Water Pours Into Upstate New York Library

Melissa Block speaks with Marie-Anne Azar Ward, Wells Memorial Library board president, about the heavy flooding that damaged the 100-year old library in New York after Hurricane Irene.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: Lots of neighbors are helping to clean out the Wells Memorial Library in the hamlet of Upper Jay, New York, in the Adirondacks. Floodwaters poured into the 1906 Queen Anne-style cottage and destroyed thousands of books. The library's board president, Marie-Anne Azar Ward, says when she got to the library on Monday and pushed open the door mud was everywhere.

MARIE-ANNE AZAR WARD: It really looked like chocolate fondant. It was just this thick shiny layer of mud on everything - on the floor, on books that had been pushed off of shelves. all over the hard drives of our computers. We have original Stickley furniture that was just pushed over and coated with mud. And we could see the water line where it had gone up to under the window sills and then had receded. And it was messy.

BLOCK: Well, how much of the collection of books there in the library did you lose?

WARD: We would estimate close to half, the majority of which are the children's books, because they were kept in lower circumstances where children could get to them.

BLOCK: That makes sense, on the bottom shelves.

WARD: Mm-hmm. And we also had a beautiful train that was made to hold children's books - train car bins that were made by a gentleman from the region named Arto Monaco, who had had an amusement park in the region years ago. And the train is safe. But all the books that were inside the train were all ruined.

BLOCK: So basically your entire kids' collection is gone?

WARD: Yes. And our archives have been very thoroughly compromised. We are in a very small hamlet, and the majority of our old papers are soaked right through.

BLOCK: Can those archived papers be saved?

WARD: We are drying them out, and we understand that there are services available. Though we do have insurance, the majority of that is going to have to go toward replacing the regular collection, the computers, our heating system, which has been filled with silt. So I guess we're going to have to really sit down and make some hard decisions.

BLOCK: So you are covered? You do have insurance?

WARD: We have some insurance. We have about $15,000 worth of insurance. However, we also just got an estimate for clean up to remove mildew and that tops $7,000.

BLOCK: So that's about half of it right there.

WARD: Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: What are you doing with all of the books that were soaked?

WARD: We have a pile in front of the library. It's really disturbing to see books piled up in this haphazard fashion. But we've just been trying to get them out of the building, because once a book is wet it just start to really give off an odor and we didn't want to affect the books that weren't damaged on the higher shelves. And all of those we've boxed and put into storage. But everything that was damaged is out on the front lawn waiting for a dumpster to be delivered later on.

BLOCK: You know, I know a library can really be the heart of a small town. What are people saying to you as they come by and see what happened there?

WARD: They cry.

BLOCK: Really?

WARD: We've had a lot of tears. We're extremely small. Our operating budget is only $30,000. We have one employee. We're only open 20 hours a week. So volunteers are really important to this operation. And so people spend a lot of time here. And so it's sort of a second home for them. So a lot of people greeted us with tears and then just rolled up their sleeves and put on their mud boots and got to work.

BLOCK: Well, Marie-Anne, thanks for talking to us and best of luck.

WARD: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Marie-Anne Azar Ward. She's the board president of the Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, New York.

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