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SEIKA, Kyoto Pref. — The Internet age is offering libraries a chance to shed the image of musty rooms lined with overflowing shelves and endless reference materials.

The Kansai branch of the National Diet Library — due to open here Oct. 7 — is hoping services it will offer via the Net can help users acquire information more quickly and easily.

The National Diet Library in Tokyo is the nation’s largest library, formed in 1948 and modeled after the U.S. Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service.

But an increasing number of materials prompted the construction of the 6-million-volume capacity Kansai-kan. Its shelves will also hold about 100,000 reference materials and government publications as well as 50,000 publications on and from other parts of Asia.

The new library, however, is not just extra storage space.

“With more and more people using the Internet, a library must provide the public with new services using this technology,” said Makoto Tanaka, a Kansai-kan spokesman. “People living far away can also benefit (from our electronic access system).”

In line with the opening of Kansai-kan, the National Diet Library will launch in January a system whereby registered users can use the Internet to access the library’s database and catalogs, as well as take advantage of photocopying services.

Catalogs and indexes available online will cover about 2.75 million Japanese and foreign books, 5 million magazine articles, 190,000 doctoral theses published in Japan, and other publications.

Users can also view materials ranging from the minutes of Diet sessions and valuable works such as “emakimono” pictured hand scrolls, as well as Meiji Era publications. The Meiji items will be available online for the first time.

Due to copyright limitations, only about 30,000 books will be available for Net reading when the service starts, but the number is expected to increase gradually to 170,000, according to Tanaka.

“Clearing copyright issues takes time. Sometimes, it is difficult to find the owner of the copyright,” Tanaka explained.

Another feature of Kansai-kan is a large number of materials in other Asian languages as well as Japanese materials on Asia, most of which was sent from the National Diet Library in the capital.

About 50,000 items on Asia, including local newspapers, are available for perusal in the library’s 350-seat reading room.

“The Kansai region has a long history of relations with other parts of Asia, and there are many Asian experts here, hence the need for Asian materials at the Kansai-kan,” Tanaka said.

Although the Internet service will initially only be offered in Japanese and English, other Asian languages will be available later via the in-house computer system.

Most of the seats in the reading room are equipped with computers, making it easy for users to search for what they need, staffers said, adding that people can also use the computers to request materials stored in closed areas.

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