Iowa, Wisconsin Libraries Bear Brunt of Floods

Iowa, Wisconsin Libraries Bear Brunt of Floods

As the overflow from the upper Midwest tributaries made its way to the Mississippi River and southward to Missouri, it has become clear that the historic floodwaters have hit libraries in Iowa and Wisconsin the hardest.

Cedar Rapids (Ia.) Public Library officials were at first optimistic that the library would lose only the one-third of its shelved collection that had been submerged under some five feet of water that rose four shelves high on the first floor. However, Interim Director Tamara Glise told the library board June 23, it now appears that the entire adult collection may be lost due to the subsequent mold formation. “No one can enter that building without a respirator, a haz-mat suit, gloves, the whole shebang,” Glise explained, in the June 23 Cedar Rapids Gazette. “There are bad toxins in that building, and until those are cleared out, they do not want people in there.” The library is searching for administrative office space in the western part of the city for the duration.

Things were looking better than anticipated at Cedar Rapids’ National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, where many materials were moved to higher ground before the flood engulfed the building and other items have been placed in freezer trucks. Nonetheless, the cleanup is proving to be difficult. “You just can’t imagine working in the sludge and smell—and now the dust as things dry out. It’s amazing what people will do in a crisis,” NCSML President and CEO Gail Naughton told the ABC-TV affiliate KCRG as she collaborated with volunteers from the Chicago Conservation Center.

To the northeast, several libraries in southwest and south central Wisconsin also suffered damage; Wisconsin Library Association Executive Director Lisa Strand told American Libraries that flooding inside affected library buildings ranged from several inches to several feet. Libraries that had to close include those in Rock Springs and La Valle, as well as the Kraemer Library and Community Center in Plain, and the Lancaster Public Library’s Potosi branch. Damaged libraries that have reopened are located in Wonewoc, Sparta, and Reedsburg, as well as the La Crosse County Library’s Onalaska branch, which endured several inches of water during a remodeling project.

In Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Dwight Foster Public Library Director Connie Meyer told AL that while her facility is only one block from the Rock River, “we are on high-enough ground that we are safe,” although one library worker had to abandon her riverfront home entirely. She went on to say, “When we were working on emergency planning and our city staff (including key library staff) had to participate in National Incident Management System training, it seemed unlikely that we’d ever have to put it into action. But it has come in handy in this situation,” as library workers have taken on such tasks as updating the city’s website with flood and recovery information and loaning the library’s laptop to Fort Atkinson officials for monitoring the water level.

“The story of Missouri flooding is not over, as some counties received about seven inches of rain June 24,” leading to the Missouri River being back on the rise, Missouri State Librarian Margaret Conroy e-mailed AL June 25. “While our library sits high and dry, our patrons do not,” Director Sarah Hunt e-mailed AL June 24 about the Joseph R. Palmer Family Memorial Library in Elsberry, Missouri—located amid the flooded farmland at roughly the center of the state’s eastern border with Illinois. She described the “very marked increase in the number of people flooded out of their homes who are using our public access computers (thanks Bill Gates) since they cannot access their own,” as well as staying open late so a New York reporter on assignment could file a story. “Many in Lincoln County are suffering from this flooding and we’re trying to help,” she added.

Posted on June 25, 2008. Discuss.