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E2209e – Mobile Library “Hiyori” Closes at Ishinomaki City Library

The original article published in Japanese ( )

Current Awareness-E No.382

19 December, 2019

Mobile Library “Hiyori” Closes at Ishinomaki City Library

For approximately eight years between October 2011 and August 2019, Ishinomaki City Library has run a mobile library to temporary housing complex for citizens affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. I wish to take this opportunity to thank for the huge support we received from people across the country, and to report our mobile library operation that has recently come to an end.

Ishinomaki City is located in the northeastern part of Miyagi prefecture. Facing the Pacific Ocean, its area is approximately 555 square kilometers with a population of about 140,000. During the Edo period, the city prospered as a port accumulating rice transported by ships along Kitakami River. From Meiji period, Ishinomaki developed as a town of fishing industry with a fishery offshore of Mt. Kinka. In 2005, the city merged with 6 towns (Kahoku, Ogatsu, Kanan, Kitakami, Monou, Oshika) and became the new Ishinomaki City.

The predecessor of Ishinomaki City Library was founded in 1881. The library has a collection of about 190,000 books, and about 260,000 books are borrowed in a year (as of the end of March 2018). This facility became the main building, and along with six branches that used to be library rooms of community centers in each town prior to the merge in 2005, the library has made effort towards fair provision of services to all areas of the city. However, on March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred. The city lost 3,277 lives and 420 were missing. Several buildings were destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. Kitakami and Ogatsu branches were completely destroyed by the tsunami. The waves did not reach the main building located on the higher ground. Because it had limited damage by the earthquake, the building became an evacuation center, and residents affected by the disaster lived here for about half a year.

It was during such time that we unexpectedly received many donated books from across Japan. It was much more than what we purchase in a year. We were able to distribute books quickly to meeting places of housing complex and to begin the service of the mobile library “Hiyori.” About 3,000 books were loaded in the automobile. It went around about 50 locations within the city, visiting each location once every two weeks to lend books. Because 134 housing complexes were built within the city of Ishinomaki, “Hiyori” was only able to go around to part of them. That was the best we could do at the time.

Because “Hiyori” also aimed to provide mental care to affected people, we made the effort to greet the users, and the users would likewise talk to us casually. We could observe many things from casual conversations and interactions. For example, at one housing complex, we saw people taking a break from borrowing books during busy fishing season but came back when the season was over. We saw that they were “cultivating the land in fine days and reading a book on rainy days at home” (Japanese idiom). At another housing complex, we felt the sincerity of people who always sat on a bench outside and waited for the arrival of “Hiyori.” We also came across sad, failure episode. When an elderly reserved a book, we explained that “Because this book is popular with many reservation requests, you will have to wait. You are probably third in line.” This elderly responded with tears in the eyes, “That’s okay. I have no other place to go. I’m fine being third in line.” We realized for the first time that while some residents have left the housing complex, those who remained were feeling desperate and lonely.

“Hiyori” ran 100,000 kilometers in about eight years, enabling a total of about 20,000 residents to read 100,000 books. Despite several requests to run to restoration housing complex, “Hiyori” terminated its operation with closure of temporary housing complex as was initially planned. As a staff in charge, it was unfortunate that we could not continue providing the service. Running “Hiyori” made me realize that there are many people who wish to use the library if it came close by.

We then began lending books at what we call “on-site library” using space in community centers. Currently, we only have one location, but will open the second one by March 2020. Kitakami and Ogatsu branches that had remained closed given the damage from the disaster will open in new buildings by the end of March 2020. In preparation, the automobile “Hiyori” will work once again and transport books from the main library to these new buildings.

Written by Abe Yoshiko
Ishinomaki City Library
Translated by Okada Aya