Loretta Jones, who will soon turn 82 but says she is “hanging on to 81 until I’m ready to let go,” has been leading recovery efforts at the Rainelle (W.Va.) Public Library since it took on five-and-a-half feet of river water in flooding on June 23–24. The president of the library’s five-person board of directors, Jones has been on the scene since the waters receded, recruiting a youth group to clear out soggy books on June 27, calling in other volunteers to remove furniture the following day, and signing up a contractor to tear out walls and insulation on June 29.
After all those efforts, Jones’s friends at the West Virginia Library Commission asked her, in vain, to put up her feet for a while. But plenty of work remains. Rainelle Public Library lost almost everything but the roof and walls—all the books, along with custom-made oak bookcases installed last year courtesy of a grant, all the computers, and the carpeting. Only a few paintings above the waterline were saved.
The Clendenin branch of the Kanawha County (W.Va.) Public Library (KCPL) system also suffered near-complete destruction from flooding. The waters crashed in through the library’s glass front, reaching a level of nine feet, saturating books and DVDs, and leaving eight inches of mud throughout the facility. The KCPL board voted in early July to gut the entire building instead of knocking it down, but it hasn’t yet decided what it will do after the cleanup. Options are still on the table to rebuild in a higher location.
KCPL has also temporarily lost another location—the Elk Valley branch in Elkview—though it didn’t sustain any damage. Rather, the bridge to the strip mall in which the branch is located was washed out. Elk Valley will remain closed until vehicular access is restored, though KCPL does plan to open a temporary location that would also serve residents of nearby Clendenin.
There are ways you can help these libraries.
- A YouCaring site is handling donations to Rainelle Public Library.
- The Library Foundation of Kanawha County is accepting donations via PayPal for the Clendenin branch.
Both libraries have asked for monetary donations only; neither is equipped to handle donations of books or supplies.
Though they were flooded by different rivers—Rainelle by the Meadow River, Clendenin by the Elk—the two towns share an industrial background (the Meadow River Lumber Company in Rainelle, Union Carbide in Clendenin) and a similar population size (Rainelle was 1,505 in 2010, and Clendenin was 1,227).
According to Jones, Rainelle is one of many rural towns that did not fare so well after the loss of industrial jobs, yet the library itself remained a hub of activity, affording access to internet-connected computers; offering a summer reading program; opening up a meeting room to organizations; and hosting Weight Watchers groups, weavers, and “old ladies playing games.” Jones said that the town flooded every winter until landscape engineering placed it out of harm’s way; the last flood that hit the library was in the mid-1980s.
“Hit” is the operative word, to hear Jones tell the story of the June flooding. “The men’s bathroom is right off of the checkout desk, and the door isn’t all that wide,” she told American Libraries. “There was a lamp on an end table sitting outside the door. And after the flood, we found the end table set right down beside the commode, with the lamp still on it.
“There was a library table sitting in front of the window, and it drifted halfway across the other room, with the poinsettia sitting on top of it like nothing happened,” Jones continued. “Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep sane!”
Her first reaction to the postflood library was, “How on earth are we going to get this stuff straightened up?” That sense of desperation didn’t last long, and she’s been working since then alongside library staff—one full-timer, two part-timers, and one grant-funded Experience Works employee—to get up and do what needs to be done.
Jones marched down to the Rainelle Medical Center (ground zero for flood recovery efforts) and brought back with her a youth group from the Wake Forest (N.C.) United Methodist Church, who hauled approximately 20,000 books from the interior to the sidewalk in front for pickup by the National Guard.
She’s already secured a contractor to replace the insulation once the walls are dry, even if the funds may not quite be in place. “Are they going to put me in jail?” she joked, adding that the town’s mayor essentially approved her plans to hire some help before money from flood insurance or state grants arrived. She’s hoping the same company that donated carpet before the flood will be good for another few rolls. Rainelle’s slogan is, after all, “A Town Built to Carry On.”
They’re facing the same challenges 75 miles away in Clendenin, where $350,000 worth of materials were lost, without figuring damage to the building itself. The library served a small but devoted community, including a significant population of students, both home- and public-schooled. KCPL is keeping in touch with patrons through its website, and Terry Wooten, marketing and development manager for the library system, has been sure to let patrons know they won’t be charged for materials that were checked out before the flood.
Meanwhile, KCPL has been looking not only to open a temporary branch in Elk Valley but to move programming planned for both shuttered branches off-site to area parks and schools. In short, Wooten says that the library is “very optimistic, and we want to get services back to the public as soon as possible.”
And if the temporary location can’t fill all the gaps, there’s always a bookmobile on call.