News From An Academic Library in Japan

It is now just over two weeks since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We have all seen the images of massive destruction, heard and read the stories of death and suffering, and witnessed the fortitude of the Japanese citizens as they attempt to return to normalcy despite the ongoing severity of the crisis in their country. There’s nothing I could say or tell you about what is happening in Japan that would be more insightful or eloquent than what Garr Reynolds shared.

In 2009 my library was visited by three academic librarians from Tohoku University. Even though we spent just one day together, we learned a great deal from each other. They were eager to hear about our information literacy initiative because that is something still rare among academic libraries in Japan. We were curious about the Japanese system of higher education, and how academic libraries were operated (for example, the Dean of Libraries is often a non-librarian faculty member). Tomoe Hanzawa was the lead librarian of the visiting group; she was the best English speaker and did the translating. In the wake of the news coming out of Japan my thoughts turned to Tomoe and her colleagues. She is the librarian at the Science and Engineering Library at Tohoku, which I thought was in the region where the earthquake struck, but I needed to check on that. Sure enough, Tohoku is in the Northern region of Japan, but not among the cities that took a direct hit from the tsunami.

I e-mailed Tomoe to try to get some news. I was hoping to hear that she and her colleagues were safe, and that hopefully her institution had been spared much damage. I heard nothing for a week. Then finally, last Tuesday I received a response. The good news was that she and her colleagues had survived the earthquake and were safe. Tomoe did not have access to e-mail until the electricity was restored, but she said she was glad to hear from me – and she was thankful that American academic librarians were seeking news about their fellow librarians in Japan. While Tohoku University was spared the complete destruction that occurred in other cities owing to its more Northern location, there was still extensive damage to the campus. Yesterday, Tomoe shared a few photos with me so I could get a sense of the damage at her library:

This first photo is a scene from the Reading Room:

Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.

Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.

The journal collection was hit hard:

Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing

Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing

As you might expect, given the first two photos, a great deal of clean up work will be needed in the main book stacks:

Significant damage in the library book stacks

Significant damage in the library book stacks

The severity of the damage appears worst in the microforms area:

Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake

Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake

Tomoe sent me photos that showed other damage caused by the earthquake including cracks in the interior walls of the Library, and cracks and other problems on the building exteriors. But given the severity of the earthquake it’s amazing that the buildings are still standing – and we’ve all heard much about how the Japanese engineer their buildings to withstand quakes.

I was glad to learn, that despite the physical damage at Tohoku University, Tomoe and her colleagues are safe and starting to recover – and that is going to take a long time. But things are far worse in other parts of Japan. I hope to learn more about anything specific that we can do to help our academic library colleagues in Japan. Right now, they are just trying to figure out the extent of the damage, and how they can restore some degree of normalcy. I will stay in touch with Tomoe to see if there is any way we can provide assistance. For now, the best way to help is to make a generous contribution to any of the several charitable organizations accepting donations. If you have any news of other Japanese universities impacted by the earthquake or tsunami please share what you have learned.

Many of us are headed to ACRL in Philadelphia to learn, to share and to enjoy each other’s company. As we have these experiences, let’s not forget that our fellow academic librarians in Japan are having a completely different experience – and let’s think about how we can help them as they seek to recover from what will likely be one of the worst natural disasters of the 21st century.

UPDATE – 3/30/11: I received an update from Tomoe in which she let me know she and her colleagues are already hard at work putting the library back to normal. See here. AMAZING!

4 thoughts on “News From An Academic Library in Japan

  1. Thank you for sharing this information with me. It has been very frustrating to myself and several of my colleagues whose families come from and are in Japan not to hear more news about what’s happening to the people and structure of the country. We really appreciate hearing about the people in Japan, and hope that your friends will continue to share their stories with us.

  2. I’ve only hear about it, bit now I see the photos… I have relatives who worked in the library and I coulndt comprehend the devistation they have to deal with until i saw this post.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, the experience of those that were effected by the earthquake, and the pictures. In the .pdf file it looks like they were able to get the library back in order. One thing I was going to ask/mention was that although this post is a few months old… do you think you can put back up the original pictures you posted for this article? Currently they are not loading. If it is too much of a hassle, nevermind.

    Obviously in the last few years there have been a lot of natural disasters, and while this one was one of the worst… I found it interesting to read the other day of how many people turned in lost items(like wallets, and other valuables) to the proper authorities. Really, that is how things should be worldwide in a time of crisis… and even on a daily basis. We really can learn something from those in Japan who experienced this great tragedy. Thanks again for posting these details.

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