The Great Jane Addams Library Flood by
(305 Stories)

Prompted By Floods

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I’ve written about my years as head librarian at Jane Addams,  a New York City public vocational high school.  (See Magazines for the Principal,  The Parking Lot Seniority List,  Shelf ListThe Diary of a Young Girl,  Early Session and Educator of the Year:  Remembering Milton)

Here’s another story.

Because of our large student body for many years our school had two sessions and all students and faculty were either early or late.  It happened I was on late session the year of the great Jane Addams library flood.

That fateful morning as I parked in the teachers’  lot I thought it was strange that no students were in front of the school or on the steps waiting for the late session bell.  For a minute I thought I may have made a mistake – as I once did! –  and had gotten up and headed for work forgetting it was a Saturday.   But there were other cars in the parking lot and so surely it was a school day.

And then I saw Eileen, my principal,  standing at the front door.    “I was waiting for you to break some bad news.”,  she told me,   “Overnight something triggered the sprinkler system in the basement and I’m afraid your library is flooded.  We had to evacuate the building,  and a cleaning crew is already down there.”

Our school had recently undergone an extensive renovation and the library had been relocated to a larger space in the newly refurbished basement,  where there were also several new classrooms and offices.  Eileen walked me downstairs to see the extent of the damage,  and that day and for many days to follow I felt I was in shock.

Then while the cleaning crew sent by the Dept of Ed did their work,  my library colleague Merlene and I had an enormous task of our own.  We had to check every one of the thousands of books for even the slightest bit of mold.  Because mold can be a health hazard for some,  all the wet, smelly and moldy books had to be discarded,  and thus probably two-thirds of our collection had to go.

I applied for a grant to replace what was lost,  the new books arrived,  and eventually the library looked and functioned normally once again.

But for quite some time I had nightmares about that great Jane Addams library flood,  and I saw myself floating in the sea surrounded by thousands of moldy books!

– Dana Susan Lehrman

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Schools, Mold, Floods


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This sounds terrible, Dana – and heartbreaking work for someone like you who loved those books so much! Glad it was eventually all put right.

    You have reminded me of a similar situation at my own kids’ elementary school, not caused by a sprinkler malfunction, but a downpour that caused flooding into the basement-level library (there was a door leading outside that allowed the water in). After the initial mopping up was completed, a call went out to all the library volunteers (I used to help re-stack the books that came in when Vicki’s class had library period). We went through all the books on lower shelves to check their condition, and put aside any that were wet for the librarian to deal with. Far too many were damaged beyond repair. This happened almost 30 years ago and I had forgotten all about it.

    It is always sad to see books ruined.

    • Thanx for your library flood story Betsy, indeed losing books is awful.

      At the time of my library flood I thought the clean-up would never end, but of course it did and I hadn’t thought much about it – until Retro prompted me with “Floods”!

  2. Jim Willis says:

    Wow, what a mess and what a tedious clean-up process, Dana! Checking the books for mold must have taken forever. I remember our new library flooding at the University of Memphis in 1993, and that floor was closed for a couple weeks.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What an awful experience, Dana. I’m glad you were able to replace the books, but it must have been a huge undertaking to go through all of those books. Good thing you don’t have a mold allergy like I do!

  4. Although we are trained to see events that affect only “material things” as very marginal compared to the tragic loss of human life, I can grieve with you all these years later for the loss you surely felt and experienced. What a shame; all those books, waiting to be perused by children and adults.
    You told the story well.

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