project is anenhancement of traditional library practices, the Electronic Librarydemonstration experiment project prototypes the NINVEH system in terms of thedigital library of the future. Sponsored by the Ministry of International Tradeand Industry (MITI), in cooperation with the Information-technology PromotionAgency (IPA), the project thus far has been to scan the equivalent of over 10million pages of paper. The scanned collections include rare books from theMeiji Era, rare books of the NDL, World War II era books on economics, journalspublished in Japan, issue briefs for members of the Diet, modern Japanesepolitical history documents, and materials provided by publishers. Many ofthese materials were scanned from microfilm, and project literature states thatthe content is primarily for experimental use. It also appears that many of thematerials have not been cleared for distribution due to copyright restrictions.In terms of organizing and retrieving this large amount of digitized material,the NDL WWW site states that another purpose of the experiment is to research"high-level information retrieval techniques and other database managingtechnologies." The WWW site goes on to state that "it cannot be denied that thesystem is not satisfactory at present in some aspects."
The format of the actual digital content varies. The issue briefs, forexample, are marked up in a "simple" version of Standard Generalized MarkupLanguage (SGML), and page images from each report are available. Three types ofsearches are available in the system. A bibliographic record search isavailable with Boolean search operators, and a choice of Chinese characters orphonetic characters to search on appear in a drop-down box. A menu search isoffered by categories such as titles of journals. The third type of search is afull-text search based on the titles from cataloging records. It was unclearwhether full-text searching of the OCR'd materials was available in thisoption. Currently, 100 users are testing the system, but it is not open to thepublic.
The scanning work is done by private companies, which are coordinated by theIPA and the NDL. Although the purpose of this content is to provide the basefor the new library at Kansai, the Ministry of Finance has not yet approved thebudget for the creation of the "electronic library." Funding for the buildingitself has been approved.
A separate electronic library for children is being planned for the year2000. So far, 8,000 of the 130,000 children's books at the NDL have beenimaged. They were by and large published before 1950 and appear not to havecopyright issues. These books are retrieved via information in thebibliographic records. In a project NDL has undertaken with 13 publishers,children are guided to 300 different new books. Users see an online summary ofthe book but are not shown the full text.
There are three ways envisioned in which the NDL will create digitalcontent: conversion of page images from older materials, receiving text frompublishers, and placing electronic publications on file servers. Delicaterelationships with publishers impact these choices, and Mr. Naya acknowledgedthat not all services will be free of charge. He also stated that he felt thatthe intellectual property issues and not the technical issues were what largelystood in the way of their digital library project at this time. "The technologyhas gone beyond what the legal climate can accept."
It is assumed that in the 21st century most information will be originallygenerated in digital format. Reduced storage costs mean that multimediamaterials will be a larger percentage of digital content than they are now. Thechallenge is how to position digital museums and digital libraries and to putdigital content into the system.
Global issues for digital libraries imply that standardization of charactercodes is necessary and that personal computers must be able to display codesfrom all Asian countries. Software development for automatic translation ismaking progress in Japan, but whether viable translation software will beavailable soon is hard to say. UNICODE is not popular in Japan because itcannot distinguish accurately between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean charactersin context.
The three largest barriers to realizing the NDL's vision are thefollowing:
Information-technology Promotion Agency, Japan. http://www.ipa.go.jp.
Pilot Electronic Library Project. (Brochure inJapanese and English.)
Taya, Hiroyuki. n.d. A strategic plan for the Century 21of the National Diet Library: toward establishing the national electronicheritage. http://www.nldl.go.jp/ndlelp/index-e.html.