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E1957e – Shanti’s Mobile Library Activities in Regions Affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake

The original article published in Japanese ( )

Current Awareness-E No.334

5 October, 2017

Shanti’s Mobile Library Activities in Regions Affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake


Shanti Volunteer Association, a public interest incorporated association (hereafter Shanti), terminated its “Mobile Library Project in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima” in July 2017. This article presents the summary of the project as well as future activities.

●Summary of Shanti Volunteer Association

Shanti is an international cooperation organization established in Japan in 1981. The organization was founded following activities on mobile library and management of permanent library launched in 1980 to provide mental support to Cambodian refugees living in refugee camps in Thailand. Since then, Shanti has been engaged in projects supporting education and culture around books and libraries in Asia, as well as over 50 emergency relief activities for natural disasters both within and outside of Japan for 36 years.

●Mobile Library Project in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Shanti began providing support to communities in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. With its experience of running library projects in Asia, Shanti embarked on initial assessment in early May 2011 to explore possible projects through books in disaster affected regions. Among sites that Shanti visited for investigation, Rikuzentakata City Library, Ofunato City Sanriku Community Center Library Room (大船渡市立三陸公民館図書室), and Otsuchi Town Library in Iwate Prefecture had suffered particularly catastrophic damage. Following further investigations at evacuation centers and municipal offices, the team submitted a project plan to its board. The plan was approved in early June, and Shanti began its mobile library activities at temporary housing complex in Yamada Town, Otsuchi Town, Ofunato City, and Rikuzentakata City in Iwate Prefecture. Iwate office was established in Tono City in June 2011, and a local staff was hired.

Shanti then began collecting books. A total of 5,000 books including picture books and children’s books were donated from “3.11 Ehon Picture Book Project Iwate” based in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. In addition, novels and practical books were donated from “Publishing Headquarter for the Great Disaster,” and thousands of magazines and comic books were donated from bookoffonline Corp. and Culture Convenience Club Co., Ltd.. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. had offered to provide an automobile to load books as mobile library, but since it required some time for delivery, a simplified mobile library was first put together with bookshelves set up in a pickup truck. The formal library car arrived in November 2011, and an automobile for mobile library was donated by Merrill Lynch Japan Securities Co.,Ltd. in December 2011.

With these support, Shanti began its mobile library activities at temporary housing complex. They also started setting up and managing permanently established Rikuzentakata Community Library Room (陸前高田コミュニティ図書室), as well as setting up bookshelves in meeting place and conversation lounge in temporary housing which they called a “small library.” Shanti then launched “Friendship Club (友の会)” for users of Rikuzentakata Community Library Room in 2014. They put much effort in library management in cooperation with local residents including environmental beautification by growing flowers in planters, creation of signs, and gaining support for lending books. From April 2014, a unified barcode system with Yamada Town Library was introduced, enabling users of both libraries to lend and return books to either of the mobile libraries. The slogan of mobile library activities was “browse books, drink tea, and have a good time (立ち読み,お茶のみ,おたのしみ).” Shanti created a space for library users to relax by setting up tents beside the mobile library and providing beverages such as Japanese green tea and coffee. Shanti continued its activities hoping that people will enjoy mindless chatting with other users or with staff members, and laugh a lot before going home. In response to such activities, users gave these comments: “I get bored watching TV, so I’d rather take a look at books. Books are good because I never get bored.” “Mobile library keeps me busy. What should I do when it stops coming?” “I read books when I can’t fall asleep at night.”

In September 2012, one year after the launch of its activities in Iwate Prefecture, Shanti opened an office in Yamamoto Town, Miyagi Prefecture. They began running mobile libraries in Yamamoto Town and in Minamisoma City, Fukushima Prefecture. As was done in Iwate Prefecture, Shanti visited temporary housing complex with a mobile library, lent books, and created a space for tea and chatting by setting up tables and chairs. They encouraged interactions among residents in temporary housing, and provided refreshing time amid prolonged evacuation.

As explained above, Shanti’s projects continued for six years since 2011 in six municipalities in three prefectures. Mobile libraries visited a total of 297 sites, where 143,774 books were borrowed by 68,116 people.

●Future Developments

As municipal libraries and library rooms resumed their operations and as more people moved away from temporary housing complex to public restoration housing or to houses they rebuilt, Shanti decided to terminate its activities in the latter half of 2014. Shanti then prepared to succeed its activities to local libraries, storytelling groups, and small libraries depending on situations of reconstruction in six municipalities in three prefectures. In Yamada town, the Town Library was to take over Shanti’s activities, and the mobile library and books were donated for continuous operation. In Otsuchi Town, a local story telling group succeeded the library activity at temporary housing complex. Books were also succeeded to a local storytelling group in Ofunato City. In Minamisoma City, the mobile library and its collections were donated to the Public Library. Lending of books at Yamamoto Office terminated by March 2017 and the office closed after the very last book was returned. The new public library in Rikuzentakata City opened in July 2017 (see E1956), and Shanti terminated its operation with closing of its Iwate office. A local nonprofit has succeeded management of the community library room.

A book summarizing Shanti’s activities and records will be published by the end of 2017. We hope many of you will take a look at it.

Written by Suzuki Akiko
Shanti Volunteer Association (SVA, Public Interest Incorporated Association)
Translated by Okada Aya