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South Asian Libraries Hit Hard by Tsunami

At a meeting held January 6–7 in Colombo, UNESCO and other organizations agreed to establish a library disaster committee to assess the extent of damage to Sri Lankan library buildings, collections, and equipment caused by the December 26 tsunami, which was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths in seven South Asian countries.

According to a January 6 news release by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, the Sri Lanka National Library has identified 177 school libraries, 53 public libraries, and 68 religious libraries that were either destroyed or damaged. Additional library damage is expected to be found on the island’s east coast, where investigations have been hampered by seasonal monsoon floods.

The Sri Lanka Disaster Management Committee for Libraries, Information Services, and Archives includes Susanne Ornager, UNESCO advisor for communications and information in Asia and the Pacific; IFLA Honorary Fellow Russell Bowden; and representatives from the National Library and the Sri Lanka Library Association.

Damage to schools was even more severe in the Indonesian province of Aceh on the island of Sumatra, the epicenter of the magnitude-nine earthquake that caused the deadly wave. The January 6 Jakarta Post reported that 50% of the province’s schools were destroyed—some 914 elementary schools, 155 junior high schools, 67 high schools, and 15 vocational schools—and at least 1,000 teachers were listed as missing. No library-specific data has been released on the school damages.

Dady Rachmananta, president of the Indonesian Library Association and director of the National Library, told American Libraries that the director of the Aceh Provincial Library was missing, along with his wife and two children. The two-story library, located in downtown Banda Aceh, was flooded, destroying all library materials and equipment on the first floor. He added that a “brand new mobile library, which was delivered from Jakarta only days earlier and intended to be formally presented to the provincial governor,” was damaged beyond repair.

“The local library system is a total loss, both manpower and facilities,” Rachmananta reported. “We are witnessing a lost generation in Aceh.”

In Chennai, India, water damage was reported at Madras University Library, where library-science scholar S. R. Ranganathan was director from 1924 to 1945. In Bangladesh, the Chittagong Public Library, which had already sustained cracks from past earthquakes, suffered further damage from the initial tremor, and staff removed equipment and collections for fear that the building would collapse.

IFLA has issued an appeal to its members to contribute through national or international relief efforts, and the Sri Lanka National Library and Documentation Services Board is seeking assistance for the country’s damaged libraries and collections.

For general information on relief efforts and the tsunami itself, visit the University at Buffalo Arts and Sciences Libraries’ online guide to resources.

Posted January 7, 2005.