Taiwan Government-General kept detailed statistics about its users. These statistics provide us with an image of an ideal colonial society divided neatly into distinct occupational categories of government employees, white-collar professions, and students. Blue collar occupations are absent this statistical record. Furthermore, the statistics of book use by thematic categories gesture to a shared body of knowledge made accessible throughout the network of libraries in the empire to all imperial subjects able to read in Japanese.
The official statistics reveal that the vast majority of users were male; one out of three was Taiwanese-Chinese (so-called hontōjin) and two out of three were Japanese (so-called naichijin). When we take into consideration the overall population numbers for Taipei, we can see that Japanese settlers were much more likely to use the library than Taiwanese-Chinese.
Most users viewed their books on site since borrowing books for offsite use required a deposit and was expensive. The library quickly became a place where students prepared for exams, with students constituting the largest group among visitors. The unemployed also visited the library, often to the chagrin of the librarians (Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 100, 106). In 1927, children paid 24,370 and students 98,168 visits to the Taiwan Government-General Library, suggesting that the youth in the colony was a major user group. (Patrons older than twelve counted as adults. Patrons between seven and twelve counted as children.) Other occupational groups tracked by the library were: Bureaucrats & the Military, Teachers & Clergy, Lawyers & Doctors, Journalists & Writers & Artists, Entrepreneurs, and the Unemployed.
Until 1926, artists were counted together with Lawyers & Doctors. However, in 1927 artists were moved into a new category that encompassed Artists & Writers & Journalists (who were previously categorized together with Teachers & Clergy) (Taiwan Sōtokufu Toshokan 1929, 16.) Such a shift suggests a recognition of these creative professions as a distinct social category and a user target group. Also, as producers of images of the colony for books, newspapers, posters, and advertisements, artists served a similar role to writers and journalists. In 1927, Artists & Writers & Journalists paid 291 visits to the Government-General Library, constituting the smallest professional group in the statistical record. By 1934, their number of visits grew to 714. That year, all of these visits were paid by male patrons, roughly one third Taiwanese Chinese, two thirds Japanese (Taiwan Sōtokufu Toshokan 1939, 16-17). Such numbers reflect male domination within the artistic profession.
Librarians also recorded the number of viewings for each category of books:
- literature & language,
- history and topography,
- law, economy, society, statistics, colonization,
- physics, medicine,
- engineering, military affairs,
- arts, and
- industry & household management.
In 1927, books from the Arts section had a total of 8,130 viewings; in 1928, 8,476, including 57 of books in Western languages and 8,419 in Japanese and Chinese (Taiwan Sōtokufu Toshokan 1929, 21). The number grew slightly in 1934, when the Arts section had 10,064 viewings (out of these only 53 were dedicated to books in Western languages, including 3 viewings by Taiwanese-Chinese patrons and 50 viewings by Japanese patrons) (Taiwan Sōtokufu Toshokan 1939, 18-19). For comparison, the most popular section in the library, Literature & Language, had 77,003 viewings that same year.
The relatively high number of viewings in the Arts section in comparison to the relatively small number of visits paid by artists and writers and journalists suggests two things. First, art related books must have been viewed by patrons of other occupational status as well. Second, some patrons requesting books in Arts may have actually been looking at books on film, music, sports and other kinds of entertainment, as these also belonged into the Arts section.
Statistics provide an aggregate image of library users and leave us with many questions open. For example, as Japanese and Chinese books were counted together, it is impossible to gauge from the available statistical record the popularity of Japanese language books vis-a-vis Chinese language books.