Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Library in Japan publishes collection of misremembered book titles

The Fukui Prefectural Library is seen in the city of Fukui on Sept. 15, 2014. (Mainichi/Takeshi Noda)

OSAKA -- Ever go hunting for a book without quite remembering the title? Perhaps you've gone to a library counter and declared, "There's this book, and it's called, um," and then uttered something ridiculous. And at one library in Japan, the librarians are writing those down. And now they've put them in a book.

    The Fukui Prefectural Library in the city of Fukui has been noting misremembered book titles and publishing them -- along with the volumes' correct titles -- on their website since 2007. That and the collection, published on Oct. 20, are intended to make people more aware that the library can track down that foggily recalled title for you, and as hints for finding them on your own.

    Examples in the book include Mikako Brady's "I'm Yellow, White and a Little Blue" and Yoko Sano's "The Cat that Lived a Million Times," which users respectively thought were, "Bloody so-and-so's 'yellow, white and sometimes blue' or something like that. There were three colors," and, "The cat that died a million times."

    Silly mistakes they may be, but everyone has likely had similar experiences. And the library has reference services to help search through its holdings in just these situations.

    "I feel this function of the library is not widely known or used," a library representative said.

    The misremembered book title list on the library's website caught the attention of the online community in 2009. In response, the library began collecting more examples, which have become regular viral hits ever since.

    "Usually, we receive one example of a misremembered title per month, but when we go viral on Twitter, we get about 10 examples per day," the staffer said, adding that the library has collected about 900 examples so far.

    But how can the library help a user who has completely forgotten the name of a book, or remembered it completely wrong? Librarian Kumi Ito says they first use keywords recalled by the user as clues. "There is a reference book for each topic, like food and kinds of things, and we sometimes look up (books) based on those. If we know around when the visitor read the book, we can narrow things down by time of publication."

    She says the most difficult cases are when an adult is searching for a book they read as a child. In addition to direct clues such as whether the story "appeared in a textbook" or "was homework," sometimes a book can be found using seemingly irrelevant hints, such as "what things and issues were in fashion" when they read the book. "We try to get clues through conversations," Ito said of the detective-like work.

    People are now able to do research using the internet and smartphones. But the internet is overflowing with information, which can actually make it difficult to track down what you are looking for. Ito says that though libraries can also use the internet to conduct searches, libraries' strengths are that they can trace cited works and provide reliable information.

    "At the library, we've long been using tools that we know will get us to the thing we're looking for. We provide reference services using both the internet and paper materials," she explained.

    The Fukui Prefectural Library's carefully selected collection of 90 solved cases of misremembered titles is published by Kodansha Ltd. and is on sale at bookshops across Japan. Its name translates to "The cat that died a million times: a collection of titles remembered incorrectly."

    Ito says she hopes that "the book is an opportunity for people to learn about library work and reference services."

    (Japanese original by Mai Suganuma, Osaka City News Department)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media