Hundreds of Volunteers Help to Rescue Iowa Library Books


Thousands of library books at the University of Iowa, home to the Writers' Workshop, were in danger of being destroyed last week when the swollen Iowa River crested and flooded Iowa City. Located in the heart of the Iowa River valley, the university has not experienced such an event since since the devastating summer floods of 1993.

Nancy Baker, the university’s head librarian, put out a request for help last Thursday after receiving news that the river would rise higher than expected. Along with other librarians, she had been moving books from the basement of the university’s Main Library all week and was pleased when many of the city’s residents and students answered the call.

“All of a sudden, ‘whoosh’ all these people showed up,” Baker told the Des Moines Register. “[Library books] are very powerful for people. Many things can be replaced but not some of these books.”

The volunteers worked all day on Friday, forming a long line from the basement to the third floor of the library as they handed rare books to one another. Librarians estimate that more than a hundred thousand books ranging from philosophy to theater and religion texts, many of them out of print and some dating back as far as the 1800s, were saved.

The university’s campus was also greatly affected, with the student union and several laboratory buildings badly damaged. The art museum, like the library, successfully evacuated its collection.

Crews and university officials are working to restore the campus, pumping water out of basements and stacking sandbags, and despite the setbacks caused by the deluge, summer classes are tentatively scheduled to resume next week.