March 29, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Photos from all over Japan of libraries after the earthquake. (Via)

"Books shaken to the floor provide a good visual measurement of the power of the quake: we can easily visualize how the rows looked before, how nice and tidy they were, and we can imagine the sort of force needed to dislodge them. But the images also allow us to glimpse the destruction in a relatively benign environment—books are not people. We hope that the libraries’ caretakers are safe, and, in the buildings where only the books, not the shelves, have tumbled, we reassure ourselves that they are. In many of these photos, we can easily envision someone coming along to set things right. These are images of hope, as much as of disaster, and they speak to the idea that the things most fundamental to a culture—in this case, its codified knowledge—have not been lost." Macy Halford, The New Yorker
posted by jardinier (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I know that this creates a huge amount of mess and work that needs to be dealt with, and that tumbled books are the least of the problems over there. My heart goes out to people in Japan who are still struggling.

But looking at some of these photos...I have a crazy urge to jump into one of those big piles of books and swim around like some kind of knowledge billionaire.
posted by phunniemee at 8:33 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]

I hadn't thought of jumping in them, but along those lines - In spite of the fact that it's evidence of tragedy, so many of these photos are beautiful. When the shelves are emptied like this, and this. Or when they've fallen like this. And the processes of re-organizing. And the dark landscapes of lower levels.
posted by jardinier at 8:56 AM on March 29, 2011

Heh. My Intro Physics professor in College gave us a "Fermi Problem" that basically went like:

"An earthquake has struck San Francisco, and although there was no structural damage thanks to good engineering, approximately 60% of the library's books were knocked off of their shelves. There are 11 million volumes in the library. Assuming that the university wants the facility to be operational within a month, how many workers do they need to hire to reshelve the books, and how much will this cost?"

I forget the specific answer, but the answers were (approximately) "a lot" and "well over 6-figures."

Think about it. Reshelving that many books is by no means a fast or easy task.
posted by schmod at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was working at a bookstore when the 1989 quake hit the bay area. I was a huge mess. Being that there was no power, we opted to leave the mess for morning crew and just locked up and went home.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Should have probably linked to the definition of a Fermi Problem in the above comment.
posted by schmod at 2:24 PM on March 29, 2011

posted by sgt.serenity at 4:40 PM on March 29, 2011

Books fall off of shelves and yet human curiosity trumps all. Libraries will stand in any form so long as we have civilization on this Earth. My heart goes out to the librarians who have to pick up their lives afterwards, but a library is more than just the building in which it's contained.
posted by codacorolla at 8:09 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Great link, by the way.
posted by codacorolla at 8:10 PM on March 29, 2011

I forget the specific answer, but the answers were (approximately) "a lot" and "well over 6-figures."

No way! Wouldn't the Dewey ranges still be on the shelves? You already have a bucketing system! And all the books are presumably near their original shelves, right?

And you have to throw out like half the books anyway from, uh, binding damage...
posted by zvs at 1:22 AM on March 30, 2011

There were some interesting photos of the University of Canterbury's library in Christchurch after their quake last year. (Haven't seen any from this year's bigger quake).
posted by lollusc at 1:41 AM on March 30, 2011

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