Libraries Toppled in Devastating Chinese Earthquake

Libraries Toppled in Devastating Chinese Earthquake

The 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Sichuan Province in western China on the afternoon of May 12 killed more than 40,000 people and left another 5 million homeless. In the week after the quake, the Library Society of China posted information on damage to libraries in the region on its Chinese-language website.

The library building in Beichuan County collapsed, burying five staff members under the debris, but all were rescued after being trapped for more than 70 hours. Marcia Zeng, professor at the Kent State University School of Library and Information Science, posted an account of the rescue on professional discussion lists: “The team which rescued Li Chun had to launch three actions because of the still-falling bricks and worked two-plus hours nonstop with their bare hands and used a small knife to cut through the wood pieces around her.” The Library Society of China reported that Li Chun was recovering in Huaxi Hospital in Chengdu.

The Sichuan Provincial Library in Chengdu, the capital of the province, consists of a reading building, storage building, and office building. Although the facility suffered collapsed bookshelves, fallen ceilings and bricks, and broken windows, no patrons or staff were injured.

Sichuan Province has 21 city libraries, most in the larger, prefecture-level cities. The city libraries in Mianyang and Guangyuan are seriously damaged, as is the Chotian regional library in Guangyuan city. Those in Neijiang, Meishan, Zhuning, Nanchong, Ya’an, and Ziyang (which was newly built) reported cracked walls. At the Mianyang city library, one staff member suffered a leg injury.

The prefecture-level city of Guang’an has six libraries; although all reported some damage, no one was injured. Guang’an is the hometown of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping; at the library named after him, the electricity and water supplies were cut off, the central air conditioning was leaking, and 12 computers and two elevators were damaged.

In the county-level city of Mianzhu, the library walls were partially collapsed, but all 10 staff members were safe.

The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Gansu Province near Inner Mongolia. On May 19 the Gansu Province Library Association telephoned 17 libraries in the earthquake zone and learned that four library buildings were severely damaged, six library buildings had less-serious cracks, and the other library buildings were untouched. The staff of all 17 libraries were safe, although two library workers’ homes were damaged.

The most serious damage in Gansu Province was reported at the Wei County library, where the building was unusable after its foundation sank between one and three stories. One staff member’s house was severely damaged.

Cracks were reported at the libraries in Wen, Li, Cheng, Dangchang, Xihe, and Lianglang counties.

In the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southern Gansu Province, the library buildings in Zhouqu, Tai’an, and Diebu counties suffered cracks. In Tianshua city library, some bookshelves collapsed but the building escaped damage. Also escaping damage were the libraries in Wushan and Gangu counties and the Maiji regional library.

The Chinese American Librarians Association has set up a website for donations to support earthquake recovery efforts in China.

Posted on May 21, 2008. Discuss.