Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Iowa Situation

People frequently forget about libraries in times of tragedy; here's a personal account of the Iowa flooding situation from a librarian that came off an email list. If you are in a position to help, and would like to do so, I'm sure the American Red Cross would love to hear from you...

Here's the account:

Some of you have voiced concern/support to us here in Iowa. I'm thePreservation Librarian at the University of Iowa and past PARS chair.

I live in Cedar Rapids on a hill. We drove our real estate agent crazyinsisting that we live on a hill! Cedar Rapids is on the Cedar River.The River came up fast and ugly, going way beyond the 500 year floodplain, more than 12 feet over projected flood level, exceeding all pastrecords. On the plus side, it is receding very rapidly allowing us tobegin the recovery process.

Most of our cultural resources are along the river -- the publiclibrary, art museum, opera house, African American Museum, Czech/SlovakMuseum & Library. You get the idea. The 1st floor of the public libraryis wiped out. Luckily it's all replaceable books. The rare material ison 2nd floor but they can't get to the library yet so we may be dealingwith mold here soon.

I've been working primarily with the Czech and African American museums-- talking through the recovery process, etc. Today with the help ofsome local politicians we were able to get an exemption and get arecovery team and freezer truck into the Czech Museum area. The mud andguck was so thick that we weren't able to do much today except get someof the mud out. Tomorrow we plan to start packing the material out and"fight the good fight" to get the African American museum exempted so wecan start packing them out, too. Gary Frost joined me today and willcontinue to help this week.

Travel is difficult and patience-testing, taking at least double thetime to get any where. Roads have been washed out so even if the watergoes down, the road isn't there anymore anyway.

The University of Iowa is on the Iowa River. It came up slow, giving usa lot of time to prepare. It, too, exceeded all previous records but didnot get as high as projected. My director went along with my request toevacuate all special collections material and selected book areas out ofthe basement 5 foot above floor level. At the time I made the request wewere being denied sandbags. Of course, once we had most materials out,the sandbags arrived after all. The help was phenomenal. At 6PM Thursdaywe were told we had two days to evacuate-- Friday and Saturday. Knowing that dams might break we assumed one dayand got all our staff relocated, computers out and collections in thebasement per my request of 5 feet out by Friday 8PM. We were toldsometime on Friday that a dam of some sort did break and that we couldnot come back on Saturday. Actually we were told to stay home for aweek. We had hundreds of volunteers. Our evacuation was phenomenal.I've never seen anything like it. We have 3 elevators and 2 stairwellsto the basement. Our collections are crazy making, unfinished floor,compact shelves, narrow aisles. We used carts and elevators, human bookhanding chains in the stairwells, box brigades. I told everyone that Ihoped my worst fears were just that and that all this evacuation wasjust a practice exercise. Turned out that just what it was. We only got2" in the basement.

The Iowa River came up slow, it's going down slow. Our Art and MusicLibraries are on the 2nd floor of flooded buildings. We're veryconcerned that we'll have lots of mold. We think we'll be ok with the collection in Main Library.

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