Midwest Libraries Endure as Floods Continue

Midwest Libraries Endure as Floods Continue

As central and south Indiana began a massive cleanup after the receding of floodwaters, river towns throughout the upper Midwest continued sandbagging and monitoring meteorological forecasts in anticipation of record overflows predicted to hit by June 20. As of June 13, the flash flooding of roads, bridges, and buildings had claimed the lives of more than a dozen people, decimated neighborhoods and farmland in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana; and caused an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Unfortunately, days of sandbagging could not keep the Cedar River out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Overflowing barriers on June 12, it deluged more than 100 blocks of the city’s eastern side, including the Cedar Rapids Public Library. “Although we don’t yet know how badly the library has been inundated by dirty water, we do know that we’ll work as a team to do what’s needed to get reestablished,” staff member Karen Johnson e-mailed June 13 to the Iowa librarians discussion list. (See June 18 UPDATE below.)

Some 60 miles to the northwest, Waterloo Public Library fared much better. Reference Administrator Mike Dargan reported June 12 on the WPL reference blog that several inches of rainwater in the library basement made conditions too wet to restore networking. In the meantime, staff members “were pumping water from the public elevator shaft.”

In Iowa City, the University of Iowa ordered the June 13 closing of the Main Library and a number of other campus buildings in the wake of several area bridges collapsing. “We have been working diligently to relocate our special collections from the storage area of our basement,” University Librarian Nancy Baker e-mailed staff, explaining that officials feared water could seep in through the loading dock despite days of sandbagging. “This has been a stressful time for many people and our staff has responded to the demands,” she added. (See June 17 UPDATE below.)

Iowa State Librarian Mary Wegner told American Libraries that predictions of cresting waters statewide were changing rapidly because nine Iowa rivers are involved, so that “it can rain quite far away from a place that eventually floods.” A case in point: the June 13 conditions in the state capital, where the already-crested Raccoon River meets the still-rising Des Moines River downtown. “It’s a beautiful day—75 degrees and sunny—and they are calling for voluntary evacuation of downtown Des Moines,” she said. According to the Des Moines Register, city officials urged people to leave what is known as the 500-year flood plain for an indefinite period just in case the levees were to give way as they did in the Great Flood of 1993. Wegner expressed optimism that the public and state libraries would stay dry because they are located on higher ground about 12 blocks west and east, respectively, of the rivers bisecting the city. In fact, municipal departments had set up shop at the public library, which announced on its website that it would be closed June 14–15 “in cooperation the city’s request to limit downtown traffic.”

Iowa libraries that reported being affected to the list as of June 12 included:

  • Elkader Public Library, whose 130-year-old building near the Turkey River “has never had water damage until this year,” Director Jill Sanders said, explaining that although the south wall facing the river has been reinforced, four feet of water seeped into the library basement through an adjoining building June 10. Luckily, the library never had to close, even though staff had to “haul debris and then muck from the basement through the library and to the street.” Sanders went on to say that “the community appreciates having computers and access to materials through all the drama [since] much of the downtown area damage is severe.”
  • The National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, which Wegner told AL “had time to get many of their treasures out” before the June 12 flooding began to enter the museum and library. (See June 18 UPDATE below.)
  • Creston Public Library, which took four days to dry out after the June 4 incursion of water about 50 feet into the library after entering under the front door, Director Marilyn Rails reported. The collection was not damaged, although the workroom and children’s room received at least an inch of water and a computer and server were ruined.
  • Rockford Public Library, whose basement filled with as much as four feet of water, according to Children’s Librarian Stacey Tynan. She reported that, although the furnace, hot water heater, central air conditioner, and stored-away wooden shelving and doors are probably totaled, “I think we were able to safely remove most of a vast collection of Rockford history materials the former librarian, Rita Hirv, had been storing in the basement.”
  • Barlow Memorial Library in Iowa Falls endured several leaks necessitating the services of a glazier and roofer for the 8-year-old facility, said Director Terry Tikovitsch.
  • Although the Spillville Public Library was unaffected, sole staff member Renae Franzen could not open the library for several days while she dealt with flooding at her Eldorado home.

Flash flooding also affected several libraries in Indiana:

  • The Lafayette Journal and Courier reported June 12 that the Michigantown Library branch of the Frankfort–Clinton County Contractual Public Library was permanently closed due to water damage. Fortunately the replacement South Fork branch was already under construction, apparently undamaged, and scheduled to open by summer’s end.
  • Monroe County Public Library’s Martinsville branch closed June 7–10 after water entered the building, according to the June 11 Martinsville Reporter-Times.
  • The Cummins Technical Center of the multinational diesel-engine firm Cummins Inc. in Columbus “lost 50% of our in-house materials and all of our fixtures and furniture” the weekend of June 7–8, librarian David Beed told AL. He added that a digitization project begun several years earlier enabled the center to provide “nonstop support for our patrons even though the physical library is not there.” Beed was especially grateful for the “tons of great advice” he received from library discussion lists, noting that some 1,200 technical reports written by Cummins engineers “are on a freezer truck right now and they will be restored later as these are the only copies the company has.”

In Wisconsin, the Angie W. Cox Public Library in Pardeeville was recovering from town flooding that triggered a sewer backup into the library’s basement. The June 13 Portage Daily Register reported that the children’s area in the basement was unusable and that toys bought with an early literacy grant had to be discarded. Plans were being made to relocate the summer children’s program to the local elementary school if necessary.

June 17 UPDATE:


  • Several inches of water remained June 17 in the University of Iowa Main Library a day after it seeped inside the heavily sandbagged building. Through a monumental effort by hundreds of volunteers forming a human chain, however, unique items in the library’s special collections were moved to upper levels, out of harms way, as were all the films, theses, dissertations, and irreplaceable books that are normally stored in the basement on lower shelves. “Even with hundreds of volunteers forming books-moving lines up and down stairs, we still had to do triage on what could be moved and what had to stay,” University Librarian Nancy Baker e-mailed the discussion list of the Association of Research Libraries Directors, explaining that the basement had been crammed with materials destined for a yet-to-be-built off-site storage facility.
  • Several days earlier, materials from the Art and Music libraries were moved out of Art Building West and the Voxman Music Building, respectively, just in time to protect them from the flooding that swept across the fine arts campus, which is situated closer to the Iowa River than is the Main Library.
  • A website photo of ruined books outside New Hartford’s Elizabeth Rasmussen Martin Memorial Library spoke 1,000 words about the damage there. Some 18 inches of water destroyed the building’s wooden interior and, while some books were salvaged, the facility will have to be gutted. The library has begun taking monetary donations since it did not have flood insurance. (See June 18 UPDATE below.)
  • Chelsea Public Library Director Dianna Dunning reported that the library has been closed for a week because to the basement is flooded, power has been shut down, and “the only way in and out of town is by boat.” The good news is that the main floor is dry and Dunning’s family hopes to return home soon.

June 18 UPDATE:


  • Lily Lau of East Central Library Services based in Cedar Rapids reported June 17 that, despite three feet of water in the Guaranty Bank Building where ECLS is housed, the consortium “should be back in our offices sometime next week.”
  • “I think our staff’s efforts sandbagging may have kept water from getting in as it might have. Most of our books look to be pretty safe,” Cedar Rapids Public Library Interim Director Tamara Glise told ABC-TV affiliate KCRG June 17. The flooding inside the building rose four shelves high in the stacks. Glise e-mailed the Iowa librarians list that “our greatest treasure is our staff, and they are all safe.”
  • New Hartford Public Library Director Valerie Ballhagen reported that she was able to save only 1,000 books in the 5,600-book collection. The library also lost four of its five computers, and the building “has already shifted on its foundation (no basement) and mold and mildew are already becoming a problem,” she said in a June 17 e-mail update. She anticipates recovery to be slow since all the trustees except one lost their homes in a tornado that hit nearby Parkersburg a month earlier and the flood has forced the evacuation of so many more area residents.
  • University of Iowa Preservation Librarian Nancy E. Kraft e-mailed the American Library Association’s Preservation Administration Discussion Group list June 17 that she was “talking through the recovery process” with officials from the downtown Cedar Rapids’ National Czech and Slovak Museum as well as the African-American Museum of Iowa. Kraft said the former had just gotten a freezer truck but that on June 17 “the mud and guck was so thick that we weren’t able to do much except get some of the mud out.” Another recovery team was slated June 18 to begin aiding the African American museum as well.
  • Iowans are flocking to the Keck Memorial Library in Wapello, said Director Llewann Bryant. “We are feeling like the Red Cross of libraries” as people who were evacuated from the completely flooded town of Oakville to the east go online at the Keck library “trying to find information, see pictures of their flooded homes, check e-mail.” Ely Public Library Director Jennifer Jordebrek described a similar situation since her open-but-leaking library is situated between flooded Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

American Libraries will post updates about affected libraries as they become available.

Posted on June 13, 2008; updated on June 17, 18 2008. Discuss.