University Libraries and the Sendai Framework

Funding cuts, climate change, conflict, natural hazards and other disruptive events are affecting cultural heritage around the world, including special collections held in libraries. The protection of heritage during disruptive events contributes to the international agenda for risk reduction via the priorities outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the leading guide for disaster risk reduction across the globe.

Sendai framework

Sendai framework

The framework states the importance of protecting heritage from disruptive events via Priority 3: Investing in Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience 30 (d) which states the protection or support of the protection, for cultural and collecting institutions, and sites of historical, cultural heritage and religious interest is important. Despite a growing focus on digitisation, across the globe university libraries contain millions of tangible items held in special collections contributing to state, national and global cultural and historical heritage. In Australia alone, over 500 individual special collections are listed with the Council of University Librarians (CAUL), with each collection holding numerous items.

Disruptive events in University libraries however, are surprisingly common with examples of flood, fire, infestation, civil unrest, theft and conflict being recorded, yet very few university libraries have emergency management plans, and even less have adapted those plans for special collections. Within academic literature, there are commonalities regarding why planning for disruptive events in university libraries is not readily engaged with including limited time, budgetary constraints, a belief that insurance will simply pay out on items, a view that many of the items held do not have historical significance or that a disruptive events is very unlikely.

Australian Research Study

A recent study in Australia surveyed all University Librarians/Directors in Australian Universities and discovered that

  • 90% of the librarians surveyed had experienced a disruptive event during their career
  • 92% of responders hold physical special collections in their libraries
  • 90% did not have an emergency management plan in place for special collections and many felt the risk of experiencing a disruptive event was very low

Given most had experienced a disruptive event during their career, but still have no emergency management plan, this is a disconcerting finding highlighting that whilst university libraries are experiencing disruptive events to varying degrees, there are barriers to extending those learnt experiences into implantation and change.

What did we learn?

From the collective responses a number of lessons were drawn.

  • recovery from a disruptive event took far more time and resources than anticipated
  • a vulnerability matrix to identify key services to maintain during response and recovery phases were vital
  • professional conservation and salvage advice should be sought before a disruptive event occurs
  • many libraries noted they rarely invited local emergency services to tour the library or to educated them on the special collections they held
  • many libraries realised that they had anticipated a particular person being available at the time of the event, rather than ensuring a backup and crossover of responsibilities and knowledge
  • many had no plans in place to deal with media enquiries, spectators or spontaneous  volunteers
  • there are very few emergency management plans templates that are library or special collection specific and plans were focussed on damage to collections rather than continuity of services
  • insurance – the majority of cases, items are damaged and not destroyed, meaning that repair can be expensive and should be covered accordingly in insurance audits

What can we do?

In order to understand a problem, data is helpful in knowing what the scale and types of issues university libraries are facing from disruptive events. In this instance, researchers could find no global databases that listed disruptive events effecting libraries, either for public, private or academic libraries. A global database listing the types of disruptive events facing libraries would be extremely helpful in providing a foundation of data from which key issues can be identified.

Secondly, there has been very little research internationally into the knowledge held by University Librarians or Directors on this issue. Further engagement between libraries and researchers within the emergency management sector would be beneficial in building upon this further.

Thirdly, case studies provide a wealth of first hand experiences and central point of knowledge sharing that could inform pre-disaster planning. Encouraging libraries and directors to share their experiences should continue and be disseminated to a wider global audience. Finally, emergency management plans should be created with a section included for special collections. Whilst a plan should always be flexible, the process of constructing a plan and the discussions around it, can often bring to the forefront issues that require deeper consideration and this is where the value in the process of constructing an emergency management plan lays.


Libraries around the world are home to numerous cultural heritage collections. It is important that libraries continue to be made aware of the role they play in contributing to the Sendai Framework, which recognises that investing in resilience measures to protect cultural heritage, such as developing guidelines to protect cultural heritage during disruptive events and adopting risk reduction approaches, is contributing to the global building of resilience for cultural heritage. The library and emergency management sectors must continue to work together globally in this space.

Johanna Garnett, Flinders University

Cite this blog post
IFLA Rare Books & Special Collections Section (2019, August 19). University Libraries and the Sendai Framework. Rare & Special: News from the Rare Books and Special Collections Section of IFLA. Retrieved June 18, 2024, from

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