An effective experiment
Last week, I visited the town of Takeo in the Saga Prefecture during my trip to Kyushu, Japan. The small town with a population of 50,000 is known for its hot springs and 3,000-year-old cedar trees. When I exited the train station and walked around the downtown streets, I ran into just a few fellow tourists. There were no locals to be seen.
Soon, I understood what was going on. As a city girl who easily gets tired of country scenery, I was already looking for a cafe, and there was a sign for Starbucks in the distance.
As I was walking towards it, I spotted a small, two-story building crowded with people. Old ladies and men were reading on the terrace, while children were playing on the lawn. Young people were enjoying coffee and books. It was the Takeo City Library.
The first floor of the public library with its high ceilings is a bookstore with sophisticated furniture and interior items. It is also a CD and DVD rental shop run by Tsutaya, Japan’s biggest video rental chain. Starbucks was in one corner, and a spacious section where people can drink coffee and read was next to it. I asked a staff member where the library was, and he said that I was already in it. The walls of the first floor and the bookcases on the second floor are filled with 200,000 books, according to the city library’s classification system. Anyone can read these publications. Checking them out and returning them can be done at the bookstore cash register. This is where a library meets a bookstore, and a reading room combined with a cafe.
It turned out that Takeo City Library was a tourist attraction in Japan. It used to be operated by the city, but since April 2013, the private company Tsutaya has taken over its management.
The library, which used to close at 5 p.m., is now open till 9 p.m. to allow people to stop by after work. It is open all year round, so locals come during holidays. Since it is considered a library worth visiting, more than 1 million people visited it last year. Out-of-towners made up 400,000 of this number, so the library is reviving the local economy.
At first, there was opposition to the idea of commercializing the public space. However, anyone who has actually been to Takeo City Library will be charmed by the welcoming and unique atmosphere, which inspires a love of books. The unconventional idea turned the public library into a place for meetings, relaxation and study for the local residents. I ended up changing my train schedule and stayed there until the evening, and purchased some books before leaving.
The author is the culture and sports news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 25, Page 31
by LEE YOUNG-HEE