Information Hubs in Crisis Times

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Saleh Zamani | Today, in the modern world, we all, whether intentionally or unintentionally, face many political, cultural, economic and natural crises. Bloody wars, local, ethnical, and domestic violence, destruction of the environment, water crisis, earthquakes, floods, fires and thousands of other social crises are only few examples of such crises which have covered the entire world and to which more ones are added every day. Even it seems that both modernism waves and the modern life based on the social agreements have failed to alleviate mankind’s suffering or a play a role to control crises. Accordingly, in the world where everybody, given their role, occupation and responsibility tries, to play a role in controlling crises, the main question is that what supportive roles librarians and libraries would play in times of crises or even before that? We know that it is not a new question and has plagued minds of librarians for many years. However, in some countries, there are serious doubts about the role of librarians during times of crisis.

These doubts are rooted in improper understandings about the profession of librarianship. So, it must be kept in minds that librarianship is a profession to make people informed, which is one of the most important needs of modern mankind. In other words, librarians are a bridge between information and the society. Another point must be considered more seriously is that we cannot draw any restriction or border for information dissemination. Librarians’ field of work is not only in the libraries, but also in the societies. Librarians do not only live among researchers, authors and academic users, but they live mostly with people and the society. Librarians are obliged to enhance and extend the range of information as far as possible. In fact, the service field of Librarians is not limited to the “space” of libraries, and is more extended than what we all thinking about.

Therefore, two types of responsibilities would be defined for the information hubs; first includes “preventive responsibilities, which are important before occurrence of crises. Libraries can inform the society on various dimensions of crises through offering necessary information about the upcoming incidents, both on natural crises and social harms such as poverty, illiteracy, drug addiction and even political crises such as social riots. This mission helps either to restrain crisis or to reduce its severity.  The second includes responsibilities of information hubs in crisis times and afterward. In this area, while disseminating information, information hubs often try to play supportive roles. Offering physical supports to the injured people, regardless of their religion, race and beliefs, providing housing and accommodation, preparing food, showing psychological supports to women and children are only a few examples of such supports. Examples of such supports can be seen during the Hurricane Katrina experience in 2005 in the United States where Florida, Mississippi and Alabama Libraries played similar vital roles for the harmed ones.

What happened in the last April in Paris would be avoided by some preventive measures from the information hubs. Flashing fire flares over the historical dome of Cathedral Notre-Dame is not just destruction a building, but is annihilation of the cultural heritage of European civilization. It seems that the librarians, as the guards of cultural heritage and human’s knowledge, can take necessary instructions and guidance to protect these works. Although the main cause of this tragedy is not clear so far, negligence and inattention to some standards upon repairs are among the most important hypotheses which have resulted in this calamity for this Gothic architecture masterpiece.

There are other Notre-Dames across the world which are suffering from some worse condition than Paris Notre-Dame’s. If Paris Notre-Dame is a known cultural building, there are hundreds of buildings older than Notre-Dame in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Asia, thousands of ancient manuscripts and lithographs which unfortunately are not known and are threatened by various harms and risks. Many of them are gone because of lack of information and protective plans every year. It is for this reason that the great librarianship associations and IFLA need to be more active about this mission, i.e. protecting the cultural heritage more than before and to carry out a common project with UNESCO to protect the world’s memory.

Librarians also need to compile a “comprehensive plan to prevent crisis” in which instructions to protect the cultural things are offered. It is necessary to note that this preventive plan should not be designed only for preventing natural disasters. Today, an important part of crises around us are political and social in nature. Thus, information hubs must be active in the field of development and promotion of peace and organization of anti-war groups and also anti-drug addiction, poverty and illiteracy social campaigns.

Unfortunately, another sort of crisis happened in Iran in this year. A devastating flood both in northern and southern parts of Iran made many Iranian people to lose their houses. Fortunately, the relief and rescue groups as well as non-governmental networks performed some good measures to control this crisis. Although, unlike the American society during the Hurricane Katrina, the Iranian society had not necessary readiness and sufficient information to deal with this crisis, our libraries could play an active role in organizing homeless people. In this tragic calamity, unfortunately some public libraries were injured, but other libraries succeeded to provide facilities through providing a temporal shelter. In the same direction, during the crisis, various non-governmental groups succeeded to change the dominant tragic atmosphere for children through holding reading programs. Although public libraries in such areas were not very large and very equipped, they spare no efforts to offer supportive measures during the recent flood. Accordingly, National Libraries and Archives of Iran and Public Libraries Organization along with other people tried to extend their cultural supports via sending book package to children. These measures indicate that libraries in Iran in contrast to two decades ago have experienced developments which it is an important happening.

In conclusion, information hubs including librarians, libraries and even members of libraries need to avoid passiveness during crisis. These hubs must be among the most active organizations of the society. They have many and effective roles, either before or after crises. Although this necessity has been demonstrated for some librarians, many of them are not informed about it, as some important parts of the world’s cultural heritage are in danger now. Today, more than any other times, we are experiencing crises and it is one of the biggest tragedies of this century. Hence, we and librarians need not only to work on reducing both size and intensity of crises, but also we need to believe in this fact that the information hubs are strong enough to restrain and control wrath of nature, society, politics and economy.

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