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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

The Legislative Support Services of Japan's Diet

Fumihisa Nakagawa, Deputy Director of the Research and Legislative Reference Bureau of the National Diet Library


The Japanese Diet went through a drastic transformation after World War II to adjust to the democratic principles set out in the new Japanese Constitution. The transformation process led to the real ization that the establishment of a parliamentary library with an effective research function was of paramount importance for the deliberation of State affairs by Diet Members. The National Diet Lib rary was thus established in 1948.

Library Organization

The Librarian is appointed jointly by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the House of Councillors with the approval of both Houses. General library management and polic ies are the responsibility of the Standing Committees for Rules and Administration of the Houses.

The Library consists of the Main Library, the Detached Library in the Diet, and two branch libraries. Currently there are 850 staff members in the National Diet Library, including the Librarian. Co llections include 6 million books, 140,000 periodicals titles, and 487,000 non book materials. The Library has a comprehensive collection of domestic publications acquired through its deposit system and a large collection of foreign publications.

The Library's budget for FY 1995 is 15,432 million yen (U.S. $186 million), excluding expenditures for facilities and construction.

Library Services

The main purpose of the National Diet Library is to assist Diet Members in the performance of their duties, but it also provides library services for the executive and judicial government agencies o f the national government and the general public. The National Diet Library, with the privileges accorded to it by the legal deposit system, endeavors to build a comprehensive collection of the reco rds of the nation's cultural achievements. It also collects as extensively as possible foreign publications that may be helpful to Japan's progress in culture and science. As the representative lib rary of Japan, the Library cooperates with libraries in foreign countries and inter library organizations.

The Research and Legislative Reference Bureau

The National Diet Library serves the Diet through its Research and Legislative Reference Bureau. The duties of the Research and Legislative Reference Bureau are to

  1. advise and assist the Diet in the analysis or evaluation of any subject matter pending before the Diet,

  2. gather and analyze data likely to help in deliberations and make them available to the Diet,

  3. provide bill drafting services upon request by a Member or committee, and

  4. make information the Bureau gathers available to the executive and judicial branches of the government and to the general public.

The Research and Legislative Reference Bureau also initiates research in anticipation of requests or basic studies. In order to fulfill these duties, the Bureau must maintain objectivity and complet e impartiality. Confidentiality is also an important obligation of the Bureau.

Organization for Efficient Response to Inquiries. The Research and Legislative Reference Bureau consists of 12 research services and 14 divisions. It has a staff of 154 people, including 16 senior specialists and 6 associate senior specialists.

Both on demand and anticipatory research are conducted. Besides the day to day requests for research, anticipatory research work helps the Bureau to answer inquiries in an efficient manner. The res ults of this kind of research are published in the Bureau's monthly periodical, Reference; the bimonthly Foreign Legislation; the monograph series, Issue Brief; and the occasional Research Material S eries.

Most inquiries for research are from Diet Members, but the Bureau also receives requests from the headquarters of political parties, the Secretariats, and the Legislative Bureaus of both Houses. The Bureau also occasionally receives requests from government offices and the private sector.

The form of the Bureau's answers varies according to the nature of the inquiries. About 80 percent of responses are with materials on a specific topic book loans from the library's collections or photoduplication of journal articles. Since about 70 percent of the inquiries demand a response within three days, rather than prepare a special report, research staff search materials and various d atabases, and offer the most suitable materials with comments to explain the standpoint of the author or indicate the lines containing useful information.

The responses also can be oral briefings, special reports, or assistance with bill drafting. Although these types of responses are few in number, they are time consuming.

Divisions are organized to address inquiries most efficiently: Politics and Parliamentary Affairs; Public Administration and Judicial Affairs; Foreign Affairs and National Defense; Finance; Trade, I ndustry, and Technology; Agriculture, Forestry, and Environment; Land Development and Communications; Education and Culture; Social Welfare and Labor.

The workload of the Bureau has grown through the years. The total number of inquiries answered in 1994 (20,377) is about 2.5 times the inquiries answered in 1980 (8,156), which indicates the increas ing importance of research activities of the Bureau to Diet Members. About 70 percent of the Diet Members receive the service of the Bureau.

Research Materials. The primary resource of the Bureau is the library materials stored in the central stacks of the National Diet Library. However, these materials are frequently out on loan and in most cases requests from Diet Members demand an urgent reply. Thus the Bureau keeps its own materials to provide appropriate and timely answers. These materials (about 200,000 books and 1,500 titl es of periodicals) are called "research materials," and are maintained separately from the general library materials of the National Diet Library. The budget for research materials is 44 million yen (U.S. $530,000) per year.

Statutes and Parliamentary Documents. Statutes and parliamentary documents of various countries are an extremely valuable resource for the research activities of the Bureau. About 340,000 volumes o f materials of this kind are kept in the Statutes and Parliamentary Documents Room of the Bureau for research staff and for the use of the general public.

Automated Information Services for Diet Members

The Library has embarked on a comprehensive automation system. The objective is to develop overall automation of the Library's operations in order to serve as an "information center" of Japan by for ming a computer network with domestic and overseas libraries and information centers.

The On line Information System. Since 1971 the National Diet Library has electronically compiled bibliographies and indexes of materials. An on line information retrieval system (National Diet Libr ary On line Information Retrieval Network System, NOREN) was developed based on the accumulated data. The Library's on line service started in 1980, and this previously in house system was extended to the Diet in the spring of 1985.

Index to the Debates of the Diet. The Research and Legislative Reference Bureau introduced automated information services in advance of any other department of the Library. In autumn 1971 it comple ted a system for the automated compilation of one of the most important publications, "General Index to the Debates of the Diet." The data base of this index is now available for on line retrieval t hrough NOREN. Diet Members can search the data base of Debates (records of plenary and committee meetings) by two kinds of indexes speakers (names of Diet Members, cabinet ministers, government d elegates, witnesses, etc.) and subjects (terms), and also by dates and names of meetings or names of government agencies.

Text Data Bases for Debates. Many Diet Members and their staff are interested in rapid information retrieval and quick acquisition of the text of the Debates. So in addition to that data base, the Bureau began constructing the "Optical Disk Filing System for Debates" in FY 1992. About 1.3 million pages of the Debates of the Diet will be stored on optical disks by FY 1996. The system enables users to display the text of debates on a terminal and then to print it. By connecting this optical disk system with a facsimile machine, each Diet Member can, upon request or in person, receive the full text of the past Debates in his or her office. This system is linked with the data base of the Index to the Debates.

The National Diet Library, together with the Secretariats of both Houses, also started to investigate the construction of a full text data base for Debates. By recording electronically the records o f the plenary and committee meetings, the data base will make it possible to supply texts to Diet Members even more promptly. This full text data base system for Debates is supposed to be completed in 1999 at the latest. In the early twenty first century the data base will be opened to nationwide and worldwide personal computer networks, and any person will be able to search through the Debate s of the Diet.

Total Management Systems of Parliamentary Inquiries and Materials. The Bureau also is investigating the construction of a total management system of parliamentary inquiries and of research materials . Such a system will increase efficiency of handling requests and at the same time facilitate document deliveries to the Diet.

In addition to the data bases it produces, the National Diet Library is utilizing both domestic and international commercial data bases.

The Future of Services to the Diet

One of the key issues in Japan has become the reform of the Diet in response to the change in international situations and domestic political situations. The Diet seeks reinforcement of its function s, including regaining a policymaking or policy planning ability. In this context, the initial idea of the National Diet Library with a parliamentary library with an effective research function is e ssential.

On the eve of the twenty first century, the National Diet Library itself is changing. The plan to build a new library in the Kansai area (Kyoto) has gained budgetary support. The new library will f unction as a document supply center, and the medium conversion of library materials already has started. The Research and Legislative Bureau is planning to amplify its information service through au tomation and to enrich its ability to provide analytical research services and prepare for the needs of the Diet.