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This study explores the use of local public libraries by expatriate Japanese families staying in a micro-urban, university-centered community in the United States, with a specific focus on their reading and information gathering practices. The data used for the study was collected through semi-structured interviews the authors conducted in 2013. The expatriate families in this study consist of those who temporarily live in the area with clear prospects of returning to Japan. All of the families the authors interviewed included a member who was either a corporate transferee (i.e. an employee of a transnational corporation assigned to work in a U.S. office) or a degree-seeking international student, and had concrete plans to move back to Japan after a few years of stay in the United States. Dali (2012) identifies “immigrant readership” as one area in the library and information science scholarship where more research and evidence-based discussions are desired. Reading and information gathering activities of short-term transnational residents of the United States, such as the Japanese families in this study, are similarly less well documented or understood. Furthermore, due to the transient nature of their stay, border-crossing families of corporate transferees and international students have traditionally been less visible as members of “local communities” while public libraries sought to reach out to diverse and diversifying bodies of local residents. “Trailing” family members of international workers and students have also been outside of the scope of the service of academic and research libraries. This study finds that despite not being seen as a potential patron group, the non-employee or non-student members of the expatriate families frequently used local public libraries. Highly used and desired items centered on audio-visual titles and children’s books, due largely to their limited ability to read in English, but they were enthusiastic users of the public libraries, who actively chose materials to borrow based on their mobility prospects and (self-)educational needs. In addition, the study finds that in spite of obvious benefits to border-crossing families, the adoption of e-books was extremely low. This was partly due to a mismatch between the families’ language preferences and local libraries’ digital lending collections, and partly due to limited circulation of e-books published in Japan outside of the Japanese market. Drawing on the new mobilities paradigm (Sheller and Urry 2006) that posits different population groups and material objects ride the flow of globalization at much different rates, the authors argue that public libraries in the 21st century face challenges of developing effective strategies to engage with patrons with different levels of social, physical and transnational mobilities, as well as differentially mobile materials. The authors also discuss possibilities of future, more full-scale studies, as well as possibilities of building partnerships with public libraries based on the findings.



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Library and Information Science


Immigrant readership, Public libraries, Expatriate families


Presented at Library Research Seminar VI, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, October 7-9, 2014



Expatriate Japanese Families as Unexpected Users of Public Libraries: A Case Study in a College Town Community in the United States