Magazine article American Libraries

The Library as Welcome Wagon; When a Japanese Firm Sets Up Shop the Town Library Opens Community Doors and Minds

Magazine article American Libraries

The Library as Welcome Wagon; When a Japanese Firm Sets Up Shop the Town Library Opens Community Doors and Minds

Article excerpt

The library as welcome wagon

IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT AND THE joint is jumpin'. Loud music, singing, wine-sipping, munching, laughing, animated chattering, ken-dama playing, origami, gift-exchanging, dart-throwing--all happening in a conservative Midwest town in the public library! Can you believe it?

The place: Tecumseh, Mich. The occasion: welcoming the first wave of Japanese "dispatchees" from Lenawee Stamping Corporation to Tecumseh, their new corporate home.

Starting out as a library-hosted reception for the Japanese newcomers, our January "New Year, New Friends" party ended up as a business expo. Lenawee Stamping Corporation, a joint venture of Kiwa, Yamanoto, Kogai, Ondo and Mazda, had begun construction of its Tecumseh plant in late 1987.

Although the plant was needed economically--it now employes more than 400 local workers--there were mixed feelings in the community about the impending arrival of 150 Japanese families. Some people voiced long-held resentment towards the Japanese; others disapproved of any efforts to accommodate them, asking "Why can't they just adapt to our ways?" But many were excited about the increased cultural diversity and eager to learn some Japanese customs and language.

When we learned of tecumseh Public Library's new clientele, our initial response was to sign up to receive a monthly rotating collection of Japanese-language books from Detroit Public Library. As you would expect, we also beefed up our language collection, especially with audiocassettes of "everyday phrases" in Japanese. While city officials prepared for the groundbreaking ceremony, library staffers developed a brochure on the history of Tecumseh for the newcomers.

Chamber of Commerce members began expressing concern about effective ways of conducting business with the Japanese. To ease their minds, the library and the chamber cosponsored a day-long spring workshop, "Doing Business with the Japanese," complete with a catered Oriental luncheon. An overflow crowd of 65 from all over the county attended, and we had to turn away another dozen or more interested people. This seminar was the first local public event to address the upcoming changes in the community.

Knowing your neigbors

Library staff benefitted as much as anyone from the seminar on Japanese business etiquette. We learned that Japanese businesspeople are meticulous organizers, who want every last detail planned and on paper. That orientation was absolutely essential to our successfully planning the "New Year, New Friends" event. For example, because we properly presented our business cards to Lenawee officials at the beginning of a planning meeting and read their cards aloud as they were given to us, we were seen as courteous and professional by the Japanese managers. WE also learned that, because new Japanese companies are very concerned about public relations, librarians shouldn't hesitate to approach them with an idea that will involve them in the community.

After our workshop, an American-Japanese Cross-Cultural Committee picked up the ball and organized several similar programs, two of them hosted by the library.

As 1989 approached, it was time for the "dispatchees" to arrive; so far, only a few senior Japanese managers were actually in Tecumseh. Some local businesspeople had expressed a desire to meet with the Japanese in an informal setting. So we decided to throw a New Year's party.

Purposeful partying

On an icy, stormy Saturday afternoon in January, representatives of more than 50 area businesses managed to get to the library to set up displays. …

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