Libraries exist all over the world. This means that they are subject to the types of events that happen all over the world. We promote the idea of the library as a safe place of learning and discovery, but sometimes that safety is hard to provide. In this discussion topic we’re going to look at the role of libraries in times of natural and human-made disasters.
Libraries have an important role to play in disasters, as they occupy a trusted place in the mind of the public. When electricity and internet access are cut off, the library is often where the community will congregate. Libraries can act as collection points for aid and communication hubs. The library can play these roles because they are known as public, open places, with no entry fees – an important feature for those who may have lost homes and possessions.
Libraries have an equally important but difficult role to play in times of war and civil strife. Libraries are protectors of culture and history, which can be a target for those seeking to destroy a culture. Libraries are traditional protectors of freedom of information, however this can clash with the goals of parties to conflict. Library staff are rarely trained in defensive techniques, and yet sometimes find themselves having to protect people, buildings and ideas. How should a library respond in times of unrest?
Some questions you may wish to discuss with your partner:
- Can you think of an example from your part of the world?
- How have libraries in your region responded in times of natural or human-made disasters?
Over the next fortnight we have two blog posts planned for this topic. We’ll look at how the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt responded to widespread anti-government protests in 2011. Our second post, a guest post from IFLA Governing Board Member Loida Garcia-Febo, will outline the resources and support that IFLA provides to libraries worldwide in times of disaster. We hope you contribute to this discussion with your partners and with us online, through Facebook and Twitter.
Please note: The ILN is an international program, and our participants come from all over the world. There are current conflicts that are impacting libraries and their communities, which we have not discussed in detail in an attempt to avoid unintentional bias. Having said that, we support the freedom of access to information and expression for all, and we condemn any individual, group or government that seeks to limit that freedom.
–Alyson Dalby, ILN Program Coordinator