The library building was constructed in 1908 in a neoclassical style and initially used as the Affiliated Museum of the Business Property Bureau of the Civil Affairs Department under the Taiwan Government-General. With the construction of the museum's own building in 1915, this building became the library. Both museum and the library were just ten-minute walk away from each other. Through their imposing size and architectural styles, they spoke the international and imperial language of authority. In this way, they symbolized the putative modernity brought to the city by the Japanese colonial government (Lin 2008, 26-28; see also Tseng 2008).
The library was located behind the Taiwan Government-General's Building, at the site occupied by the Ministry of Justice today (the so-called Boai Building, at the intersection of the Boai and Baoching Roads). This site was under air raid during the World War II and so the original building from 1908 has not survived.
The library was a useful tool for managing and collecting knowledge. Moreover, as an institution of learning it embodied the civilizatory and modernizing mission of the imperial state. Scholars working on the history of libraries in the Japanese empire have argued that the Taiwan Government-General Library (Taiwan sōtokufu toshokan), just like its counterpart in Seoul, the Korea Government-General Library (Chōsen sōtokufu toshokan), had the following three goals:
- to collect the information necessary for managing the colony;
- to provide services to the Japanese settler community;
- and, to contribute to imperialization (kōminka) policies of “Japanizing” the colonized population (Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 14, 81).
The Taiwan Government-General Library actively expanded its services. It established a traveling library (meguri bunko), began lending books for off-site use, created a Reference Department (Dokusho sōdanbu), and organized regular training for the library staff in all the affiliated branches in Taiwan. Also, the library attracted prominent librarians from Japan. Between 1928 and 1945, Yamanaka Kikori (1882-1947) served as its director. He is credited with increasing the number of library users.
During Yamanaka's tenure librarians wrote texts for newspapers and journals introducing new books, published a monthly pamphlet with a list of newly acquired publications (Taiwan sōtokufu toshokan shincho tosho mokuroku), and organized an event for children every Saturday. Soon after the first radio station was established in Taiwan, the JFAK, it began broadcasting a thirty minute long program every Tuesday called “Tosho nyūsu” (Library news). The program introduced two to three books every week in an easily accessible manner geared towards wide audiences, able to understand Japanese. Yamanaka also commissioned creating a catalogue of all available books to make the library easier to use for its patrons (Haruyama 2018; see also Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 87-88).
The number of libraries in Taiwan also increased rapidly. In 1928, there were 35 libraries in Taiwan; by 1942, the island counted 93 libraries (Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 103).