Home > Publications > NDL Newsletter > No. 218, June 2018

National Diet Library Newsletter

No. 218, June 2018

All about the Collaborative Reference Database

Library Support Division
Kansai-kan of the National Diet Library

This article is a translation of an article in Japanese
from NDL Monthly Bulletin No. 683 (March 2018).


  1. What is the Collaborative Reference Database?
  2. Trial operation of the CRD Experimental Project
  3. Official launch of service
  4. Expanding our collaboration with others
  5. Future vision

1. What is the Collaborative Reference Database?

The Collaborative Reference Database (CRD) is an archive of information on library reference queries. It contains approximately 200,000 individual records that have been collected by the National Diet Library (NDL) in cooperation with CRD-member libraries throughout Japan. Many of these records were added to the database by member libraries and more than half of them are freely accessible online.

The CRD contains four different categories of information.

Reference query records
Reference queries are recorded when a patron asks a question that is answered by a librarian at a member library. Reference queries cover a diverse range of topics, such as "How large is the global market for elevators and what companies hold a share in the market?" and "What happens to ant nests when it rains? Do they get flooded?" A record of such reference queries is very useful when a similar question is asked by a different patron.
Search Guides
Search guides are created to explain methods for finding information about specific subject matter. They provide an introduction to basic information resources that are useful in starting a search. Search guides are generally created about subject matter for which questions are often asked or which library patrons have shown a strong interest.
Special Collections Guides
Special collections guides provide information about a specific collection owned by a member library. They include a description of the collection as well as information about how to use the materials and what if any restrictions have been placed on their use.
Profiles of Member libraries
Information on each member library that participates in the CRD.

<<Example of a reference query record>>

When a member library adds a reference query record to the database, it selects one of three levels of accessibility.

  1. General access records are accessible to the public without restriction.
  2. Member library records are accessible only to member libraries.
  3. Individual library records are accessible only to the library that originally added the record to the database.

The CRD is a uniquely useful database for two reasons. The first is that many different kinds of libraries take part in the program, including public libraries, university libraries, school libraries, and specialized libraries throughout Japan. Moreover, research institutions other than libraries, such as museums and archives, also participate in the program. Participation by a diverse range of organizations means that the CRD contains a wide variety of reference queries and other information.

The second reason is that the CRD places strong emphasis on accumulating and sharing information that is useful in providing reference services, such as tips on what tools and keywords are useful in searching for information on a particular subject. We analyze and evaluate reference queries when they are added to the database and use the results to configure the database efficiently.

2. Trial operation of the CRD Experimental Project

The CRD is managed by the Library Support Division at the Kansai-kan of the NDL, located in Kyoto. One of the key objectives for the Kansai-kan, which first opened in October 2002, was on the provision of digital library services. The CRD began as a three-year-long trial project to construct, operate, and develop the potential of a comprehensive database of reference queries and answers from libraries throughout Japan. In developing this system, our staff conducted surveys of how librarians record and utilize past reference queries, asking whether or not they already had a system in place for recording reference queries as well as what things they would consider to be essential functionality for such a database. We also looked into how digital reference services were being implemented overseas.

The first invitations to join the CRD Experimental Project were issued in 2003, and 148 public, university, and special libraries in Japan applied for membership. The database officially began operation on April 1 2004, at which point member libraries were able to add reference query records to the database.

Trial operation was concluded in the spring of 2005, after 137 people from 100 institutions participated that February in what was the first forum for CRD-member libraries. This forum was one of the first opportunities for reference librarians in Japan to meet and exchange opinions on topics such as how best to utilize reference query records, how to maintain quality, and the significance of the CRD as a cooperative venture for different kinds of libraries.

It was also at this time that we began to develop a comment function, so that member libraries could exchange ideas and information online.

3. Official launch of service

After this three-year trial operation, the project was renamed the Collaborative Reference Database Project in April 2005 and was opened to the public in December 2005. A Planning and Cooperation Meeting comprising employees from member libraries as well as outside experts has been in place since 2006. 2006 also marked the first appearance of Rehacchi, the CRD mascot.

4. Expanding our collaboration with others

The number of member libraries has increased steadily since that time, as has the total number of reference query records in the database, reaching 100,000 records in 2012. In response to numerous requests, CRD began to accept school libraries as member libraries in 2013. Also, an Application Programming Interface (API) for referencing reference query records has been available since 2010, thereby expanding opportunities for collaboration with other websites.

<<Growth in member libraries and reference query records in the CRD>>

5. Future vision

In 2014, the CRD's official Twitter account (@crd_tweet) topped 10,000 followers, and in 2015, the number of reference query records in the database reached 150,000. A recent tweet about a reference query from a child who asked "How can I become a wizard?" even went viral, garnering comments like "I never knew that libraries offered this kind of reference service" and "What a surprise to learn that librarians can answer this kind of question!" Looking back, it is clear that the CRD has been instrumental in the creation and nurturing of a variety of networks.

We at the NDL are proud of our commitment to the further development of the CRD project in collaboration with member libraries, contributors, and users.

(Translated by Rie Watanabe)