Contextual approach to understanding the socio‐cultural function of a public library in Japan

Lisa Klopfer (Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA)
Haruki Nagata (University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba, Japan)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Publication date: 22 March 2011



Despite a growth in demand that public libraries be accountable to citizen needs, basic research into the socio‐cultural context in which libraries operate, particularly cross‐culturally, is still needed. Durrance and Fisher have argued that libraries have too long relied on output measures to indicate library efficiency (and to justify funding) but that such measures do not reflect the social, cultural or other values actually held or gained by library users. This observation begs the question, what socio‐cultural functions do public libraries actually have? What values do they reinforce? What needs are met? How do public libraries fit into the larger social fabric of public and private institutions? And how might these functions vary from one society to another? This paper aims to address these issues.


The questions are similar in scope to those found in museum studies (for example, see the book series Museum Meanings edited by Eilean Hooper‐Greenhill and Flora Kaplan), but have been rarely applied to libraries. In an unusual research collaboration we explore these questions relying on both qualitative and quantitative methods to gauge some of the socio‐cultural functions of a public library in Japan.


Of primary concern is the methodological problem of developing questions that draw out values and concepts of which the visitors themselves may not be explicitly aware. In this research the paper attempts to draw out not just the satisfaction levels of patrons, but to delineate something of the patrons' own conception of their public library. Studying a rather unusual library by Japanese standards, it is found that some patrons have responded to the particularly strong community focus of the library director.


Socio‐cultural studies of the functions of libraries are rare. This study therefore can act as an exemplar for further international studies.



Klopfer, L. and Nagata, H. (2011), "Contextual approach to understanding the socio‐cultural function of a public library in Japan", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 66-77.

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