When the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers flooded the town in June of 2006, the Gather community rallied to support the William B. Ogden Library in Walton, NY, as it struggled to rebuild from severe damage and losses. In return, I thought everyone here might enjoy a chance to 'visit' the library once they were back in operation.
And so, a few weeks later, on Friday, July 21, I used a vacation day for a field trip. Though the floodwaters had subsided, the destruction of that week included the fatal loss of bridges on Route 88 near Unadilla. By exiting at Bainbridge and following Route 206 southeast, it was an easy and beautiful drive through the Catskills to Walton, NY.
When I arrived in town, I realized I hadn't checked a detailed map or asked our delivery folks exactly where I was headed, so my first stop was at a local gas station. Evidence of the flood was everywhere. The view along Main Street brought to mind photos from New Orleans following Katrina's devastation: windows were cracked and boarded up on every store front, and the entire town was grey with caked mud.
The lady who gave me directions to the library was tired, but patient. She told me where to turn, but I asked again to make sure, so she repeated, "After the second light -- and we only have two in town -- there's a left turn onto a one-way street. The library's right there." I thanked her and headed out.
The William B. Ogden Library is a magnificent bluestone castle, with lovely landscaping that survived the flooding surprisingly well. The library was built by an endowment from William B. Ogden, the first mayor of Chicago, who was born in Walton, and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since I drove right past it, I wound up parking out back, but that gave me a view of the destruction done to the sidewalk. Huge slabs of slate are askew and aslant, and many cement blocks were out of place along the roadside, looking like a mix of cards and tokens for a giant board game.
I went to the wrong door, but that wasn't a problem -- the new Children's librarian, Karin Weule (pronounced Voyla) let me in, and introduced herself, mentioning that she'd actually been at the gas station when I was asking for directions!
Walton is part of the Four County Library System, and I introduced myself as a cataloger from their Tech Services department, one of several people who create all the database records that help library patrons find the books they need. For me, it was a great thrill to meet the people who put these books into the hands of readers: an elf gets to meet the kids who play with the toys!
I told Karin I'd written an article at Gather, where the entire writing community here has rallied to earn the library a Barnes & Noble gift card. Eyes widened and eyebrows went up, but it was a case of mistaken identity: Starr Latronica is the Youth Services and Outreach Director for the Four County Library System and has been coordinating with various publishers to acquire replacement books for Walton. Starr is a dynamic, wonderful, creative person with enough energy for six people; while our gift cards were arriving in the mail, books were on the way to Ogden Library, thanks to Starr's efforts.
In total, I heard that $600 in gift cards were received at Ogden library in 2006, along with many cash and book donations from members here at Gather.
Then-Library Director Judie Reina was away at a meeting, but the librarian on duty, Vina Byrne, was excited to learn about Gather and the articles featuring the Walton library. We logged on, and I brought up my (now deleted) article 12,000 Books -- Destroyed. Bad move: with 347 comments, the new computer was overwhelmed! We switched locations, brought up the article again, and Vina printed the entire document -- 39 pages including the comments! The article (and comments) will be added to a scrapbook Vina is compiling about the flood. Vina has created several albums over the years, showing various programs and events sponsored by the library, and she showed me one featuring an amazing Dr. Seuss event.
Vina was not at the library on the day the flood hit. She was home, and as the waters rose, her husband was stranded in Bainbridge while the road on either side of her house washed out. With horses, chickens, and other animals to care for, Vina stayed home, and didn't see the destruction of the library until the following Saturday.
As I listened to her account, I realized that the word "heartbeaking" occurred to me but was not appropriate. Vina was anything but heartbroken: she was determined and dedicated, heart very much intact, and she embodied the spirit of everyone who loved that library. This was just a setback, and there's more than one definition of "resource."
Nearby, as I spoke with Vina, Kerry Hart was working on some papers. Kerry has been an Ogden patron since the age of 6, and grew up with a love for reading and her hometown library. Vina introduced us, mentioning that Kerry was the staff member on duty the day of the floods.
Kerry told me the biggest shock was that it wasn't just another rainy day. There was no warning, and no reason to think that Tuesday was different from any other. When the water began to leak in a little, the flood plan procedure was followed, removing the books from the bottom shelves in the basement area. Patrons at the library pitched in, and loads of books at a time were brought up on the elevator or up the stairs.
The water kept rising, and Kerry said she knew all was lost when the electricity to the building was cut off. With no elevator, there was no way to keep up with rescue efforts, and as the water levels rose, the toilets backed up, leaving the water unsafe for further trips. The entire wall of computers was lost, and when the electricity came back on, days later, fuses were blown on other equipment.
Karin allowed me to visit the basement area and take some photos. The damaged walls have been taken down and humidifiers were humming. At one end of the building, I noticed new shelving stacked up and ready to be assembled -- a donation from Cornell University.
Ogden is a beautiful library, inside and out, and it was a joy to meet the staff and see how well they have bounced back. I also met Billy, another staff member, who has offered to send me some photos of what the downstairs looked like before the flood. When those come in, I will post them for comparison here.
It seems most important to applaud the staff at Ogden Library for their swift and tenacious response to the catastrophe. Vina also asked me to send along a "Thank you" to everyone here at Gather for the support and concern. Community can happen in the virtual world as well as the physical.