The Japan Art Catalog (JAC) project was established in 1996 as a means of collecting publications related to Japanese exhibitions in order to provide transnational access for researchers in art. The vast majority of such publications falls under the category of "gray literature" since they do not enter normal channels or systems of publication, distribution, bibliographic control, or acquisition by booksellers or subscription agents. They are privately printed and only available directly through the galleries or museums that host or hosted the exhibition in question. The JAC project was established as a result of lobbying by Ellen P. Conant, the American scholar who encountered enormous difficulties in accessing exhibition catalogs in the course of her research for a 1995 exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
The Japan Association for Cultural Exchange (ACE Japan), a non-profit organization under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked Japanese museums to voluntarily donate two copies of each of their exhibition catalogs. While one copy was sent to the library of the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, D.C., the other was kept for researchers in Japan as part of the Art Catalog Library (ACL), the first-ever library in Japan specializing in the collection of exhibition catalogs. The project gradually expanded to have three additional institutions as partners: the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney, the library of the Institute for East Asian Art History at the University of Heidelberg, and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. During their years of operation, ACE Japan sent out over 8,000 catalogs to these partner institutions. In 2004, when ACE Japan was forced by circumstances to terminate the JAC Project and the library service, the Preparatory Office of the National Art Center decided to take over the project and the ACL collection for the Art Library.
Today, the National Art Center considers the project an important contact point for international cultural exchange, and has developed friendly relations with the 4 depository libraries listed below. Since FY2006, the Center has been sending a total of nearly 2,000 catalogs a year to these locations, the bibliographic records of which are available on the web via each institution’s online catalog as well as union catalogs such as OCLC’s WorldCat. The JAC materials abroad are not only in use on-site, but also available for consultation off-site via interlibrary loans.
The Center also became the home of the JAC II collection of publications related to exhibitions on Japanese art held outside of Japan, which was initiated by the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC) in exchange for Japanese contributions. A selection of the JAC II collection is shelved in open stacks of the Art Library.