Japanese American National Library

The Japanese American National Library (JANL) is a private nonprofit organization located in San Francisco, California. Since 1969, it has served the public as a national Japanese American resource center that devotes its attention to collecting and preserving primary and secondary source material related to Japanese Americans. The library makes their materials available to the public, and it provides information and referral services.

The library came into existence as part of the Center for Japanese American Studies in 1969 during the student strike at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), when students demanded the creation of an ethnic studies program. That movement represented one of the first times that different ethnic groups worked together, setting the precedent for Asian American coalitions. Asked by a group of S.F. State students to help develop an ethnic studies curriculum in anticipation of university approval, Karl Matsushita began compiling basic curriculum materials while Tetsuden Kashima and James Hirabayashi set about establishing some program guidelines.

In the beginning many people involved with the library sacrificed some of their own savings to help the library buy books and other materials. Additionally, many authors have donated their books to the library including many privately published books. The library also receives donated subscriptions from many Japanese American vernacular newspapers in the United States and Canada.

Matsushita became the library's first full-time employee in 1981. In the same year, the library was finally able to move to a dedicated space in the Nichibei Kai building in San Francisco's Japantown, allowing the collection to be moved from personal garages and basements. As the collection grew, space, or lack of it, became a major problem for the library and they were able to move in 1987 to its present location at 1619 Sutter Street, the 1st floor of the Hinode Towers.

In 1985 the library separated from the Center for Japanese American Studies and became a separate non-profit, in order to facilitate dedicated fundraising for the library. The library has continued to to fight for its survival due to perilous funding and lack of a steady revenue stream.

The library holds an extensive collection of material relating to the exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans, including books, manuscripts, and newspapers. The most significant collection held by the JANL is the Japanese American Citizens League History Collection, essentially the archives of the JACL. The library also holds the papers of the JACL's redress movement related efforts. Matsushita remains the director and the face of the organization.

Authored by Lewis Kawahara

For More Information

Japanese American National Library Website.

Santoki, Mark. "Karl Matsushita: JANL's Pioneer Librarian Faithfully Serves the AJA Community." Hawaii Herald , June 16, 2000, A-4.

Last updated June 13, 2024, 3:20 p.m..