Magazine article American Libraries

Rising to the Occasion - Again

Magazine article American Libraries

Rising to the Occasion - Again

Article excerpt

"Not again!

Thus began the Elba Clipper's March 12, 1998 coverage of a story that this small town (pop. 4,011) tucked away in southeast Alabama's Coffee County knows only too well.

For the third time in almost seven decades, Elba's low-lying downtown was inundated with torrential bursts of water when a levee restraining Beaver Dam Creek gave way just after 9 a.m. on Sunday, March 8, 1998. Two perished: a 17-year-old boy and his 4-year-old niece.

It was a repeat of two eerily similar disasters, the first on March 15, 1929, and the next on March 17, 1990. Conditions varied, the errant bodies of water differed, but the end result was the same each time - total devastation of the downtown, and with it the public library, city hall, the police and fire departments, and the senior center.

This time, the library needed $50,000 for some 3,000 replacement books, many of them for the children's collection, and $60,450 for repairs. Floodwaters reached shoulder height inside the building, destroying most of the lower shelves' contents and completely submerging the circulation desk area and sections of drywall and insulation. A year later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing to foot most of the acquisitions bill, Director Doris Taylor explains.

For Elba Public Library's staff of four and its loyal patrons, the 1998 flood was a particularly ironic blow, and the second that Taylor has endured as library director. The 5,000-square-foot building had been dedicated in 1992 as a replacement for its decimated predecessor, which was condemned after the 1990 floodwaters covered the roof. The present facility was built on supposedly more flood-resistant property donated by an elderly local couple who was touched by the flood's deleterious impact on the town's morale.

Circulation of the 20,000-item collection had understandably skyrocketed in the new downtown location: Workers brown-bag it there to read on their lunch breaks and return in the evenings with their families in tow. Taylor, who also headed the library at its old site, attributes the rise in use to reopening in a better-trafficked part of town.

Like a resurfacing diver, a flooded town needs to reestablish its bearings after the waters recede. For Elba citizens in 1998, it was as if a giant pair of hands had geographically repositioned every municipal amenity. City Hall was relocated to an Army Reserve building. The police department operated from the airport. The post office reopened shop in a former physician's office. …

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