New Academic Year 2018

The 2018 academic year has just begun.

Piao Hui-san (formerly a research student) and Wang Yifan-san have joined our Doctoral course. Koichiro Watanabe-san and Yichen Yao-san have joined our Masters course. Piao Hui-san, Wang Yifan-san, and Koichiro Watanabe-san are affiliated with the Graduate School of Education. Yichen Yao-san is affiliated with the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies.

Professor Dr Yuko Yoshida of the University of Tsukuba, who supported our research and education for four years as Visiting Professor, resigned on 31 March 2018, and Professor Bin Umino of Toyo University became Visiting Professor on 1 April 2018. Dr. Hideto Kazawa, Engineering Manager at Google, has joined our lab as visiting researcher of the Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies.

In Japan, the very foundation of public administration is breaking down after a series of document tampering scandals came to light, many of which suggest a connection to the Prime Minister. The stability and openness of public documents – and more generally, free access to information – is one of the important conditions for a free and democratic society. Professor Lawrence Lessig states as follows in his book Free Culture:

We take it for granted that we can go back to see what we remember reading. Think about newspapers. If you wanted to study the reaction of your hometown newspaper to the race riots in Watts in 1965, or to Bull Connor’s water cannon in 1963, you could go to your public library and look at the newspapers. Those papers probably exist on microfiche. If you’re lucky, they exist in paper, too. Either way, you are free, using a library, to go back and remember—not just what it is convenient to remember, but remember something close to the truth.

It is said that those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it. That’s not quite correct. We all forget history. The key is whether we have a way to go back to rediscover what we forget. More directly, the key is whether an objective past can keep us honest. Libraries help do that, by collecting content and keeping it, for schoolchildren, for researchers, for grandma. A free society presumes this knowledge. (p. 109)

Those who have looked at the research topics of the course members may think that a very small number of research topics are related to libraries (our course is the Library and Information Science course).

At least for now in Japan, libraries still maintain their mission and status, i.e. to support a free and democratic society (although we are observing some unfortunate cases due to “outsourcing”). In history, however, institutions that were called “libraries” or their equivalent did not necessarily have such a mission. Some “libraries” enclosed knowledge and contributed to the authoritarian arrangement of societies.

Research topics pursued in our course, including those that are not directly related to libraries, have an important trait in common: they are all related to the environment and conditions which enable free access to the records of knowledge by everyone, which in turn constitutes a part of the infrastructure for a free and democratic society. This is the very ideal which all real-world libraries (are supposed to) share.

Suppose that a public library, in order to attract customers and make money, started putting most of its resources into collecting and displaying Dorcus hopei binodulosus, Lyophyllum decastes, and Calocybe gambosa. In that case, we could no longer regard it as a library, even if it was still called a library. For libraries to be libraries, there is an ideal that they need to maintain … and nurture.

That is, to record and arrange the best of human knowledge produced, often at great cost, so far in human history, in such a way that it can be shared by everyone and is handed over to future generations.

In order to go to the moon, it is not enough to look up at the moon and appreciate it; we need to develop rocket engines. The tasks of keeping, realising, and widening the ideal behind and embodied in modern libraries vary widely.

For all those who think seriously about and truly desire the realisation of freedom and democracy, and a society in which individuals are respected, you are with us and we are with you.