Cedar Rapids Library Hit Hard by Flooding

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Cedar Rapids Public Library in downtown SE Cedar Rapids after the flood on Thursday June 19, 2008. (Cedar Rapids Public Library)

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By Becky Ogann

CEDAR RAPIDS - Cedar Rapids Public Library housed hundreds of thousands of books, movies and CDs. Now, much of the collection is gone.

Earlier this week, Library leaders thought they might be able to save some of the books and materials on the first floor. But, mold and humidity problems inside the building have changed everything. Now, the library doesn't think it will be able to save anything.

Five feet of water flushed most of the Cedar Rapids Public Library's books onto the floor. Now, recovery experts say the city has lost nearly two-thirds of the library's collection.

"It's hopefully something we will never experience again. It's obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There's nothing to compare it to," said Marie Devries, Cedar Rapids Public Library.

Shelves full of books and cds now look more like clutter.

"Seeing the pictures just makes me think that my nightmare's come true," said Devries.

The grand staircase leads up to the only area that remains untouched -- the children's collection. Everything else looks like this.

"We're more than just books. We have a great service oriented staff and our library will rebuild," said Devries.

Large dehumidifiers now block the entrance to the building.

"They're obviously trying to dry the building out. Once they do that, the air quality may improve," said Devries.

Only a few people have been inside. Mold and sludge problems have made it too dangerous for anyone to do any major clean-up work.

"It's never going to be the same again, but it will be our library. It will be the community library again and will provide the same great service we always have," said Devries.

One day, when the library finally does reopen, it will probably include some kind of book about this disaster. The library is accepting donations to help rebuild and replenish the collection.

In the meantime, the Westdale Mall branch is still open.

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Some notes from the Cedar Rapids Public Library:
- The Zerzanek collection of original children's book illustrations is safe and has been moved to another location.
- The West Side Branch in Westdale Mall is open. Hours are Mon-Fri 10am-9pm, Sat 10am-5pm and Sun 1-5pm. The outdoor book drop is near the Younkers south entrance. Summer reading programs will continue at this location.
- Mail is being delivered to the West Side Branch. Mail can still be addressed to 500 1st St. SE, Cedar Rapids IA, 52401. The post office delivers it to the West Side Branch, 2600 Edgewood Rd. SW.
- Library materials may be returned to the West Side Branch, Marion and Hiawatha libraries and Hy-Vee drop offs. Please do not return flood damaged materials.
- If you want to volunteer, please mail us your contact information (address, e-mail & phone). Other than members of professional recovery teams, no one is being allowed in the building at present (6/19). It's not a healthy environment. We hope to mobilize volunteers eventually.
- If you want to make a donation, mail your contribution to the Cedar Rapids Public Library Foundation. All donations are tax deductible and needed! Mail to 500 1st St. SE, Cedar Rapids, IA, 52401. Mail is being delivered to our West Side Branch.
- Used book donations cannot be accepted by Friends at present. Hold onto them or donate to Marion and/or Hiawatha Friends.

West Side Branch phone number: 319-390-7806

Long term plans:
- We are moving forward. We are continuing to work on our building plans, which include revitalizing and reconfiguring the downtown facility. We will work hand-in-hand with the City as its plan evolves.
- The search for a new library director is on hold. Tamara Glise is serving as Interim Director and Marie DeVries, Foundation staff, is handling external affairs.

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