When disaster strikes, libraries are there to help. In California, where many have been forced from their homes due to forest fires and power outages, libraries like Folsom Public Library have become a refuge for people who need to charge devices, use WiFi, or just have a place to go. In March of 2011, a powerful earthquake triggered enormous tsunami waves in the Tōhoku region of Japan, killing thousands of people, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes, and leaving millions without electricity and water service. In the months after this horrific disaster, as hundreds of government services, NGOs, and private and international relief agencies struggled to help communities recover, residents also looked to public libraries for help.
Why is that? Libraries don’t provide food, water, electricity, or medical services. In many cases, libraries had suffered the same catastrophic losses as their neighbors; staff had perished or been injured, buildings completely destroyed or unusable, resources gutted. Why, then, did people so quickly turn to libraries after a disaster? Because of social capital.