In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, with increasing unemployment, the small effects of economic stimulus packages and debt-ridden economies with deflationary tendencies, many economists see the downward economic trajectory of Japan as a possible route for the rest of the advanced OECD economies. In this context, the way Japanese public library services are affected by the 'hard times' is of interest regarding prospective developments in public libraries in the OECD countries outside Japan, and regarding the design of policies for maintaining high quality library services in a prolonged economic downturn. From 1997 the number of permanently employed librarians declined, and funds for materials shrank. Interviews with librarians, library directors, and leading officials at prefectural and ministerial levels, show that these changes were even more dramatic than the statistics reveal. Tentative explanations for the changes relating to the Japanese political economy are discussed. Hypotheses regarding both Japan specific policies and institutions, and imported neo-liberal policies and institutions are put forward.
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