The Promotion of Reading Activities for Children in Japan


The "Law on the Promotion of Reading Activities for Children (Kodomo no Dokusho Katsudo Suishin ni kansuru Horitsu)" was established in December 2001. In order to put the spirit of the law into action, each prefecture and local government was requested to make a "Basic Plan for the Promotion of Reading Activities for Children (Kodomo no Dokusho Katsudo Suishin Keikaku)." According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), it was found that 41 prefectures had already made such a plan by the end of May 2004 while the remaining 6 prefectures are also planning to make it within FY2004. However, few local governments have made a plan or even started the work.

According to another survey done by the MEXT on the promotion of reading in schools in FY2004, 84.0% of elementary schools, 70.0% of junior high schools, and 30.2% of high schools have some school-wide activities for all their students to promote reading. These rates are the highest since the MEXT started the survey. The growth of the rate in junior high schools from FY2003 is most outstanding. More schools have started "morning reading," in which students are encouraged to read their favorite books in the morning before the class starts. There is also an increase in the number of the schools that invite reading volunteers to their libraries. About 1/3 of elementary schools accept such volunteers. But although reading promotion in schools is escalating, as the above surveys show, the school libraries have not yet been equipped with enough staff and books to support these activities.

The "School Library law" provides that a "teacher-librarian" (sisho kyoyu)*1 has to be employed for every school with 12 classes or more. Most schools fulfill the provision on the surface. In reality, however, most of the teacher-librarians are actually full-time homeroom/subject teachers and do not have enough time to spare for the reading activities. Appointing school librarians (gakko shisho)*2 who can work at the reading promotion activities in cooperation with teacher-librarians is also difficult under the current dificult conditions of local governments' finances.

Local communities throughout Japan have been receiving 13 billion yen in subsidies as maintenance fees for school libraries every fiscal year since 2002. However, because of their financial difficulties, some communities have even decreased the budget for the acquisition of library materials. Less than half of the school libraries have reached the number of books set as a standard.

To make up for the inadequate library collections, schools have increasingly started to work together with local public libraries. More than half of the elementary schools have already done so. According to another MEXT survey in FY2002, an elementary school pupil borrowed an average of 17.1 books per year from public libraries, the highest number since the survey started. This clearly shows the result of the active reading promotion in Japan in recent years.

Consequently the MEXT has launched a new project, the "school libraries' resource sharing network project" (Gakko Toshokan Shigen Kyoyu Network Suishin Jigyo). This project aims to promote sharing school library collections and excellent teaching practices by using library databases and networks; and to develop a training program for school teachers and librarians.

*1 Sisho kyoyu (teacher-librarians) are teachers who are in charge of school libraries. Most of them, however, do not work in school libraries on a daily basis.

*2 Gakko shisho (school librarians) are librarians in charge of school libraries. Most of them are working part-time, and their positions and employment patterns are diverse.


(2004.4.30 update)