What is the content of the “unusual request” made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to libraries nationwide in the wake of the former Unification Church issue? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

What is the content of the “unusual request” made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to libraries nationwide in the wake of the former Unification Church issue?

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Calls for “more books related to the abduction issue

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is increasingly being named in connection with the issue of the former Unification Church. Behind the scenes, it has also been a hot topic in its response to the abduction issue.

The MEXT sent a letter to prefectural boards of education requesting that public and school libraries enhance their collections of books and displays on the abduction issue, prompting criticism and concern from library staff and others. The letter, titled “Cooperation in Enhancing Books and Other Materials Related to the Issue of Abductions by North Korean Authorities,” was issued on August 30 of last year, according to the Ministry of Education.

The All-Japan Teachers Union (ZENKYO) was quick to submit a letter of request to the Ministry of Education on September 8, demanding its withdrawal, which caused a stir immediately afterward among those involved in education. There has never been a case where the MEXT has made such a request to public libraries or school libraries, and I have to admit that I was surprised at first,” said one person who specializes in library and information science.

I must admit that I was surprised at first,” said Professor Shinya Yamaguchi of Okinawa International University’s College of Arts and Sciences, who specializes in library and information science.

On August 30 of last year, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) issued an “administrative communication” titled “Cooperation, etc., regarding the enrichment of books and other materials related to the abduction issue by the North Korean authorities” (photo: AFLO).

On October 9, the Library Problem Study Group requested the Ministry of Education to withdraw its request, and on October 11, the Japan Library Association issued a statement expressing concern that the request threatens the principles of the “Declaration on the Freedom of Libraries” and asking for understanding of the Declaration.

The “Declaration on Library Freedom” was adopted in 1954 at the National Library Congress and the General Conference of the Japan Library Association (revised in 1979). The background of the Declaration is a reflection on the role played by libraries before and during World War II, when they served as institutions for the government’s “ideological guidance” by focusing on books that had passed censorship, thereby hindering the “freedom of knowledge” of the people. The Declaration states, “Libraries shall make their collected materials and well-equipped facilities available to the public on their own responsibility, without being subject to the intervention of authority or social pressure.

The “Declaration on the Freedom of Libraries” was created in reflection of the fact that wartime libraries had been complicit in national policy, and the library world has moved forward in the postwar period in light of this historical background. While understanding that an early resolution of the abduction issue is desirable, many people in the library industry must have felt uncomfortable with the fact that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which has a hierarchical relationship with Japan, sent a document requesting the enhancement of books in a specific field, no matter what the topic was.

To begin with, it seems that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology asked public and school libraries nationwide to enrich books on the abduction issue for the North Korean Human Rights Violation Awareness Week in December, because the Cabinet Secretariat’s Task Force on the Abduction Issue requested their cooperation in response to a request from the Association of Families of Certain Disappeared Persons.

Did the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology officials not realize that the act of asking for cooperation would violate the “freedom of libraries?

The Ministry of Education’s official said, “The collection and provision of materials by libraries is part of our educational activities. If the Ministry of Education had considered the direct involvement of the state in the content of education as a sensitive issue, it might not have come up with the idea of passing on the Cabinet Secretariat’s request to the libraries as is.

Perhaps the quality of the Ministry of Education bureaucracy may be seriously deteriorating.

Not that the government needs to be told…

The Ministry of Education has not even responded to the withdrawal of the administrative communication requested by Zenkyoku and the Library Problem Study Group.

The law states that it is the responsibility of the national and local governments to raise public awareness regarding the abduction issue. Perhaps it is the Ministry of Education’s belief that we did what we did on a legal basis.”

Kazuhiro Araki, head of the Association for the Investigation of the Problem of Specified Disappeared Persons, which works with the Association of Families of Specified Disappeared Persons, wrote the following on his blog about the ZENKYO’s request to the Ministry of Education to withdraw the policy as “an extremely dangerous thing that binds the thoughts of children and the people of Japan.

The “freedom of libraries” is not the “freedom of library staff” in the first place.

I remember seeing similar opinions on social networking sites. I think it is natural that there is such a perception, so I would like to explain so that there is no misunderstanding. First of all, library-related organizations do not consider efforts to raise awareness of the abduction issue to be ‘dangerous’.

Libraries play a role in guaranteeing the “freedom to know” through the proactive collection and provision of materials. Freedom to know is said to be a fundamental right that is the basis for guaranteeing all basic human rights.

For example, Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees the right to receive public assistance, but one cannot exercise this right without knowing how to apply and the system itself. The role of libraries is to provide a one-stop collection of information that is a prerequisite for exercising such rights. In other words, libraries are places where people can access information they want to know for free so that everyone can equally exercise their fundamental human rights as stipulated in the Constitution.

The abduction issue is also an issue that threatens our right to survival. Libraries must, of course, provide information. Since librarians operate in accordance with the Declaration on Library Freedom, they should be collecting and providing the materials they know about the abduction issue without being told to do so by the government.”

The Declaration of Freedom of the Library also states that librarians should “collect a wide range of materials that represent different viewpoints on issues where there are diverse and conflicting opinions.

The Declaration of Freedom of the Library” also states that libraries should “collect and provide a wide range of materials on issues where there are conflicting and diverse opinions, respecting minority opinions from a fair standpoint.

So, with regard to the abduction issue, the library must also have books with content that differs from those of the Association of Families of the Specially Designated Disappeared Persons, who want a different solution, and materials that are not the kind of speech the government expects, such as those containing North Korea’s side of the story. Even if the library were to respond to the MEXT’s request, it would still have to handle a wide range of relevant materials in order to fulfill its role of providing users with materials of diverse opinions. It is still questionable whether the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has thought that far ahead in making this request.

In the United States, the American Library Association Council adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Libraries in 1939 as a basic policy to protect the intellectual freedom of libraries and their users, and it has been revised five times between 1948 and 2019 (Photo: New York Public Library/Afro)

Is it possible to protect “library freedom” with 80% non-regular employees?

Local libraries and school libraries are limited in their collection capacity by budget and size. Is it actually possible to offer a diverse and wide-ranging selection of books?

I think it is practically difficult for small libraries, but even if the number of books is small, they could try to collect pamphlets or scraps of newspaper articles with an awareness of the issues at hand.

However, it must be said that while such professionals are in demand, libraries are not in an adequate state of human resources. In the library world, there’s a problem right now with the employment of non-regular staff.

Earlier, I said, ‘We don’t need to be told by the government,’ but the reality is that the environment has become difficult to foster professionals who can take an active role on their own initiative. I think we need to consider this point as well.

According to Professor Yamaguchi, until the late 1990s, the ratio of regular to non-regular library staff was 7 to 3, but now it has reversed, with regular staff at 2 and non-regular staff at 8. The problem of non-regular employees is said to be even more serious in school libraries, where some employees are employed part-time or only a few days a week.

Many of the staff standing at the public library counters are non-regular employees who are appointed for the fiscal year or outsourced, and the few regular employees perform administrative duties in the back office.

When an administrative contact like this one comes down from the Ministry of Education and Science, is there a human resource structure in place that can be linked to the freedom of libraries to come up with a response? Will librarians who can uphold the principle of freedom of the library be trained in the current environment? I feel it is a bit difficult.”

What did the librarians in the field say in response to the request from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology?

One librarian at an Okinawan prefectural high school, who had originally included the abduction issue in her display for Human Rights Week, said, “We had been working on the issue without being asked, but now it seems that we are following the government’s request. We were working on it without being asked, but it was thought that we were complying with the government’s request, which in turn made it more difficult to do so.

The Ministry of Education’s request ultimately interfered with the field.

The freedom of libraries includes the idea of ‘freedom from authority. Libraries must only collect materials and plan exhibitions based on the needs of the users in front of them and local conditions, and they must work with the awareness that libraries and power are far apart. I hope that through this issue, many librarians will be able to confirm this once again, and that it will also provide an opportunity to think together with various people, including about employment issues.”

Shinya Yamaguchi, professor at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Okinawa International University, was born in 1974 in Kagoshima Prefecture. He completed his master’s degree in Library and Information Science at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science in 1998, and has been a professor at Okinawa International University since 2013, and has also served as the university’s library director since last year. he has been a member of the Freedom of Library Committee of the Japan Library Association since fiscal year 2014. His publications include “Library Notes” (Kyoiku Shiryo Shuppan) and “Information Service Theory (Minerva Shobo).

  • Interview and text by Sayuri Saito Photo Afro

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