Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thoughts on a Library Disaster

I haven't blogged in a while.  Actually, it feels like ages and ages.  I ran into the problem of only wanting to blog about One Thing and feeling like I should keep my mouth shut.  The gumption to write about something -- anything -- else has been absent.  So.  I'm going to open my mouth and write what I've been wanting to write.  First of all I would like to make some things clear:
  1. I am one person.  These are my impressions and ideas and I have not been fully briefed by all the parties involved.  I could be very wrong in some of the statements I make, but know that I make these statements based on observation and having folks in the know confide in me.
  2. If  you know which University and Library I work for, please keep that information out of comments, links, and posts relating to this.  I love my University and Library and I don't want to cause undo stress because I feel the need to whine.
  3. No one has communicated to me written or verbally that I should not discuss this matter.  I was waiting for the big "Don't Talk About It" from the higher up folks, but it never came.
  4. I'm not sharing pictures because I do not want to effect any legal action that may or may not take place.


It rained inside of the library last Friday.


Not a drip.  Not a trinkle.  An actual rain.

So what happened?

We've had roofers re-roofing our library and last Thursday night they left the site and didn't COVER THE OPEN ROOF.  Yes, there was a large gaping hole in the roof.  There were ceiling tiles, but no roof.  And, yes, it rained that night.

Fast  forward to Friday morning.

The housekeeper arrives at 7:30am and disarms our alarmed building.  I arrive at 7:45am, put my bags in the office, and head off to the break -room to brew a pot of coffee.  While the coffee brews I leave our work area and head out to our Information Desk area.  The housekeeper and I are talking and we realize that in the very back of our one-story library there are men crawling around in the dark with bags.  At first I freak out, but then I recognize one of the men as a roofer and I notice they are counting something on the ceiling.  The housekeeper and I head to the back together to investigate.

I flip on the back lights and stand in the middle of the library.  I'm all at once panicked, angry, confused, and pretty much flabbergasted.  The carpet is soaked so badly in places that I'm splashing.  Wet, broken ceiling tiles are on the floor, the study tables, the couches, and some are draped across the actual books.  Water is dripping in places and streaming in others.  A few ceiling tiles are "pregnant", i.e. full to bulging with water and about to burst.  The fluorescent light panels are filled with water.  Can I just say I was so proud of myself for not letting out a torrent of profanities?

One roofer has the AUDACITY to tell me it rained around the books and hit the floor.  At that moment I'm staring at a volume of Sherlock Holmes being dripped on. The most damage is in the P's.   Those of you familiar with academic libraries  and the Library of Congress call number system will know that the "P's" are LITERATURE.

Stretching back, some science, medicine, and textiles books are damaged but the brunt of the damage is in the literature section.  Chinese literature is okay, but after that the damage begins with British literature taking the most damage.

I left the back area and immediately called my library director (she was on her way to work and didn't answer the phone) and called my supervisor.  Then some librarians showed up.  We closed the library for the day.  After that, the day was a blur: cleaning crews, administrators, insurance folks, roofers, concerned professors, consultants, maintenance workers, and art gallery personnel were in and out of the library all day.

We library folks headed to the damaged area to salvage what we could.   My first thought was to check on Elizabeth Bowen because I knew she lived on a top shelf.  There she was under a tile about to burst.  I grabbed every last Bowen volume and threw it on a library cart.  Rupert Brooke, alas, was already soaked through.  George Eliot was saved as was Thomas Hardy.  Sylvia Plath is soaked.  Shakespeare, Conrad, and Melville are pretty much gone.

Around 10 am, we couldn't do any more and had to turn things over to the professional cleaners.  We went for coffee on campus and later that day we went out for Thai food.  We were shocked and MAD AS HELL.

If this had been the product of a natural disaster I think we all would have been grateful for what we could salvage and that no one was hurt.  But this damage was from lazy stupidity.  Seriously?  You leave the roof open?  All of this could have been prevented.  The one thing I'm most thankful for is that it wasn't over our rare book gallery.

The past few days have been a period of waiting.  I worked at a yearbook camp over the weekend (I pretty much just set at the front desk and made sure no teenagers messed with the collection, artwork, or the disaster area).  I worked this week at the library, but didn't go into the disaster zone.  I turned off our ILL lending, I stalled a book fine project because I couldn't check the stacks for lost books, I tried to catch-up on other things.

We began to hear encouraging things -- many books would be saved, things were drying out, everything would be okay.  Until yesterday.  Yesterday the library staff went to the back to check for mold blooms.  I didn't go, as I have a mold allergy.   I went back there for 5 minutes to ask a question (because I heard it wasn't too bad back there) and it is bad.  My throat went scratchy and the air smelled bleh.  Today, I'm home with congestion, a sinus headache, and a sore throat.  The librarians looked grim.

I don't know what the final fallout will be.  I don't know what will be replaced or how much money the University can spend.  Oh, and classes start Monday.

The past few days I've had a silly panic.  I forgot to check on Rebecca West.  I cannot tell you how much that bothers me.  She is on a top shelf.  I hope she isn't damaged, because I can guarantee you she won't be replaced.  I don't believe a single university course teaches her and our replacements will need to support authors taught in the contemporary university classroom

This panic led to a strange book buying spree on my lunch break yesterday.  In 15 minutes I blew through the local charity book shop and bought 6 books.  It was weird.  I joke about needing to buy books and book binges, but most of the time I'm being hyperbolic.  This was a weird snatching, grabbing, desperate, sort of books buying. I'll share the purchases in a different post.

So that's it.  That's what's running through my mind.  It fucking rained in our library.  IT FUCKING RAINED IN OUR LIBRARY.


Thomas at My Porch said...

That is terrible. Especially the notion that they wouldn't even bother replacing some authors like Rebecca West. I hope you feel better now that you got this off your chest.

Traci said...

I am about to have a heart attack reading this. I'll be thinking about you guys over the next few months and a letter is definitely due your way.

Andi (Estella's Revenge) said...

Wow, I can completely understand your anxiety here, and it is incredibly frustrating and just FUCKING STUPID that they left the roof open. My God, the idiocy. At the end of the day, I hope the university can recoop what's been damaged because what a snowball of incompetence.

Hang in there, chica.

Heather said...

OMG I think I almost had a panic attack just reading this. Seriously, I'm so angry I have tears in my eyes. I can't imagine how sick you felt. Just sick. Those fucking stupid, stupid, STUPID fucking people. I hope something good can come from such stupidity.

Linda said...

I would have started crying. I can't imagine that level of destruction. I hope that you do recover as many books as possible. Glad you held it together better than I would have!

Chris said...

:( That is so sad…and I'm infuriated for you!!! What idiots to not cover the roof!! I think I would've lost it :/ Hope things look up for you soon!

Eva said...

Ugh. I'm so sorry/angry for you and the library! The poor lit section. :((((( Don't they have to pay to replace the books?

Leeswammes said...

How terrible! I can imagine you were in total shock. I agree, if it was a natural disaster you'd be happy not more was spoiled, but like this? Incomprehensible.

Susan in TX said...

I'm hoping the roofing company had good insurance - otherwise it seems to me they would deserve to go under in order to cough up every last penny of replacement value. How heart-wrenching!

Danielle said...

It pains me (literally) to read this post. That company should really pay the replacement costs for those books. For a roofing company to leave a gaping hole in a roof of a business--let alone a library with paper books is completely incompetent. Why the P call numbers?? I know exactly how you feel as I am always looking in our lit section and some of those books are completely irreplaceable. I am sure lots of the are OOP and unique and if you are already strapped for money (and what university isn't these days) all those books are going to have to dumped and no replacements found. Old books (any books) and water just don't mix--and the mold--ugh. I am really sorry to hear this--if it had happened at my library I would be crushed. I hope they can find some sort of solution to getting those books mostly replaced--my fingers will be crossed. You'll have to keep us updated.

Lorene said...

Way to use the internet to help people solve prlboems!

Jailen said...

Yeah that's what I'm takilng about baby--nice work!

Lakiesha said...

Smack-dab what I was looknig for-ty!

Lois said...

There's nothing like the relief of fidnnig what you're looking for.

Nelle said...

Great artilce, thank you again for writing.

Kalin said...

Touchdown! That's a ralely cool way of putting it!

Dany said...

If information were soccer, this would be a gooooaol!

Barbi said...

Oh yeah, fuablous stuff there you!

Starr said...

You really found a way to make this whole porescs easier.