Rare Manuscripts Saved From Rising Floodwater

A brigade of rescuers formed a human chain to protect a cache of rare manuscripts from rising waters at the University of Iowa. Film material used for cinema classes were also saved by the group. NPR's Andrea Seabrook talked with Nancy Baker, the university's director of libraries, who organized the rescue. According to Baker, hundreds of community volunteers showed up to help with the three-day effort.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now to the story of one daring rescue that came out of Iowa. Nancy Baker orchestrated it, chief Director of Libraries at the University of Iowa, and she's on the phone now standing behind the sandbags that are protecting the University Library in Iowa City.

Thanks for joining us, Nancy Baker.

Ms. NANCY BAKER (Chief Director of Libraries, University of Iowa): Oh, thank you for having me.

SEABROOK: So the rescue took three days. Nancy Baker, what did you save?

Ms. BAKER: Well, just a wide assortments of manuscript collections. You know, these are papers of individuals, of organizations, I can't tell you the exact names of everything that came up. We have a whole floor on the third floor of our library now that looks like a bunker, 'cause we've moved everything up there. There's just boxes and boxes of manuscripts and archived papers. We also saved the rich, you know, film material that we use for cinema classes because these are the most easily destroyed in moldy, steamy conditions that you often will have after a flood.

SEABROOK: So you saved the library.

Ms. BAKER: Well, I hope so. I mean, you know, we moved as much material as we could possibly save.

SEABROOK: Now, I assume there are just thousands - tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands of books and manuscripts there. How did you do it?

Ms. BAKER: Well, what we did was, we put out a call on campus for volunteers and if you could see right now what I see on this campus, well, people are sandbagging and there are literally thousands of people down here from all over the community. They're working really hard to save parts of this campus. And the first couple days we were moving manuscript boxes with our own staff. We could only use about 20 people at a time because they had to come up elevators. They were too heavy to really be lifting and we needed to use book trucks to get them up. So we had - we were using our own library staff and had plenty of people for that. But when we decided we needed to move some more of these materials out of the basement and up to upper floors, we put out a call on campus, and I can't tell you, hundreds of people showed up hour after hour - for the most part over the course of yesterday, through 9:00 o'clock last night to help us move the materials we had identified as being most at risk. And it just was unbelievable. There were literally rows and rows of human assembly lines passing books of staircases to get them up to higher ground up on the upper floors.

SEABROOK: So you did a fire line. You lined people up...

Ms. BAKER: We did a fire line.

SEABROOK: Wow.

Ms. BAKER: And we just had - and there were children, there were students from the university, there were faculty members, you know, deans, administrators, all kinds of people from the community who showed up and just worked like that, some of them for hours. Others would show up and we'd relieve one crew and do another. I think there were three or four lines going up the staircases at any one time. It was really just a very moving kind of sight. And actually I'm down here today, even though we have closed off the building, because people are still showing up to see if they can help and we wanted to make sure that we could tell them, you know, how much we appreciate them being there even though we're - we've done what we feel we can do at this point.

SEABROOK: Nancy Baker is the Director of Libraries at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The rare manuscripts in the University Library there are now out of harm's way, we think.

Nancy Baker, thank you so much.

Ms. BAKER: Thank you.

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