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Lanka's book wealth savaged by the tsunami

by Premila Gamage

Librarian/IPS

As reported by the Centre for National Operations (CNO), Ministry of Education (MOE) and Sri Lanka National Library and Documentation Services Board (SLNLDSB), 55 public libraries, around 160 to 170 school libraries and 68 libraries attached to religious institutions were damaged by the tsunami.

Although no assessments have been done on damage caused to private libraries as yet, many private libraries were also badly affected by the tsunami.


A tsunami-ravaged library in Ampara

In addition, a few museums were severely damaged. This write-up is based on the critical situation of some of these damaged libraries as experienced by the author during her visits to the southern and eastern parts of the island.

The situation of libraries on the northern coast is not included here since it is still not possible to visit and survey them.

About 54 school libraries were damaged on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Of them 17 were fully destroyed with no sign left even of the buildings.

18 public libraries and many of their branch libraries and community centres were considerably affected in five districts (Colombo, Kalutara, Galle, Matara and Hambantota) on the southern coast.

Gintota Maha Vidyalaya (Galle), Hegalle Maha Vidyalaya (Ambalangoda) and Vidyaloka Vidyalaya (Galle) are among some of the school libraries that were fully destroyed.

The Vidyaloka Vidyalaya is a National School which is situated in the heart of Galle town in the district of Galle. The Science Library of the school was totally destroyed by the tsunami. At the time of the disaster, the library housed more than 1,000 books and around 60 percent of the collection was destroyed.

A large number of valuable textbooks were among the destroyed resources. The building has to be repaired and furniture replaced. The library is heavily used by G.C.E. Advanced Level students and teachers. It is managed by a non-professional who is a science teacher.

The Gintota Maha Vidyalaya comes under the World Bank's General Education Project - 2 (GEP2) Programme. The collection and furniture of the library have been badly damaged. The library building also requires extensive repairs.

The building, collection and furniture of the Hegalle Maha Vidyalaya were severely damaged as water swept into the school premises.

Hikkaduwa Public Library (Hikkaduwa Urban Council) in the district of Galle housed around 8,200 books at the time of the disaster. Water came into the library and destroyed more than 75 percent of the collection.

Except for books on the upper shelves, all the books on the lower shelves were totally damaged. This library is extensively used by nearly 1,500 members.

Another 10 percent of books has to be considered as lost because some users who had borrowed books were affected by the tsunami and displaced. Minor repairs are needed to the building, doors etc. Some library furniture was also damaged.

The collection and furniture of the Magalle Branch Public Library (Galle Municipal Council) were completely destroyed as water swept into the library. The collection consists of local newspapers, magazines and books.

The Lakshman Thabrew Memorial Public Library belongs to the Balapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha in the District of Galle. This public library housed nearly 2,100 books at the time of the disaster. The collection contained books, magazines, journals and newspapers.

Around 80 percent of the collection was severely damaged and cannot be used. In addition, another 10 to 15 percent of books has to be considered lost because a number of borrowers were affected by the tsunami and are displaced.

However, the library building was not severely damaged but needs some repairs such as replacement of doors and windows, painting, and rewiring for electricity. Except for one or two pieces, all the library furniture have been completely destroyed.

This library is managed by a para-professional who is a student of the Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA). Nearly 460 members use this library.

The collection of the Hirewatte Branch Public Library (Ambalangoda Urban Council) in the Galle district was severely damaged as water swept into the building. As some members were affected by the tsunami and displaced, a considerable number of books borrowed by them have to be considered lost.

Although it was possible to rescue some of the collection of the Ahangama Public library (Galle), the building, furniture and most of the books were badly damaged.

Hambantota Public Library in Hambantota district which is situated very close to the sea was also extensively damaged by the tsunami. All the books and reading materials located in the ground floor were washed off along with the furniture. The ground floor of the library has also been partly damaged.

The National Maritime Museum in Galle and the Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum, Koggala, (near Galle) were also badly affected by the tsunami.

The National Maritime Museum was established in 1992 and is housed in the Great Dutch-built Warehouse of 1671 near the Old Gate of Galle Fort. The museum displays a variety of exhibits connected with seafaring, maritime trade, fishing and sea life.

A large number of artefacts which has been collected over the years was totally destroyed. Not only the artefacts but the technical equipment, computers, scanners and boats belonging to the museum were also destroyed.

The Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Museum which was established on the wishes of a renowned Sri Lankan author was opened in 1981. The artefacts depict the history of Sri Lankan folk culture, from ancient to modern times, to remind the people of Sri Lanka of their living roots.

This is an interesting collection ranging from Buddhist artefacts to those which portray the development of rural technology in agriculture, agro industry, fishing, pottery and metal craft, various artefacts from folk dances and religious ceremonies and many others.

Fortunately, there was no damage to objects but the furniture in the museum have been damaged. There was also considerable damage to the children's library of the museum.

In addition to the two museums, the Maritime Archaeology Unit of the Central Cultural Fund was extensively damaged.

A large number of artefacts from the 18th century Dutch shipwreck the Arondster, which were earmarked for a future museum were lost along with number of the documentation and inventories related to the project.

During the visits to the southern coast it was revealed by some tsunami victims that their private libraries were also badly damaged. One doctor's entire collection had been washed away.

Eastern coast

The tsunami caused heavy destruction in the eastern coast of the island. As a result, around 39 school libraries were totally damaged in the Ampara and Batticaloa districts while 37 were partially damaged. Nearly 20 public libraries were also badly affected by the tsunami in the above two districts.

Discussions held with some victims, and especially the academics of the Eastern University revealed that a number of private libraries were destroyed.

The Thambilivul Maha Vidyalaya in Thirukkovil in Ampara District was a school that was considerably damaged. This school comes under the World Bank's General Education Project - 2 (GEP2) Programme. It has 1453 students and conducts classes from year 6 to 13.

The main library of the school was not affected much, but the collection and the furniture of the English library was totally damaged. The building has to be repaired. The library is managed by a teacher who has followed a two weeks library course conducted by the National Institute of Library and Information Science.

When water swept into the school premises of Thirukkovil Methodist Vidyalaya in Akkaraipattu, considerable destruction was caused to the library collection and furniture. In addition to the above mentioned schools, there were a number of schools in both Amparai and Batticaloa which faced the same pathetic situation.

Navalady Namahal Vidyalaya, in Batticaloa, Ollikulam Al-Humbra Vidyalaya, Palamunai Ashraff Vidyalaya, Puthukudiyiruppu Kannaki Vidyalaya, all in Arayampathy, and the Kalavani Maha Vidyalaya in Kurrukkalmadam are a few of the schools affected.

A large number of school libraries were completely destroyed by the tsunami. The schools of Komari Madya Maha Vidyalaya and Singhapura Sinhala Vidyalaya in Pottuvil, Maruthamunai Shums Central College, Sainthamaruthu AL.Jalal Vidyalaya, Sainthamaruthu Mulharushums Vidyalaya, and Karaitivu Vipulananda Central College, in Kalmunai were among them.

Almost everything was washed away from these schools. The Sri Lanka National Library and Documentation Services Board (NLDSB) made an appeal on, December 28, 2004, to the international library community giving available information.

This received an instant response from all over the world and Dr. Susanne Ornager, Advisor, Information and Communication Division for Asia, UNESCO, New Delhi office visited Colombo to assess the situation.

As a result of the UNESCO intervention, the Sri Lanka Disaster Management Committee for Library, Information Services and Archives (SL DMC-LISA) attached to the NLDSB was set up.

The Sri Lanka Library Association (SLLA), the only professional association in the field of LIS in Sri Lanka, has also taken the initiative to rehabilitate affected libraries.

The SLLA has proposed an action plan to develop a few model libraries in the areas affected, providing them with modern information tools in addition to the conventional sources until now held by these libraries.

Although SLLA is part of DMC-LISA, members of the SLLA wish to contribute their expertise in developing a few selected libraries, which are of special interest to the SLLA, rather than spreading available resources too thinly and thereby diluting its efficacy.

After assessing the damage, types of reader communities they serve and their geographical coverage, four libraries including two school libraries from Galle (South) and Ampara (South East) and two public libraries from Balapitiya (South) and Batticaloa (East) were identified for developing into model libraries.

The long-term objective will be to guide and assist these libraries to function as modern libraries using ICT and more libraries will be included in the project depending on the support received by the SLLA.

Although the SLLA's strategy is based on the contributions and support of its members, assistance from members living abroad, personal friends, other foreign library associations and well wishers would be welcome as necessary supplements to these efforts. The detailed action plan is available at http://www.naresa.ac.lk/slla/.

(The writer acknowledges the support and assistance given by Major Rohan Jayasinghe, Chief Instructor of the Combat Training School, Ampara, Sri Lanka Army during her visits to the eastern coast of the island)

   

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