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E2283e – Archiving the Moment: Investigation on COVID-19 Public Library Trend

The original article published in Japanese ( )

Current Awareness-E No.395

30 July, 2020

Archiving the Moment: Investigation on COVID-19 Public Library Trend

●From CALIL Inc. to saveMLAK

Since the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, saveMLAK has gathered information on MLAK (Museums, Libraries, Archives, and Kominkan (community centers)) affected by natural disasters. Those information are released on its website.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the national government of Japan declared the state of emergency for multiple prefectures on April 7, 2020. Immediately after, on April 9, CALIL Inc. released the result of a nationwide survey on closure of public libraries and library rooms. Following this, saveMLAK volunteers held a meeting on April 12 and discussed efforts to be made on COVID-19.

Although the situation of COVID-19 differed from natural disasters such as earthquake, many libraries closed. To record the latest status, volunteers discussed the need to conduct a continuous general investigation to preserve snapshots of the situations of libraries across Japan. Because it was difficult for CALIL Inc. to conduct such investigation alone, saveMLAK decided to take over. Volunteers who endorsed the mission began to participate from the second survey, and the investigation proceeded.

●Engaging in the Investigation

In this investigation, we visually checked the websites of public libraries and library rooms across Japan and recorded information in Google Spreadsheets. For target websites, we utilized website preservation services such as Internet Archive and This would allow us to go back to the pages at the time of data collection. Before each survey, explanatory notes were organized to categorize open/close situations as well as services provided even when the library was closed (for example, even if the library was announced “open” on its website, we treated it as “closed” if users were not allowed into open-stack areas). Explanatory notes were updated following the latest trends of libraries to keep them fit to actual situations.

Participants were sought publicly, allowing anyone to join this investigation. “Those who can” did “as much as they could in their own capacity.” Through the eight surveys, a total of 238 volunteers from all over Japan (from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefectures) participated and investigated an accumulated total of over 10,000 libraries. Participants communicated via Slack, working together to solve questions as they emerge. Zoom meetings were also held to co-edit press releases on each survey results. Everything was done online using variety of tools.

It was difficult to archive websites, which would serve as the evidence. Website URLs for preservation would change every time we visit, or even when the URL was recorded at the time of the survey, the site could not be opened in the archive. There were websites that refused access from abroad and could not be preserved. We went through trials and errors, simultaneously using multiple internet preservation services and alternatively preserving websites of local governments as well as SNS posts.

●What the Investigation Revealed

The main index of this investigation was the percentage of libraries that were closed: 57% in the second survey (April 16), 88% in the third survey (April 23), and 92% in the fourth survey (May 6). Expansion of library closure was apparent. We visualized in graphs and maps the relationship between library closure and the announcement of the declaration of the state of emergency, which we presumed as one of the factors. In the third survey, we saw a rapid increase in the percentage of closed libraries in 13 regions that were designated as “prefectures under specific cautions” on April 16. After that, through the sixth survey (May 21), we continued investigating measures taken in response to requests to close businesses issued in each prefecture to MLAK institutions including libraries. It became evident that extension of business closure request influenced the decision of libraries to extend its closure.

We also conducted a trend survey on library services. Combined with high percentage of library closure, observed were cases of mail delivery of materials, electronic books, promotion of digital contents use, and streaming of original contents. Once the declaration of the state of emergency was lifted, libraries became active in preparing for reopening, planning how to collect visitor records and presenting roadmaps. In the eighth survey (June 20), the percentage of closed libraries was 1.6%. The survey reached a break at this point.

These are the things revealed from data created by collective wisdom of nationwide volunteers who shared the mission. Such could not have been accomplished through investigations conducted by individuals. Based on publicly available information, we were able to see how libraries presented information to users. By participating in this investigation, those on the ground were able to recognize the situations of the entire country and to create information that may contribute to their own programs and policies. This became a valuable experience.

●Towards the Age of So-called “After Corona”

Because COVID-19 has kept people from going outside across Japan, everyone engaged in this investigation were also parties in concern. One of the participants, Mao Tsunekawa, pointed out that while saveMLAK had conducted “document-oriented” surveys in the past, posting information of individual institutions on its website, this investigation was “table-oriented” where information on public libraries across the country were simultaneously integrated into one sheet.

It should be noted that each nationwide survey was accomplished in a short period of time such as two to three days. Eight such surveys were conducted in about three months. By connecting eight points clipped as slices of moments into one curved line, we were able to capture the overall trend. “Document-oriented” best practices that were gathered during the investigation were reflected in press releases. Survey results are made available for later examination and is made public using Creative Commons License CC0. The intent is to leave behind the data so that anyone can use them whenever they want.

As situations developed, information disappeared as if people began to forget COVID-19. Archiving the “moment” can only be accomplished in that “moment”.

Methods employed in this investigation, where the latest information can be made public in a short period of time without in-person gatherings, may be effective in variety of situations. We hope to leave behind the details of our methods in an easy-to-use format for future efforts.

Written by saveMLAK COVID-19libdata Team
Translated by Okada Aya

*Notes are not being translated and remain in Japanese language.

“COVID-19 : 多くの図書館が閉館しています”. カーリルのブログ. 2020-04-09.
“covid-19-survey”. saveMLAK.
“COVID-19”. saveMLAK.
Internet Archive.
常川真央. ICTツールを活用した,COVID-19の影響による図書館の動向調査の取り組み. 2020-06-21.
“災害への『しなやかな強さ』を持つMLAK機関をつくる”. saveMLAK.


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*This article (E2283e) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License. The full license details are here.