Sunday, March 11, 2007

Disgraceful Book Neglect in East St. Louis

I'm starting to believe that libraries are a dangerous place for the average book. We all expect that library books will suffer the same kind of abuse, and for the same reasons, that we associate with rental cars. If it's not that, we've seen enough stories about large numbers of books ending up in dumpsters to know that strange things can happen to books in the place that one would least expect those things to happen. Well, here's one more story that has to be a huge embarrassment to the library system in East St. Louis.
For the 7,000 books sitting in a storage unit on State Street, it's abandonment all over again.

The books were among at least 10,000 items including magazines and albums left in a shuttered city library for more than three years. Many of the items became makeshift beds or fire starters for homeless people, who broke into the library for shelter. A leaky roof damaged or destroyed many of the books in the building, at 409 North Ninth Street.

Library officials admit that they erred in leaving the materials behind when they moved to a new site in January 2001.
Outraged city officials, who said they assumed the old library was empty, shooed away the homeless and boarded up the building in August 2004. Two months later, the city got inmates from the nearby Southern Illinois Correctional Center to box up the books and take them to a public storage facility, where they were to stay until the city could work with the library board and archivists to assess what should be salvaged and what should be tossed out.

That never happened.

From the sound of the rest of this article, I doubt that there is much left to salvage. The books have been allowed to fall apart as the result of an incompetently run system that apparently places very little value on books. This is disgraceful.


  1. I'm surprised East St. Louis even has a "new" library. The city was so destitute during the 1990s that when a man injured himself on city property, sued the city and won his case, the city had no cash to pay him damages. So the court deeded City Hall over to him. Seriously.

  2. I remember reading about the city during some really troubled times that the people there were having but I hadn't realized it had actually come to something like that.

    A city in financial troulbe should take better care of the assets it has so that they don't have to be replaced. I hope that the way these books were treated doesn't indicate that things are still out of control there.

  3. I'm a native St. Louisan (not from East St. Louis, which is on the other side of the Mississippii) and I can tell you from first hand experience that, sadly, things are not very much improved at all. It's just as bad as it was ten years ago with very little improvement in sight. The poor state of their library saddens me but it doesn't suprise me.

  4. That's a sad thing to hear. So many of our cities never seem to recover when they hit rock bottom...and others do manage it. It must have everything to do with the leadership involved. What a shame.