10,000 Books Found in Abandoned East St. Louis Library

American Libraries, October 2004 | Go to article overview

10,000 Books Found in Abandoned East St. Louis Library


Officials in East St. Louis, Illinois, have been scrambling to respond to the discovery of some 10,000 books that were left behind four years ago when the city library moved to a new facility. Harold Lawary, chairman of the East St. Louis Library board, issued an apology at an August 26 press conference, saying that in the chaos of moving into its new building in January 2001, the board lost track of volumes that had not been selected for relocation. He emphasized that the intent was never to let the books "lay dormant there," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported August 26.

"I have never seen such devastation to a library or library materials," said Library Director Cynthia E. Jones after touring the old facility, which has become a refuge for homeless persons. Vandals have knocked over bookshelves, scattering books and record albums throughout the three-story building.

Jones took over in 2002 and hadn't known about the abandoned books until a patron wanting to look up records for a dissertation contacted her. She explained to American Libraries that the titles had been deselected from the collection in preparation for the move to the new building, which is significantly smaller than the previous facility. The intention had been to put the unwanted books up for sale, but after the director left the library in August 2000, her replacement--a clerk that the board appointed as interim director--decided not to pursue that idea, said Jones.

A dozen residents led by local art dealer Reginald Petty entered the building August 21 and recovered some 3,000 books. Petty said he had contacted the city four months earlier about the abandoned materials but had gotten no response. Also in the group was State Rep. Wyvetter Younge (D-E. St. Louis), who provided storage space for the books, which will now physically join the other materials for evaluation.

Among the volumes rescued by Petty's group were Ralph Waldo Emerson collections from 1860 and 1862 and issues of Congressional Quarterly from 1887 to 1889.

Many in poor condition

City Manager Robert Storman announced that city crews will relocate the items to a public storage facility where consultants from the Lewis and Clark Library System in Edwardsville will help the East St. …

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