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Libraries, Telecenters, and the 2010 Chile Earthquake

Findings

The ability of the libraries and telecenters to mount an effective post-disaster response depended on infrastructure, individual initiative, and community relationships

In the case of the 2010 Chile earthquake, three factors emerged as determinants of a center’s ability to respond to post- disaster community needs: (1) the level of damage to the infrastructure (building, connectivity, electricity, etc.); (2) staff initiative and leadership; and (3) the strength of the center’s network, including links with other institutions, neighborhood committees, and community stakeholders.

Libraries and telecenters provided communication and information access that fulfilled crucial emergency functions

In the immediate aftermath (in locations where connectivity and infrastructure remained intact) staff helped individuals contact families and friends. They also researched general information, government assistance resources, and the availability of basic services (food, shelter, clothing) — subsequently posting what they learned in public locations, such as shops and churches. In the weeks following the disaster, libraries and telecenters also helped people gather the documentation required to apply for government subsidies to rebuild their homes.

In addition to providing communications access, many libraries and telecenters served as relief stations, offering space for people needing refuge and providing other emergency assistance

One space became a temporary shelter for over 40 families; others collected food and clothing and coordinated volunteers for distribution to homes or other locations; and some provided space to emergency response agencies. The functions of the centers and libraries evolved in the months following the disaster.

Emergency communications were established even in some locations where library and telecenter infrastructure was damaged

To provide emergency communications services, libraries and telecenters that suffered severe structural damage relocated equipment to unused buildings or emergency tents, or even to staffers’ homes. For example, a mobile telecenter provided by the Committee to Democratize Information Technology (CDI) brought access to needed information — and created a sense of “normalcy” for children and teens, who could use the computers and Internet for brief periods to socialize and play games.

Social media — Facebook and Twitter — were essential communication tools for staff

Facebook and Twitter enabled library and telecenter staff to connect with their networks, coordinate efforts, and share experiences and learning. Social media was also used to help individuals locate family and friends in distant areas, as well as to find essential information and resources.

The services provided by libraries and telecenters in the aftermath of the 2010 Chilean earthquake shifted people’s perceptions of these venues from “places where kids go to do homework” to “invaluable community assets”

Libraries and telecenters were valued prior to the 2010 disaster, but more as places where children could go to do their homework, get on Facebook, or play computer games. No one imagined them as key actors in emergency situations. Their post-disaster initiative and actions, however, were so valuable that people’s perceptions shifted — they are now under- stood to be invaluable community assets.

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