Libraries after the Japan quake and tsunami


Here's a heart-breaking saddening collection of photos showing earthquake and tsnuami damage to Japanese libraries, apparently uploaded by Japanese librarians and library workers.

図書館の被害画像(2011年東北地方太平洋沖地震)Earthquake Damage to Libraries 新規 (Thanks, Thrind, via Submitterator)

(Image: Popongap)

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  1. Heart-breaking? I love books, I love libraries… but heart-breaking? I didn’t see any flooding or other damage to the books, the libraries themselves seemed to have weathered the earthquake without that much structural damage. Just put the books back and they are good to go!

    I’m sure there are other libraries that aren’t even there anymore, along with their librarians and patrons. _That_ is heart-breaking.

    1. Heartbreaking, yes, because these are not photos of tsunami damaged libraries, because those are just gone now. It is a much more heartbreaking story than the predicted, and therefore predictable, engineering failures being debated in other threads.

      Those events are tragic, but the heartbreak there is man’s failure, caused by mans greed. A lost library is a heartbreaking end, by natural disaster, of what is nearly a temple to mans highest capability, understanding.

      1. Sorry, I’m all with CH here.

        Context is everything and with thousands dead and ten of thousands homeless and traumatized, a few flooded libraries are not heart-breaking. It’s just STUFF.

        They didn’t get destroyed out of greed, no mob burned books to destroy ideas, the libraries didn’t get closed down to save each taxpayer a dollar a year and they weren’t abandoned because no one cared to read anymore.

        Again: It”s just stuff. There might be a rare edition in there that’s gone now, but even that’s neglliable when compared to th rest of the catastrophe.

        All this can be build, reprinted, restocked.

        Yes, those are sad pictures,they would undoubtedl have a bigger impact if only ethe library had been bit.

        But heartbreaking? Only for people with a book fetish. . I have a genuinely bad taste in my mouth after reading this piece.

        1. Might you parse my statements more carefully? such that the nuclear plants failing is because of greed, for more electricity, and for that I cannot feel that badly, but for the lost people and their lost aspirations, I feel heartbroken.

          Yeah, it’s just ‘stuff’ sure. Stuff and people have nothing to do with one another. Same way churches/temples/mosques are just ‘places’. Nobody is heartbroken when those get lost? Or certainly they’re worthy of derision.

          Maybe you could give a little credit such that, for people with “a book fetish” the loss of a library is quite like the loss of a church (and it’s community) is for people who have a god/allah “fetish”.

          So you have a “bad taste in your mouth”? Maybe that is what I smell on your breath?

          1. What on earth are you talking about? The libraries in _these_ pictures are there, more or less unharmed. Could you perhaps explain what is heart-breaking about _these_ pictures.

            As much as I love libraries, and I love libraries with my whole heart, yes, it’s just stuff that can be replaced. I would be heart-broken about a lost museum or a historical site, but that is still just stuff. And in the context of what has happened, my heart is breaking way, way too much for all the people lost and all the people still living who have lost their families and friends, to even muster a “that’s interesting” about _these_ pictures. Hundreds of thousands had their lives turned upside down, the libraries can and will be rebuilt.

          2. yes, these.

            Title: Libraries after the Japan quake and tsunami

            Photos: Libraries after the Japan quake…

            now, please stop telling people how they are allowed to feel.

          3. Exactly. A destroyed library is unfortunate, but unless its a special building or with a special collection, it’s just stuff. It’d be a tragedy if a First Folio in the British Library was lost, but a paperback of the same content in my local library, is entirely replaceable and utterly trivial. No content is lost; just stuff.

            And in this case it’s not even that: the libraries in these photos are still standing, and the books are still there; from an admittedly cursory glance, it doesn’t look as if many are more than scuffed.

            emmdeeaych: do you honestly think it’s ‘heartbreaking’, or even ‘saddening’, that a bunch of books fell on the floor?

          4. I think some of the books here are more than scuffed:

            http://twitpic.com/49ch42

            But I agree it’s mostly lost stuff (which can be replaced) and lost effort (which can be redone). It’s not a tragedy on the scale of the deaths, injuries, etc.

            But life is not a zero-sum game, and we can be sad about lost stuff and effort, without diminishing the sadness about the deaths and other stuff.

    2. … Goodness… I genuinely hope the Japanese librarians who uploaded those pics don’t find this post. This is nothing compared to the devastation of buildings and loss of lives but it obviously meant enough to them to show to the rest of us… and to see them being DOWNGRADED from heart-breaking to saddening would suck balls.

  2. Well, implicitly horrifying, maybe, because it prompts me to think of the libraries that actually got hit with the tsunami as well; but I find no small joy in seeing shots of libraries where the books have just been tossed around and need to be picked up off the floor and reorganized.

  3. I’m impressed that most of the shelves are still standing. Our local library in SoCal has signs all over saying ‘run in case of earthquake’. Which is probably a good idea since the shelves are at least seven feet tall and the aisles are only three feet wide.

  4. It’s stupid to admit almost, considering all the chaos that’s happening to Japan.. but being a bookworm and seeing the condition of these libraries bothers and saddens me.

    Still keeping things in perspective, i am more concerned about the people and how they will begin to rebuild their lives. I wish there was more i could do to help. I have a lot of friends in Japan.

  5. I find this collection of photos oddly beautiful. Surreal. Humorous even. Not so much for the books that are on the ground, but for the books that remained on the shelves.

  6. We live in a world of hyperbolic statements, but it was a poor choice of words. 10,000 people being washed away in a single small town, Minamisanriku – that’s heartbreaking.

  7. Unbelievably, so many structures and interiors here survived the quake just fine – only to be destroyed by the tsunami.

    I suspect that pictures like these evoke the strong feelings they do because a book is small, recognizable, and fits in your hand… plus everyone’s got a few at home. Perhaps it is more familiar to those outside the affected area than far off shots of fire and plooms of smoke.

    Every one of these books was at one time touched by a human hand. It just tears me up inside.

  8. One thing worth noting is that Japan is the only place in the world where there are a large number of libraries dedicated to Japanese books and literature, all concentrated on a a few islands. Consider how well distributed popular works in English or Spanish would be as a comparison.

  9. I cannot find the source, so forgive my lack of citation, but I believe that during the Battle of Stalingrad, in the midst of widespread destruction, utter lack of food and resources, and deathly winter cold, citizens (possibly soldiers) barricaded some of the city’s libraries to protect the books within – not only from the ravages of full scale war, but from being burned as fuel by the desperate populous.

    In Egypt, during the recent unrest, civilians took it upon themselves to occupy and protect the national museums and archives, and to oppose those who would loot and pillage priceless historical artifacts.

    How does on value a human life? How does on value a book? We in America are often nonchalant about books. After all, they’re cheap and plentiful, right? Furthermore, as many Americans see books chiefly as entertainment and objects of idle curiosity, one might ask what could a book possibly have to say that could be worth a single human life?

    Ask those who have risked their own lives to protect books. ASk those who have died for “revolutionary” ideals, all throughout the world and the ages. Ask why Americans themselves cherish the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution of The United States of America. They’re just pieces of paper – they’ve been copied countless times, no? Who cares if they go up in flame, or are washed away in flood? Aren’t there bigger concerns?

    I cannot judge the value of either human life or books. I don’t think it fair to compare them. To disregard the loss of culture in the face of the loss of life is illogical. They are different tragedies, incomparible in their natures.

    Both represent human potential. A life can produce many things. A book can influence many lives. Both deserve reverence, and the loss of one should not be cheapened by comparison to the loss of the other. They are both distinct causes for sorrow.

    ~D. Walker

  10. Blogs are fascinating because you can see right into someone’s mind and into the things that move them. I don’t mean disrespect, but this is not saddening to me. For people that think life is meaningful because of its supposed order and the attachment to things we produce, there are so many other things to consider. This is just an example of bourgeois… oh, forget it. Everything is relative to one’s experience.

  11. Second me as one who thinks this is sorta humorous. Maybe it’s sad in the eye of the librarians who have to reorganize them all? One of the images, showing about 20 books piled up in the middle of an aisle actually gave me a chuckle.

  12. Amazing. Apparently, an author can’t sympathise (on his own site) with other bibliophiles, who have put together an amazingly specific gallery of one tiny aspect of the disaster. Of course the human cost is the real issue, but this is one way of engaging with the reality of the events.

  13. These photos are actually heartwarming, if you 1) actually look at them, and 2) don’t have such a fetish for organization that some messy books upset you.
    Why? Because in almost all of these photos, there’s *no damage* to anything! Just a bunch of piles of books that can be easily reorganized.
    Seriously, I’m happy for these librarians. They have something to do that will keep them occupied so they don’t have to think about the fact that the rest of their country is in shambles.

  14. Every library has significant works and one of a kind pieces. Japanese libraries even more so due to their unique language and small geographic distribution.

    The destruction of the efforts of humans is sad, and can be heart breaking. Would you mock someone for calling the burning of the library of Alexandria a tragedy? What if the Sistine Chapel or the Mona Lisa were destroyed – would you mock people for being saddened over that? This is no different. Creative output was destroyed, some of it doubtless unique. Just because it doesn’t fall into your limited sphere of understanding you choose to belittle it.

    1. So books falling off their shelves = the whole library burning? I’m sure there are some rare books here and there, but Japanese libraries are like ours- most contain regular books for regular people to read. They haven’t lost their national history or anything.

    2. The library at Alexandria a has ad nothing but books written out by hand. Each “volume” was an individually-crafted work of art made by an artisan’s labour: there was no
      mass mechanical printing of any books whatsoever in those days.

      The unique works which have been lost by Japan over the past three or four days, and thus lost to the world as well, are and ought to be lamented; and I shall drop a tear over them.

      But re-shelving those materials which continue to exist in thousands of copies is just a necessary chore.

      Perhaps a song would help with the toil:

      …and maybe our little animal friends will help, too….

  15. Casting in support to the “it’s just stuff” sentiment. Given the context, this blog post is pretty damn inappropriate.

  16. I work at an international school in central Tokyo.
    Here are some pics of the library that I work in, taken by a colleague in the early evening of March 11, 2011.

    http://twitpic.com/49fdwh
    http://twitpic.com/49ff24

    I may have my work cut out in the coming days, but that is nothing compared to the suffering up north. Books, while lovely, are simply replaceable collections of paper, glue and ink. Please spare a thought, and perhaps some cash if you can spare it, for those who have lost so much more.

    I am grateful that my family, our students and my co-workers suffered no injuries that day and that we will all live to read, write and create another day.

  17. To me, and without looking too closely (at the chairs at the far side of the photo), this appeared to be a picture of books floating in a flooded library with a number of the shelves still intact.

    Don’t play the game where bits of destruction have to be “worthy” enough for anyone to frown over them. That’s ridiculous. Even if some aspects of the earthquake and tsunami are significantly more horrible than others, that doesn’t mean that the others aren’t horrible on their own. (Or, although I’m not saying that anyone is making this comparison or that it’s completely equivalent, it’s still OK to cry over your dead dog when the guy down the street lost a child. It’s not like there’s a universal sadness equilibrium and being upset about the dog somehow dishonors the child. What affects you is what affects you, and it’s possible to be affected by both, and rude to say that the “lesser” thing shouldn’t continue to affect you in the presence of the greater one, especially when you weren’t indifferent to the greater one to begin with.)

  18. The National Library in Tokyo is an incredible building, located just behind and to the West of the Parliament. That thing is built like a bunker, and I’m sure it’s rated like one also. Japan certainly has its share of literary treasures, and anything that is “irreplaceable” is– rest assured– in a well-protected vault inside an earthquake-proof structure. If anything, the Japanese are obsessive about safety.

    Sure, books scattered on the floor is a mess and it will have to get cleaned up, but this is not a tragedy, it’s a mess.

    for those posts in this thread who seem to be commenting that they feel no sympathy connected to the nuclear problems, I would ask that they think a little more: a society needs energy, and Japan has no alternative but to go with nuclear: there’s no oil, there’s no coal, there’s no natural gas. The Japanese tried to get their own oil resources a long time ago (75 years ago), but that didn’t work out so well.

  19. Well, I worked in the science and engineering library while at university, shelving books. A mind-numbing endeavor on the best of days.

    Anyone who has worked in a library can appreciate these photos as representing a huge mind-numbing task ahead. Does it compare to the death and destruction elsewhere in the country?

    Of course not. But it gives a valuable glimpse into how such disasters affect everyone, not just those directly hit. In this case, perhaps it’s trivial, but it allows for a human connection. Most of us, thankfully, will have a hard time directly relating to widespread death and destruction. Simple things like this can help people relate.

    I can imagine the people who clean these up stopping momentarily from their task as they realize what they’re doing as compared to what’s happening elsewhere in their country. A moment that will likely result in many tears ending up being shelved with books all across the country. There’s something intangible here.

  20. It’s heartbreaking to see so many books off library shelves and on the floor. Even this much damage will take weeks to reshelve, and the physical damage to both building structures & book structures is yet unknown. It seems fortunate that these photos show no flooded libraries.

    In the aftermath of disasters little is ever the same again. After 20+ years as a disaster response consultant, a disaster of this magnitude will affect Japanese libraries for years to come.

  21. I was actually impressed with how few fallen shelves there were in those pics. After the Northridge quake here in LA, most bookstores and home libraries I checked were masses of fallen-over and collapsed shelving units. (I confess I didn’t check the public libraries, which generally have very sturdy, well-braced shelves).

    Apparently, it never occurred to a lot of people that a 10-foot tall shelving unit full of books might fall over in a quake.

    Some of them even invoked the classic quake-mistake that a lot of people make: “That shelving unit is really heavy. It’s not going anywhere.” But of course, that’s precisely the problem – the heavy shelf isn’t going anywhere, but the floor it’s standing on IS. In a quake, inertia is not your friend.

  22. Hello, internet. I’m here to once again remind you that you are in fact allowed to care about more than one thing at a time.

    It’s okay to find this heart-breaking.

    It’s okay to be worried for Maru.

    It’s okay to be worried about the nuke reactors.

    You can find the human toll to be heart-breaking (and you will), while also finding these other things to be disturbing, heart-breaking or worrying.

    In closing, internet, you’re not holier than anyone else. It’s a tragedy, not a race.

    kthnxbai

    1. Hello internet! Might I remind you that when you publicly grieve for books at the same instant and with the same intensity as for the victims of an earthquake, it implies that you value books just as much as you value living people. Even if that is not the case, you shouldn’t be surprised when people assume as much and get offended. This is not a moralistic over-reaction on their part, but instead a miscommunication on yours. It can be easy to miss if you don’t read between the lines, so be careful.

      1. it implies that you value books just as much as you value living people.

        No. It’s stupid. A sad thing is a sad thing. There can be multiple instances of sad things. If you have short term memory problems, then I suppose you could read this as “Screw the people, look at these books!”

        But why would you think that? Are you saying that Cory posting this article points to his obvious internal conflict on whether he values human lives or books more?

        No, I certainly hope not. Because that wouldn’t make any sense.

  23. I wouldn’t necessarily relish the task of having to reshelve all those books, but I’d still be pretty thankful that I was alive and still had a job to go to.

  24. 東日本大震災で被災された方々、
    ご家族、ご親戚、ご友人の方々に、
    心よりお見舞い、哀悼の意を表します。

    korean people pray for the soul of the deceased.

    please leave your message here to cherish the memory of them.
    http://www.japanearthquake.jp

    Do not give up! japan!

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