Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rescuing Books in Flooded Iowa

Andrea Melendez / The Register

Beth Westlake, a University of Iowa graduate student, passes a book up the stairs to another volunteer. From Nietzsche's controversial works on the concept of supermen to volumes on Judaism and Islam, thousands of books were salvaged from the university's Main Library basement by lines of hundreds of professors, students and other volunteers.

Amidst the natural disaster that is doing so much damage in parts of the country right now, this kind of story still manages to give me faith that people are equal to whatever task thrown at them and that good people will always band together in ways that you might least expect. This story comes from the Des Moines Register.
In all the statewide stories of heroism, it would be hard to find more passion than in the snaking line going up the steps of the Main Library at the University of Iowa on the banks of the flooding Iowa River.

Hand over hand; all man's ideas were handed. Philosophy and theatre, science and religion. Books rising from the basement to a higher level.

A student handed to a professor to a fresh-faced child.
Librarians have been moving books from the basement all week — only copies of manuscripts and theses. But when they heard the news Thursday that the river was going to rise higher than expected, they put out a call for help.

"All of the sudden, 'whoosh' all these people showed up," said Nancy Baker, university librarian. "This is where it shows up for people, library books. They are very powerful for people. Many things can be replaced but not some of these books."

Many are out of print, books dating back to the 1800s or older that have been stacked in the basement for generations — called special collections — while so-called "rare" books are already on higher ground.

"We are a research library, the big library in Iowa. We provide the whole state with education and research. Some of these books you can't just get another copy," Baker said.

As the hour approached quitting time at 5 p.m., when all operations were ordered to halt and volunteers evacuate the building, hands moved faster and faster.

One stack was emptied every 20 minutes.
It was over. People groaned. They begged to go on.

Hold on. Librarians announced to cheers that they could stay until 9 p.m. to save more books. Floodwaters would not steal great thoughts. Not here.
So these books will live on to speak to another few generations of scholars, researchers and readers. Beautiful.


  1. What a great story! Who knew that in this day and age when people supposedly no longer care to even read a book that such a large effort to save books would be mounted! It's so refreshing to hear news like this, thanks. =)

  2. This story makes my librarian heart sing. :)

  3. I wish I could've been right there with them. This story makes me want to be re-patriated in Iowa!

  4. That's fantastic. It warms my heart to know so many people stepped in to save the books!

  5. Meagan, books, and book people, are special, I think. This is the kind of thing I've come to expect from book lovers.

  6. Maggie, glad to hear it. Did it really surprise you, though? I think that libraries are just sacred places to real book lovers and that they will step forward to do this kind of thing at the drop of a hat.

  7. Me, too, bybee. I would have been in that line somewhere, beyond a doubt, if I had been around those parts.

  8. I feel the same way, Jeane; it all confirms my faith in book people...and in people in general.

  9. my cynical, sarcastic side just got a beat down. I got all teary eyed reading this. thanks for posting it!

  10. Same here, Melanie...the story made my whole day when I found it.