Libraries and Japanese Language Learning

I am currently evaluating the viability of adding a Japanese language collection as well as updating our Japanese language learning resources in a midsize public library in the greater Boston area. I am curious where public libraries have provided useful resources (books, dvds, otaku groups, partnerships with businesses, etc) for your Japanese language learning and where they have fallen short.


I work for a library but it doesn’t have very good language resources for any languages, let alone Japanese. Most of the foreign language collection is children’s books, and there are very few books for adults, even in common languages like Spanish.

We do have Transparent Language online which is probably the best resource being offered by our library… I would say getting something like Pimsleur CDs would be useful, or seeing if you can get common beginner textbooks like Genki. I feel like libraries always buy [language] for dummies books instead of textbooks that are actually useful.


This is something I’ve noticed about both libraries and bookstores. I think this is true of most topics that are inaccessible to the general public, though. It’s kind of like how you might find books about how to use an iPhone or Microsoft Excel in the technology section, while there’s a dearth of books about more technical subjects. Once you already know the basics, you won’t be able to find much without looking in a more specialized place, like a university library or bookstore or an online shop.

Sometimes I wonder how frequently resources like this are actually used by library patrons. I’ve seen a few things like this, and they all look like they’re relics from another decade. I think I’d prefer physical media, but I’m sure it’s always a balancing act and some patrons probably want digital materials; I’ve also seen libraries offer Mango Languages and Rosetta Stone. I do wonder how much libraries are really getting for their subscription fee, though.

I agree with both of these points!


Agree with the ‘for dummies’ and simple phrasebook nature of most libraries. Mine also offers Mango and that kind of digital content.

The thing I would suggest though is thinking about the whole range of value-add for a library over and above simply ‘having textbooks’. That’s a good start, but what about subscribing to a couple of japanese-language newspapers or children’s shows, some long-running popular manga series - get all volumes so multiple people could be reading the series at different points. Something like that. So learners can have content to practice with. That’s where the library model shines, I want as much content as possible but don’t want to pay Amazon over and over, so if my library had more than Genki and Mango, I’d be a lot more interested.

Another thing a library can do is meetups! Get a language-learning group going through Genki or Minna no Nihongo. Now they have similar-minded people and interaction without having to convince their friends to join, and a meetup space without having to go to a sketchy person’s house. The WaniKani forums, but live in person. Book clubs (again like the wanikani forums). Even if the library can’t stock that many copies of each book, the value is the people and space. “Free book,” if possible, is just a bonus.


Self-reinforcing. Some people might start reading the series and get interested in the language, some people are learning the language and need practice content.

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Getting a japanese-speaking volunteer to do a free once-a-month, once-a-week, whatever they’re willing to do, group lesson/conversation practice would get me in the library.


Oh this 100% I would kill for a local meet up for practicing Japanese. Or even Spanish, which is more popular in English speaking countries.

I also think this is really good idea!

I’d also add that I think it’d be nice to have a couple of regular books in Japanese, not necessarily just books aimed at learners. I’ve never seen any Japanese resources in a library, but my local chain bookstore had a couple. I noticed that the most “advanced” book they had was a bilingual short story book for early intermediate learners.

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also seconding this

I’ve heard of libraries offering the Tadoku graded readers books (by ASK publishers) and that would be awesome because they are high quality but very expensive. They are so helpful at the early stages, and the quality of those is outstanding compared to the free ones. The problem is, you spend so much money on them and then only need them for a very short period. It’s the perfect resource candidate for a library from the user perspective. But each set is 5-6 books + a CD so not sure if that causes headaches with checking in and out and making sure it’s all there.

The other thing that I would love to see at a library would be a few picks at various difficulty levels. For example, you could look at Natively and get a couple series/books for the N4, N3, N2, N1 levels that are popular.

And if you can get digital resources, I wonder if Hiragana Times collaborate with libraries for access?

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You could also look into what it takes to become a JLPT testing site. (Although that might be more than you want to bite off as far as work that has to be done without enough paid staff)

I still think libraries are more about community than they are all about books. I think once there’s some amount of interest going, you could lean more and more into being (in part - among all the other things the library is doing) a Japanese cultural center. Have Go and Shogi clubs. Do a Japanese cooking demo. etc. Scaled to the interest level, of course.

Mikoshi building contest, then a parade

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Interesting suggestions - but OP is from Boston and that city has pretty much already covered all of those bases…

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